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Fish-farming dream became reality for Goshen company

Tilapia is being raised in Elkhart County.
Posted on Nov. 21, 2011 at 12:00 a.m. | Updated on Nov. 21, 2011 at 9:01 a.m.

Marshall V. King

Dining A La King

GOSHEN — Northern Indiana Aquaproducts doesn’t look like a farm, but is raising a new kind of meat for Elkhart County.

Farmers here have been raising beef, pork and chickens for years. But John Metz and Kevin Boyer, along with Vince DelPrete, are raising fish. Tilapia to be exact.

In a small industrial building along Wilden Avenue in Goshen, they have three 3,500-gallon tanks. In those tanks, fish grow from something the size of a thumb to a slippery, flopping fish about 10 inches long and weighing more than a pound. And filets from those fish are ending up on a few plates in Elkhart County and elsewhere.

In 2008 or early 2009, Commissioner Mike Yoder first mentioned the prospect of putting tilapia tanks in buildings that had been used to build recreational vehicles.

“As it turns out, as with many of my ideas, once you get into it, it becomes more complicated than initially thought,” he said.

When Yoder aired the idea, Metz and Boyer read about it in the Truth. Metz had gotten out of the military in 2005. Boyer flew planes, but they were looking for something different. One of them raised fish as a hobbyist, so they started working on getting a state grant.

In any economy, “Food is always going to be an option. Food just seemed to be the way to go,” Metz said.

They landed the $90,000 state grant and looked for a space. But most of the industrial buildings didn’t work. They wanted to have 10 tanks, but getting additional funding from banks was problematic. So they opened in a 4,000-square-foot building in the 2100 block of West Wilden Avenue with three tanks. Their first fish were in the water on Jan. 7. At this point, they have more than 13,000 fish.

The fish get a food made with Indiana soybeans, along with some wheat and fish meal. The water is filtered and will eventually help the men start aquaponics, which will grow vegetables with the water rich with nutrients. Early tests show promise. Boyer coined the phrase “Use everything, waste nothing,” and that’s a mantra for their farm.

“We can control every aspect of the fish health and life,” said Metz, who is president of the company.

They’ve sold to Lucchese’s, Trolley Cafe and Heinnie’s. Hickory Meats & More has been processing the fish and selling some there. Charlie’s Butcher Block got some of the fish in to try.

So far, the results are mixed.

Chef Zach Lucchese loves the fish and has sold out every he’s put it on special. Last Saturday, the local tilapia was on a plate over butternut squash and apple risotto and had a whiskey-sweet chili sauce. The fish was firm and flavorful.

Tilapia is like the chicken breast of the fish world. It’s a white fish that’s mild and takes on flavors. Lucchese said people who don’t like fish often like tilapia because of how mild the flavor is.

Kevin Crouch, owner of Charlie’s, said one customer loved the local tilapia, but the filets from the fish are small and had some bones. “I think it’s going to take a little time,” he said. “Eventually if they got those worked out, I would try it again.”

(He couldn’t actually get it right now because Metz and Boyer are selling to haulers who take the fish to Chicago.)

At Heinnie’s, customers were also a bit leery of the texture and the bones, said owner Bill DeShone. He and his brother, Troy, opted not to put it on their menu.

Vince DelPrete, who works some with Metz and Boyer and exploring farm-raising perch, said, “We like to say they’re the prime rib of fish.” But this prime rib comes with bones.

The flavor is clean and the filets are firm. I bought a couple whole fish at Hickory Meats & More and fought them in my own kitchen before baking them. I would have preferred filets, but they aren’t being offered regularly for retail customers. Derek Hochstetler, owner of Hickory Meats & More, said the prices rises when he and his family filet them. They’re $7.50 a pound whole and two fish cost me around $17. Smoking adds $3 a pound.

I won’t eat farmed salmon, but farmed tilapia makes sense. And buying it from guys in Goshen makes more sense than buying Chinese-farmed tilapia where there are a lot of questions about growing practices.

Kwamena Qaugrainie, professor of aquaculture economics and marketing at Purdue University, said the potential for Indiana aquaculture is big. “I think our only limitation is because of the weather. You have to do it indoors,” he said. In southern states, tilapia can be raised in outdoor ponds.

But tilapia is hearty and among the easiest fish to produce. A new facility going up near West Lafayette will produce up to 60,000 pounds a year. At this point, Northern Indiana Aquaculture can produce about 225 pounds a week, but the owners hope to double that by summer.

“We have an opportunity here to produce our own fish,” Quagrainie said. “We are going to see more Indiana tilapia.”

Yoder is pleased with what’s happening. He would have been happy if a Norway company had built a $500 million facility in Bristol to raise salmon instead of going to another state, but he’s glad for what did happen. “The market for fish is just going to be growing, so guys like John Metz and Kevin - these guys are on the cutting edget of what we’re going to see more of in Indiana.”

It’s slow going, but a couple of guys are raising fish in Goshen. In the long term, that’s good for our economy and our tastebuds.

Quick Bites

Ÿ The ballots have been rolling in both via the newspaper and eTruth.com for Steak Quest. Hundreds of readers have expressed their opinion on their favorite steak in Elkhart County. If you haven’t already, today is your last chance to get ballots to the Truth office or on eTruth.com. You can only vote once per device online, but can send in as many ballots as you want.

My final tasting to determine a winner happened last week. My winner and yours will be announced in next Monday’s edition.

Ÿ This is a big food week. Wednesday night will be big for many bars, as it’s one of the biggest party nights of the year. Das Dutchman Essenhaus and others will sell a lot of pies and premade meals this week. Thursday will involve a lot of cooking and eating. Reader Ronda C. asked which restaurants are open and here are the ones I’m aware of:

Amish Acres, U.S. 6, Nappanee, will have a buffe from 10:30 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Perkins, 107 North Pointe Boulevard, Elkhart, 6 a.m. to 10 p.m.

Baker’s Nook Cafe, 127 Easy Shopping Place, Elkhart, will have a buffet for $15 a person, $8 for children, from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Kowloon Chinese Restaurant, 1130 W. Bristol St., Elkhart, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.

Lakeshore Grill, 51330 S.R. 19, Elkhart, will open at 6 p.m. until customers are gone.

Ÿ Carl Van Gilst said another restaurant is under construction in North Meadow Plaza where Wasabi is located on the north side of Goshen just west of S.R. 15. Taqueria El Maza is in the works, he said.

Ÿ The former Miranda’s/Minuteman Drive-In on U.S. 33 in Dunlap has a sign out front saying it’ll be “The Taco Shop.”

Ÿ Some readers wondered what the news was that broke last weekend about a national chain coming to Michiana. A Hard Rock Cafe will open in the Four Winds New Buffalo casino next summer, according to a press release.

Ÿ It appears that Robby’s Cafe, 2711 Benham Ave., is closed. The restaurant hasn’t been open recently and shades are drawn, the sign is empty and the phone went unanswered last week.

Marshall V. King is news/multimedia editor and food columnist for The Elkhart Truth/eTruth.com. You can reach him at mking@etruth.com, 574-296-5805, on Twitter @hungrymarshall or via Facebook at www.facebook.com/DiningALaKing.



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