The Journey of a Fish Farmer: An Interview with Ty Walker | Sustainable Fish FarmingJun 09, 2023
I've always struggled with fish. Not so much because of the taste but more about knowing what to buy. You know. Where to put my dollar. Do I give it farmed fish, or to the brave people bringing in the wild stuff? Then there’s the whole health thing. Is it better to eat fish from the ocean, ratting microplastics, boosted with mercury and who knows what else. Or farmed fish that’s full of... I really don’t know. But generally, as I know, farmed fish can't be eating good stuff, right?
Then you have the environmental issues. To simplify it. Overfishing vs farming practices of pumps and stuff. Honestly, I don't really know. Fish is complicated and I don't like my food to be that complicated. Complex ecosystems, yes please, but not complicated.
A Sustainable Solution Then we met Smoke In Chimneys, a small farm in SW Virginia that answered all those questions. And really brought up even more questions. Like if we are eating locally or what our ancestors ate. Shouldn't we be eating trout? (That only works if you're in this area. But you see my point.) This week, we released a podcast talking with Ty, the owner of Smoke in Chimneys, and learning a ton about fish and what it means to have good, healthy fish. And what it means to support a farmer trying to do the right thing.
In the world of agriculture, fish farming often takes a backseat to more popular methods like raising livestock or cultivating crops. However, for those like Ty Walker, fish farming is a labor of love and a unique way to connect with nature. In this interview, we dive into Ty's journey as a fish farmer, exploring how he found his calling and the challenges he faced along the way.
Ty Walker is a dedicated fish farmer, married with three children. Growing up on a farm, Ty's passion for agriculture led him to explore various farming ventures over the years. After farming in Oregon for a while, he and his wife decided to return to his grandparents' family farm and revive it. They initially focused on pasture pork and grazing, but an unexpected opportunity soon came knocking on their door.
About four years ago, Ty received a call from a friend informing him about a trout hatchery in Newcastle, Virginia. Intrigued by the prospect, Ty and his wife took a leap of faith and decided to pursue this new venture. Despite concerns about leaving their established farm behind, they felt a calling and believed it was the right move for their family.
Fish farming, or aquaculture, comes with its own set of challenges. Unlike raising livestock or growing crops, fish farming requires a substantial water source. Ty explains that a minimum of a few hundred gallons of water per minute is necessary to engage in fish farming activities. This limited availability of suitable water sources creates a barrier to entry for many aspiring fish farmers.
The property where Ty established his fish farm has an interesting history. Built in the 1930s as a trout hatchery by the Department of the Interior, it operated until the 1980s when it was sold into the private market. The property remained vacant for several years before Ty and his family took it over. At the beginning of their journey, the property was in disarray, requiring significant cleanup and restoration.
Ty explains that fish farming involves buying fish eggs from a hatchery, nurturing them, and then selling the grown fish. While his farm has a small breeding program, it is primarily focused on raising trout. They have different sizes of trout suitable for various markets, including restaurants and retail settings. The growth of the fish can take up to two or three years, and the feed they use is specifically designed for trout, sourced all the way from Canada.
Despite the hard work and the steep learning curve, Ty considers fish farming a labor of love. It took them two years to get the place up and running, and the initial year was dedicated to cleaning up the property. One of the major challenges they faced was the minimum order requirement for fish eggs, which was much larger than what they needed as beginners.
Ty Walker's journey as a fish farmer is a testament to the passion and dedication required to pursue a lesser-known agricultural path. Despite the barriers to entry and the challenges along the way, Ty and his family have found fulfillment in their fish farming venture. Their commitment to sustainable food production and their connection with nature are driving forces that keep them going. As the demand for locally sourced and responsibly farmed seafood continues to rise, it is individuals like Ty Walker and farms like Smoke In Chimneys that play a crucial role in meeting this need.
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