“Shrimp kabobs, shrimp creole, shrimp gumbo; pineapple shrimp, lemon shrimp, coconut shrimp …”
Sure, this might be straight out of the movie Forrest Gump, where “shrimp is the fruit of the sea,” but one local business is trying to make this a reality in landlocked West Alabama. Since the end of 2016, the families involved with Sumter County Shrimp have dedicated themselves to digging ponds, drilling wells, and investing in equipment needed to grow shrimp in this area.
According to co-owner Lee Stegall, the project idea stemmed from the discovery of salt water on his family farm years ago.
“In 1959, my grandfather drilled a well on our family farm in Sumter County to water cattle. The artesian well began flowing, but the water was salty,” Stegall said.
Over 50 years later, Stegall – a mechanical engineer in Tuscaloosa – was working in the Demopolis area. After running across information about Greene Prairie Aquafarm in rural Greene County, he reached out to co-owner David Teichert-Coddington. They met at Stegall’s farm in 2014.
“He found our water quality was excellent, and immediately said we should be in the shrimp farming business. Over the next three years, we researched, traveled, went to meetings, and gathered as much information as possible to weigh the feasibility and benefits,” said Stegall.
Stegall’s family friend, Shawn Templeton, was also interested in the project. Templeton and his parents became partners. Since word has gotten out about the saltwater shrimp farm, community response has been overwhelming.
“People wanting to know when and where they can get our shrimp contact us almost every day,” said Stegall.
The next steps for Sumter County Shrimp include finding a wholesale buyer for the shrimp, and offering the product to local restaurants.
“The strong farm-to-table market and sustainable farming practices demand is perfect for our product. The lower salinity water we grow in provides a sweeter shrimp than an ocean grown shrimp. The lack of pesticides, herbicides, antibiotics, and preservatives provides a premium quality shrimp,” said Stegall.
With a plan to harvest the shrimp and ice them down to bring to Tuscaloosa, folks interested in purchasing from Sumter County Shrimp can follow the company on their Facebook page (facebook.com/scshrimp) and join the mailing list to learn when shrimp is brought to town.
“Many people assume a farmed shrimp is a lesser product to wild caught shrimp. This is not so, and the taste will prove it,” Stegall said.