Don’s Prawns and More brings seafood to locavore scene

Don’s Prawns and More brings seafood to locavore scene

Don Maloney isn’t a typical corn-and-cabbage farmer; rather he’s testing Fairfield County waters with some fishy aquaculture.
By Alex Warner
Don Maloney jokingly holds two prawns up to make a moustache. 

Don Maloney jokingly holds two prawns up to make a moustache.

“If you like shrimp, then you’ll love prawns,” is a phrase Don Maloney is accustomed to
saying now. On this fall day, stationed at Maloney’s prawn sorting table is 8-year-old Zoe
Gardner. “Look at these,” she says, shaking two prawns in the air. Gardner and other workers sift through bins of prawns, sorting the small and large to be bagged and sold. “Yeah, this is definitely a large,” Gardner says while weighing a prawn on the scale.
In 2010, Maloney was brainstorming ideas for new income and decided to give aquaculture a try. He built his first pond, and three years later, he secured a microloan that funded the creation of two larger ponds. By chance, his name fit perfectly with the job, giving the operation, located just outside West Rushville, its name: Don’s Prawns and More.
The Natural Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration says nearly 90 percent of seafood is imported from outside United States borders, coming from countries like China, Thailand and Indonesia, where sustainability practices can vary. By growing locally, Maloney can produce prawns through a natural process without preservatives. The work involves enough heavy lifting to employ not one, but two right hand men  Jay Picklesimer and Dana Widener  to help with the upkeep process.
A single prawn before it is sorted. When cooked, the prawn will turn a pinkish-red color and taste similar to lobster.

A single prawn before it is sorted. When cooked, the prawn will turn a pinkish-red color and taste similar to lobster.

The prawns are placed in the ponds in early June at just about a half-inch long. “When you lay them in your hand, the only thing you can see is their two beady little eyes,” Picklesimer
says. Then in September, almost 110 days later, local high school students with Future Farmers of America scoop the prawns into baskets, which are then thoroughly rinsed twice and dipped into a chill bath. The team sorts the deceased prawns by size, weighing them to decide if they are small or large  small being anything under 15 grams and large being anything above 30 grams.
Since its start, Don’s Prawns has been gifted several grants from the Sustainable Agriculture and Research Education program. “We’ve won three [grants], which is unheard of.But the beauty of our operation is that we have two identical ponds so we can do testing here,”
Maloney says. The most recent test from gifted grant money didn’t work out quite as planned.“That’s the whole idea, you learn from your mistakes,” Maloney says. 
 Don Maloney (middle) stands proudly holding two of his harvested prawns. Close friends Dana Wilder (left) and Jay Picklesimer (right) help Maloney with the harvesting. 

Don Maloney (middle) stands proudly holding two of his harvested prawns. Close friends Dana Wilder (left) and Jay Picklesimer (right) help Maloney with the harvesting.

The entire process has been a learning experience for him. He says one of the biggest mistakes he’s made was not draining the ponds the night before customers arrived. It’s one of those mistakes he says that he’ll never make again. Now with six years of experience under his belt, Maloney has built a more effective system and gathered a trusty team. Widener has been
working with Maloney from the beginning. “We’ve come a long way from when we first
started.”
One of the two larger ponds behind Don Maloney’s house before it is drained and harvested. 

One of the two larger ponds behind Don Maloney’s house before it is drained and harvested.

Even today, they are still testing the waters with aquaculture. Maloney hasn’t used each pond to its full capacity because he’s trying to determine the local demand for prawns. Right now he’s breaking even. With high hopes for more distribution at events like the Ohio Fish and Shrimp Festival in Urbana every September, Maloney believes he’ll soon be able to profit from his hard work.
“It’s farming and it’s a gamble.” But for the near future, Maloney will continue to place
his odds on freshwater prawns.