While trout season in Pennsylvania is relatively short, central Pennsylvania residents can now purchase farm-raised rainbow trout year-round thanks to a new venture by 21-year-old Cora Reed.
After a short stint with the Pennsylvania Army National Guard after high school, Reed decided to simultaneously pursue the trout farm and a business degree at Penn State, where she’s currently a sophomore. Since Reed is taking college classes remotely due to the COVID-19 pandemic, she has had the ability to manage the day-to-day operations at the trout farm, including monitoring, sales, marketing and processing.
As a full-time student, she relies heavily on her parents and two siblings, Clayton and Madison, to help manage Springcress Trout Farm, located at 7373 Furnace Road in Mifflinburg, Pennsylvania. While the endeavor is a young one, Reed has already increased production from 500 trout to 2,000 annually.
Reed is the sixth generation to live on the 120-acre Watson-Reed farm and has intentions of staying in the area and growing the business into a full-time career. “I love where I live. I love where I grew up,” she said, smiling. “I’ve always grown up on a farm and around animals. My dad studied at Penn State and got an agricultural degree, so he’s given us a knowledge about it.”
She added that her dad started raising coho salmon in the late 1990s, but a job opportunity took him in a different direction.
Reed’s rainbow trout business started about two years ago.
From Fingerlings to Full Grown
“We chose rainbow trout because they are more of a native species and the (fingerlings) are more accessible,” Reed said. “We buy them from a hatchery in Mill Hall. Eventually, we plan to collect, fertilize and incubate our own fish eggs.”
She said the trout start out as 2-inch fingerlings, which are then raised to about 18- to 20-inch mature trout — their size “when they are crowded into nets and then processed.”
The trout are raised in water that flows from a spring at the farm.
“The limestone-fed spring is the life source of the farm,” Reed said. “From the spring, we pump the water into our 19th-century barn in constructed raceway tanks. The tanks are concrete tanks that are 20 feet long, 8 feet wide and 4 feet deep. The most important part is the flow of the water through the tanks using gravity.”
Reed is able to raise the trout year-round, because the spring water stays at a constant temperature of 48 to 52 degrees, which, she said, is “perfect for trout.”
The fish are raised on a high protein-and-energy pellet, giving the trout a mild taste.
“It’s a daily commitment,” Reed said. “We have to check the water flow and water quality. ... The water runs through a series of sand filters and has to be highly oxygenated with diffusers and air stones. That has to be just right.”
Of course, as with any new venture, some trial and error is involved. To prevent fish kills, Reed and her father have spent a great deal of time educating themselves about best practices and visiting other hatcheries.
The Taste of Trout
In addition to a propagation license from the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture, Springcress Trout Farm also has a food processing license. This allows them to have an area in the barn to clean fish for consumers and local restaurants.
When a customer order comes in, the trout are crowded into one area of the tank and netted.
The trout are offered in two ways: $8 per pound for whole, gutted fish and $12 per pound for fillets. Consumers can come to the farm to pick up the trout or they can be delivered to the surrounding area, with a 10-fish minimum order.
Reed says their customers can take comfort knowing where and how the fish were raised. While the COVID-19 pandemic hasn’t altered their operation significantly, the Reeds are taking extra precautions on the farm — they do their best not to overlap customer pickups and face coverings are worn by the owners and required of customers.
Springcress Trout Farm’s primary markets are currently Elizabeth’s Bistro, a fine-dining restaurant in Lewisburg, and Crossroads Farm, which serves mostly as a delivery system to the local community.
Looking ahead to the future, Reed said that marketing is their biggest business challenge, especially catching up marketing with production. She is confident that her business education at Penn State will serve her well as she tackles this aspect of the farm.
Springcress Trout Farm also has its sights set on a cookbook that highlights the light and mild flavor of rainbow trout.
“We hope to come up with a cookbook and cooking suggestions, but we always say to keep it very simple: butter and garlic,” Reed said. “Because trout has such a mild taste, it can be paired with anything.”