Chillicothe is a typical Midwestern farming community with a rich history of growing row crops and raising cattle and hogs. However, the dynamics of its livestock have recently expanded to include fish.
Chillicothe is a typical Midwestern farming community with a rich history of growing row crops and raising cattle and hogs. However, the dynamics of its livestock have recently expanded to include fish. Chillicothe is now home to one of just a handful of tilapia fish farms in the country. In March of this year, Quixotic Farming and its partner Pescado USA, owned by Randy Constant, Steve Whiteside and John Burton, began raising tilapia fish in the former Wal-Mart building in south Chillicothe. The facility is about one-third full with 32 11,000-gallon fish tanks. The company anticipates reaching capacity in the future with an additional 72 tanks. The tilapia originate in a Colorado hatchery. They are flown to Kansas City, where they are picked up and transported by truck to Quixotic’s Trenton facility when they are just three days old. At that age, they are tiny fish, just barely visible, and are referred to as “swim ups.” The fish stay in Trenton for about three months, until they reach between 25 and 30 grams each. They, then, are transported to Chillicothe’s farm to a secondary nursery where they stay about four weeks until they reach 50 to 55 grams. At that point, they are shipped live to Colorado and put into grow-out facilities, while a percentage remain in the grow-out tanks here. Each Monday, the local farm empties a tank and trucks around 6,000 pounds of fish to Colorado. On Tuesday, around 20,000 fish from one tank are prepared to be moved from Trenton to Chillicothe. On Wednesday, the next load of 3-day-old fish from the Colorado hatchery arrive in Trenton. Entering the fish farm business was a new venture for the Chillicothe trio. “We’re all just farmers,” said Randy Constant. “We never had experience in aquaculture, but we knew it was an up and coming thing.” Steve Whiteside, is a long-time hog farmer and identifies some similarities of raising fish and traditional livestock. “It’s really a lot like the hog business,” Whiteside said. “The sows have the piglets, they come through the sow farm, they go through the nurseries, they go through the finishing barns, they go to the processing plant.” “That’s kind of why this works for me,” he said of the fish farm operation. “I know the two systems. All we are really doing is feeding and raising livestock... cows, fish, pigs.” “The big, important thing about feeding fish is just like feeding pigs,” Whiteside noted. “We’ve got to have a good feed conversion or we’re going to lose money. We’ve got to have a good health system, or we’re going to lose fish. There’s not a lot of difference. Pigs are very touchy in those areas; fish are even more touchy. It works real well with what I’ve known for years.” Whiteside is the operation's manager of the fish farm. Around 15,000 pounds of tilapia are harvested each week in Colorado. They go to the processing center where they are hand-filleted, frozen and eventually shipped to stores such as Whole Foods Grocery, Hy-Vee and Dierberg’s. While Hy-Vee is a fairly new customer, Whole Foods Grocery has been working closely with Quixotic. “They tell the story really well and explain advantages of Quixotic as opposed to tilapia that is imported from China,” Whiteside said. In China, he said, these fish are often raised in dirty farming situations where they dwell in sewer-like conditions. “That is why this is such a big thing,” he said. The domestic tilapia is fresher, cleaner, and it’s raised in the United States. “It’s fed a corn and soybean meal diet,” he said. “Their diet is controlled. American consumers need to know how their food is being produced. We take great pride in producing a clean, healthy food product.” Quixotic is IMO inspected. That means the company goes through rigorous inspections. “The inspectors actually calculate how much feed I buy,” Whiteside said. “I keep track of how much feed I feed. They keep track of my inventory. Our workers maintain the highest standards in feeding and in care of the fish.” This feed is a ration that just Whole Food Grocery approves. “It’s a little more expensive, which puts a little more cost in our product, but our product is that much better,” Whiteside said. With three full-time and two part-time employees in Chillicothe, and two full-time employees in Trenton, the operation is family-rooted. “It’s basically a family farm with local employees as well,” Whiteside said. Randy Constant’s daughter, Claire, is the director of media relations; his son, Lane, is involved as well. Son-in-law Eric handles marketing with the grocery stores and takes care of the shipping. John Burton as well as Steve and Mary Pat Whiteside have been close friends of Randy and Pam Constant for many years. The Colorado processing plant employs 28 people. The business there has a grow-out facility just like Chillicothe’s, and has 52 tanks. The owners are pleased with how their business is thriving. “As interest grew and the story grew, it evolved to where it is today,” Whiteside said. “There is a lot of interest in this product. We really hope that in the near future, we are expanding and keep moving forward.” Tilapia is a very popular fish and the fish Quixotic raises is very clean. Each tank is equipped with a state-of-the-art filtration and recirculation system that filters the water and keeps it constantly flowing. The filters have 10,000 gallons of water passing through them every hour. Every two hours, the filters then wash the clean, filtered water back into the tank. The waste from the water collects in the bottom of the filter and is flushed five times a day. The tanks are also equipped with aeration systems to provide optimal levels of oxygen. The aeration encourages more activity and better feed conversions, which helps the growth rate of the fish. Quixotic prides itself in its sustainability, traceability, producing a safer product, a cleaner product and a better tasting fish. Quixotic Farming provides consumers with the knowledge and traceability of its products. From the local farms to the consumer’s plate, each step is documented and easily accessible to the public. The fish are raised without the use of hormones or antibiotics. They are not genetically modified. The fish are cleaner because they live in water that is constantly moving. The recirculation in their tanks, along with the continuous flow of oxygen, allows the fish to grow in clean water. Tilapia is a white fish that takes on the flavors of its environment. “Because our fish are not raised outdoors with the elements or in muddy ponds, our tilapia products taste cleaner,” the owners state. “They live in a clean environment, which eliminates the fishy taste that most seafood products have.” When Quixotic and Pescado, the Missouri grow-out facility company that runs day-to-day farm operations for its sister company, finished renovations on the new farm building in March the tanks were filled with fish in various stages of growth that same month. The fish currently in the tanks will be ready to go to market later this summer. Tilapia products are evolving and the owners anticipate that during the next few months, a tilapia dog treat will be on the market, as part of their production. They also anticipate adding greenhouses in Chillicothe and using fish waste to grow organic vegetables. Processing tilapia in Missouri may be on the horizon. “When this facility grows, processing in Missouri is definitely a must,” Whiteside said. “When we reach that point, we’ll have a larger employment base and we’ll bring a lot more jobs in here.”