As John and Sharon Orr get closer to opening their new business, Shrimptastic they say growing Pacific white shrimp isn't a whole lot different than growing hogs – which has been John's profession as a life-time farmer.
"It's just a different kind of livestock," says Sharon of the husband she describes as a nurturer of all critters.
Just like in hog farming, there needs to be attention to detail, she says. While air quality is important to a hog's environment, it's all about water quality for shrimp. "It's about rate-of-gain, feed conversion and timing in that even the shrimp tanks need to be turned over similar to a pig growing cycle," she says.
The Pacific saltwater shrimp are grown in a closed ecosystem, under a constant water temperature of 80-85 degrees. Programmable lighting in the production area mimics the actual sunrise and sunset of their true environment.
"We're creating little mini-oceans, but without the oil spill or sewer lagoon" says Sharon about their ability to completely control the environment of the seafood they are growing. The shrimp thrive in an environment free of chemicals, antibiotics, pathogens and growth hormones. "Shrimp are so versatile and quick cooking, you could call them the ocean's pasta," Sharon suggests. Simmered, grilled, baked, broiled, fried, boiled, steamed or sauteed – the ways to prepare shrimp are many.
Over a year ago as the couple began considering how to diversify their farming operation in preparing for eventual retirement, Sharon says her husband began to suggest aquaculture.
"He's a farmer at heart and had read a lot of articles about hydroponics, and aquaculture in his farm magazines. We don't know how not to work," she laughs. "We don't golf and John doesn't do woodworking. But raising shrimp should be less physically taxing as we get older," she explained. She's quick to add, "I'm not quitting my job any time soon. It's John's job to raise the shrimp."
While the shrimp originate in Florida, the Orrs get their tiny shrimp from a grower in Minnesota as the process begins. At hatch, they are less than the size of an eyelash. When arriving at the Shrimptastic production center just north of Fayette, the shrimp were a little larger than that.
Working with a consultant, John and Sharon constructed a grower building and applied for aquaculture and non-native species permits. "As long as we are selling our shrimp fresh, inspections aren't required," Sharon explains. Visitors to the site receive their shrimp dipped fresh from the tank, in a bag of ice to take home and process as desired. The shrimp are sold whole, to offer the best flavor. There is a small pocket of fat behind the head that when left on, makes the shrimp taste better, Sharon says. Shrimp will be sold 16 to 21 count per one-pound bag.
If the purchaser buys extra to freeze, those shrimp should be de-headed before freezing.
While the Orrs enjoy a good steak or pork chop, they're just as fond of seafood. Sharon has had fun trying recipes and posting them to the Shrimptastic Facebook page. Examples include Jumbo Shrimp in Garlic Sauce and Coconut Shrimp.
"We know (fresh shrimp available whole) won't appeal to everyone," Sharon admits. But the couple believes offering consumers a food in which they can know their grower, and the conditions in which the shrimp were grown, will have a certain following. Shrimptastic shrimp is being marketed to several restaurants in the area. Already, people in the Cedar Rapids and Iowa City corridor have signed up to receive alerts as to when Shrimptastic will be ready for pick-up.
"And if people will drive here to get fresh shrimp, what else will they do while here?" Sharon asks. "We hope they might find ways to spend tourism dollars in other ways, too." The Orrs haven't yet decided at what price they can sell their product but that information should be available soon. At the rate their shrimp are growing, they expect to begin sales in July.
Shrimptastic is located at 15916 Lincoln Road, just north of Fayette. Call 563-425-3232 or like them on Facebook at "Shrimptastic, LLC." Visit the website at www.shrimptasticllc.com and submit your email address to receive alerts about shrimp availability. The Orrs will also have hours one to two days per week when shrimp can be picked up, or appointments can be made in advance.