You know what they say: Give a man some shrimp and feed him for a day. Teach a man to build an urban shrimp farm and sustainably feed the local community for a lifetime. Wait…
There may not be a precedent for Eco Shrimp Garden, an indoor shrimp farm located in Newburgh, but that’s why it’s so special. Opened in 2015 in the basement of an old mattress factory, it’s the brainchild of Jean Claude Frajmund, a Brazilian transplant hoping the urban farm will add to a movement for sustainable seafood in the US.
Frajmund conceived the venture 35 years ago, after a hitchhiking trip through Brazil allowed him to taste shrimp straight from the ocean, and made him wonder how to translate this purity back to cities. Frajmund’s desire to deliver fresh seafood was later compounded by his experience working in New York City’s high-end restaurants, where he witnessed an abundance of fish and shellfish with unidentified origins come through the kitchens. While questions about where the meat came from were part of popular rhetoric, concerns about where or how Americans get seafood remained largely unaddressed.
According to Frajmund, the US imported around 560,000 metric tons of shrimp in 2013, most being from Asian and South American countries, where chemicals are added before exportation. The conditions under which these shrimp are harvested are equally unsavory, as workers are exploited or even enslaved, and local ecosystems undergo severe environmental degradation.
So what is the solution? In an effort to solve these quandaries, Frajmund spent months researching the possibilities of creating a small-scale, sustainable shrimp farm. It wasn’t until a few years ago, however, when he read about a protein-rich compound of organic material called biofloc, that his idea started to become a possibility.
Using biofloc, it’s now possible to recreate an oceanic environment in the 24 tanks and four nurseries that comprise the Newburgh outpost. Tanks are also outfitted with innovative water-circulation technology to create a closed system that does not allow for the introduction of toxins. So not only are Frajmund’s shrimp raised naturally and chemical-free, but his facility is also waste-free. “Unless we are filling a new tank, the water bill is the same as it is for most families,” he says.
This farm is the first of its kind in the state and one of only 25 in the country—most of which are in outdoor rural communities. Frajmund hopes his farm will prove that city spaces can be used for food production on a local scale, and ultimately reduce the environmental impact of transportation while aiding the surrounding economy.
Because he sells shrimp at the Saturday Union Square Greenmarket, Newburgh’s close proximity to New York City made the farm’s current location appealing. But it was Newburgh’s cross-section of industrial influence and rural surroundings that sealed the deal. Frajmund believes the city “is in a very interesting moment full of revival and development.”
“If we can do this in Newburgh, we can do it in Manhattan, Chicago, Washington, DC—anywhere,” he says. “That’s amazing, and I think it will come sooner or later.”