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University of Missouri

Betting that Sustainable Fish Sticks

A family of Tigers has turned the meaning of “family farm” on its head.

Randy Constant portrait

Randy Constant operates an organic indoor fish farm in Chillicothe, Missouri. Photo by Nicholas Benner.

Randy Constant sees trends and risks. Organic farming is a trend he correctly predicted in the late 1990s. But Constant, BS Ag ’81, didn’t like the variability in the wholesale prices of organic produce. That’s risk. Instead, he built a successful business growing and supplying organic feed grain for organically raised livestock, which is a more predictable market. Less risk. His latest trend prediction: sustainably farmed fish.

Because of safety concerns surrounding imported farmed fish from China, the world’s largest producer, Constant predicts the growing number of health‐conscious U.S. consumers will flock to Quixotic Farming’s tilapia.

We can’t grow enough fish,” Constant says over the loud hum of an air circulation system in his indoor fish farm. Inside a former Walmart in Chillicothe, Missouri, the town where Constant and his wife, Pamela Stephens Constant, BS Ed ’80, grew up, are 32 tanks. Each holds 11,000 gallons of fresh water and 4,000 fish. The water used is continuously filtered and recirculated.

The business is a family effort, employing son Lane Constant, BS BA ’04; daughter Claire Constant, BJ ’10; and son‐in‐law Eric Ely, married to Morgan Constant Ely, BS Ed ’06, M Ed ’07.

To help assure consumers the products are not from China, the fish’s lives are documented and third‐party verified, from the first four days in their Netherlands hatchery, to their three months at a growth farm in Trenton, Missouri, to their five months in Chillicothe, to the processing plant in Colorado Springs, Colorado.

There are cheaper ways to grow tilapia, Constant says, but cheaper methods would mean sacrificing quality and sustainability. “That changes what we stand for, what we want to achieve.”