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Holly Ebel: These shrimp make big splash

Out among the rich farmland between Stewartville and Spring Valley, off County Road 1, sits Kedron Valley Farm. There, among the usual farm buildings, is a large pole barn where a crop is being grown and harvested that is a bit unusual for the area....

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Janet Webb, who owns Kedron Valley Farm near Spring Valley with her husband, Larry, has had live shrimp at the farm since May 2017.

Out among the rich farmland between Stewartville and Spring Valley, off County Road 1, sits Kedron Valley Farm.

There, among the usual farm buildings, is a large pole barn where a crop is being grown and harvested that is a bit unusual for the area.

Heads up, seafood lovers. It’s shrimp.

Really! When I saw the booth recently at the Farmer’s Market advertising "Minnesota Grown Shrimp" with no ocean or shrimp boats in sight, I had to investigate.

Larry and Janet Webb are behind this new venture. Never mind they already farm and have a herd of Black Angus cattle. "We have our own surf and turf," said Janet with a laugh.

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The idea for farming shrimp is the result of an article Larry read in AgriNews, the Post Bulletin’s sister publication, about a similar operation in Ridgeway, Iowa.

"Both of us were taken with the idea," Janet said.

What followed then was taking classes from the Iowa group and doing extensive research on what was involved, from the building, the tanks, the shrimp, the feed, marketing — everything that was needed for a successful operation. They also asked her son, Aaron TerBeest from Decorah, if he wanted to be involved. He did.

From the time they hatched the idea until they had their first "babies" was 2½ years. It’s an impressive operation. The pole barn, which they refer to as the shrimp shed, is 45-by-54 feet — not exactly a shed. Inside are eight large cascade tanks, at least 8-by-40 feet, filled with shrimp in various stages of development.

These are White Leg shrimp, which start out the size of an eyelash. They are in what they call two "nurseries," and as they grow find their way into the other tanks. It takes about four months until they are a size that can be harvested.

The numbers are amazing.

"We get 20,000 at a time and have a total of 50,000 in the tanks, 10,000 in each tank," Janet said.

These come from suppliers in Florida, Texas and Hawaii, though since the hurricanes in the Gulf of Mexico, those suppliers suffered damage and the shrimp now come mostly from Hawaii, shipped overnight.

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Critical to this operation is the temperature and quality of the water.

"We keep the water in the tanks at 85 degrees and the building at 90. There is virtually no condensation," Janet said.

Both the floor and the building are insulated. (Going in there felt like a very hot summer day.)

The Webbs use a sustainable bio-floc cascade system that is free of antibiotics, hormones, toxins and pollutants. The water is tested every day in an adjoining lab. The ammonia level is closely monitored, and the water is treated with sugar rather than any chemicals.

"If there was such a thing as organic shrimp these would be it," Janet said.

The first batch of shrimp was ready last fall. The Webbs started selling at the Rochester Downtown Farmers Market then and continued through the winter months. Now they are back outside.

"We usually sell at least over 30 pounds a week there," Janet said. The shrimp come packaged in several sizes. A bag of the smaller shrimp holds 25, medium-sized are 18 to 20 in a bag, and the large shrimp bag holds 12 to 17. The shrimp are available with heads on and not frozen, fresh from the tank the night before, while the EZ peel (no heads, back vein off) are frozen. Cost for all the sizes is $20 per pound.

Janet explained that her son has devised a method of flash-freezing which freezes the shrimp within six minutes, thereby retaining the texture and flavor. If you can’t get to the farmers market, the Webbs’ shrimp can be found at Spring Valley Butchery, Skippy’s Grocery in Chatfield and Oak Meadow Meats in Harmony. They are also on the menu at Estelle’s in Harmony and The Blue Heron in Winona.

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Any shrimp lover is going to want these shrimp. In fact, shrimp is the most popular seafood, beating out canned tuna and salmon so the Webbs have found a terrific niche.

As I was leaving, she invited me in for a shrimp cocktail, and I can tell you they were a beautiful pinkish color, the taste perfect and the texture firm.

We were going to share, but she never had a chance — I ate them all.

For information on ordering call 507-923-8756.

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One of the live shrimp at Kedron Valley Farm. The Webbs’ shrimp is sold fresh or frozen, with heads or EZ peel style, at the farmers market in Rochester and a number of retail outlets.

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