Josh Meyer of Calmar has been shrimping for over a year now, but not in an ocean. He was one of the first hired at Sherlock Shrimp by owners Jeff and Sherill Ryan. Specifically, he and the Ryan’s are raising and selling Pacific white shrimp in an old abandoned school at 436 County Street in Ridgeway.
Since shrimp like the dark, Josh had the tedious job of taking all the lights down from the school gym as they began a fresh new alternative to Midwest farming, where pools of shrimp line up in a place that once held rows of school desks. Shrimp farming has been a learning curve for all. What most people may not realize, is it's not like putting a few fish in a tank at home-- there's a whole lot more chemistry and science involved then one might realize. All those chemistry classes have come to good use for Josh, even if his major was biology.
“It has been a like a Sherlock Holmes mystery trying to figure out the range of balance for everything. It is not like feeding cattle. Over-feeding shrimp will change the water quality and kill them,” explains the amateur-sleuth-turned expert.
The baby shrimp come in from a Florida Keys hatchery. They are put in the pools with a salt water system that contains Biofloc, which is a protein-rich food source similar to the nutrients found in the ocean. Biofloc feeds off the shrimp waste, keeping the chemistry of the water correct and is a second feeding source while it also recycles the water. While this results in the water rarely if ever needing to be changed, it's still a must to test the water often. When the level of ammonia gets high, molasses, baking soda, or lime, added to control pH. An automatic feeder feeds the shrimp every two hours. Pools are netted because, within thirty days, the baby shrimp will start jumping.
The more they are fed, the faster the shrimp grow, and the sooner they can be sold. The operation currently has 32 full shrimp tanks. As they grow, the animals get split into other tanks. The folks at Sherlock are building an even bigger, square tank that save time because the groups of shrimp won’t have to be split up as they grow.
In an operation like this, even the air is important. The gym currently has eight industrial-sized dehumidifiers going.
As of late, the farmed shrimp are selling out as fast as they are harvested. At $20 per pound, the demand for these locally sourced shrimp is great. In June, when the business began offering their product, they were sold out in record time. In Iowa, where people don't have this kind of access to fresh seafood, it makes sense.
Sherlock Shrimp is open Wednesday-Friday from 1pm to 5pm. Or, call ahead to make other arrangements: 563-737-2511.
A shrimp farm in the Midwest? In an old school to boot? Why, it’s elementary, my dear. Locals get fresh shrimp and the school is once again being used. It's a win-win situation, with the business already thriving and branching out.
Looking for other places to buy? Try Oneota Community Food Co-op in Decorah, or have it already prepared at the town's own La Rana Bistro. Sherlock also has been hosting a “Shrimp Academy” each month, with people coming from five different states to attend. Want to join? Contact them directly about registration.