Fourth-generation North Carolina tobacco farm turns to tilapia production

When Valee Taylor walks into the office of the fish farm he owns with his sister, Renee Stewart, he sees a future for his family. With fresh fish now in Whole Foods, some Publix stores, a number of Asian markets and in restaurants and other retail outlets in North Carolina, Canada and New York, Taylor Fish Farm seems well on its way.

Following the tobacco buyout, the fourth-generation tobacco family was looking for something to transition to. The main priorities for the new farm venture were to find something that would protect the land of his ancestors and also provide for the family.

Taylor knew that whatever direction the farm took, it needed to involve computers or some other technology if it was going to be of interest to the kids in the family.

“I wanted something that would be sustainable for my family. I saw fish farming as a business for the future,” Taylor said.

Survive the accident?

When a career-ending accident forced Valee Taylor to leave his job with the state corrections department, he faced a crossroads as he struggled to regain his health. His family was initially told he likely would not survive the accident, but he did.

“You look at things very differently,” Taylor said. “I have an idea of what we want this parcel of land to be. And we want to help keep our community together.”

To help with his recovery, Taylor’s doctor asked him what he liked to do before the accident. Gardening and fishing were two of his favorite hobbies, but the accident wouldn’t allow him to cast a line, so fishing wouldn’t work.

The doctor suggested he plant a small garden outside the door of his home, so he could work in it a little every day, slowly building strength as he went along.

Through his efforts he was able to share food from that garden with friends, family and neighbors. And with that, he discovered a new focus in life – feeding others.

Extension help

So Taylor set out to learn everything he could about building and operating an aquaculture operation through faculty and staff at N.C. State University and the N.C. Cooperative Extension Service. He sought out Dr. Tom Losordo and Dennis Delong, two top experts on recirculating systems for aquaculture production.

“I went to them and said, ‘I want to work with you for free,’” Taylor said. “I just wanted to learn everything I could about it, and they were the people with the information.”

When he felt ready with his new-found knowledge, he began the process of building the facility from the ground up, complete with a filtration system that is a copy of a municipal wastewater treatment plant in South Carolina, only on a much smaller scale.

Now, the operation marks nearly seven years in operation, with a growing customer base and an eye on ways to grow the business in the future. The operation is housed in a metal building on the farm just down the road from the Anathoth Community Garden, which sits on land donated by his parents.

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