March 11, 2019
What’s more southern Louisiana than Crawfish? The answer is simple…nothing! Our FarmHer trip to Louisiana started way down south, just outside of Lafayette. There the RFD-TV crew and I made a visit to D&G crawfish. Someone had signed Dana Frey up via our website and after a few short phone calls, I knew her operation was one we needed to visit. Dana’s now husband, Gerard had started crawfish farming in high school and had built a solid operation by the time he and Dana were married. Around that same time, Gerard had a kidney transplant, making it dangerous to work around the crawfish. Dana stepped in, taking over the crawfish farming operation, leaving the rice to him. Dana set to work growing and strengthening the operation, expanding their wholesale and retail accounts and adding in a processing facility there at the farm. Today the farm has grown to ponds filled with plump crawfish spanning well over 2000 acres, resulting in 900,000 pounds of crawfish harvested from the impressive operation each year. She has also expanded to a laser-leveling and dirt work business, to even out their income in the offseason.
Upon arriving at the farm we set off right away, to see some of the farm workers in action, harvesting the crawfish. Once we were by one of the crawfish ponds, Dana explained the process. It starts with a laser-leveled pond base that was planted with rice in the prior season. The ponds are then flooded with fresh water to allow the crawfish to come out of the mud below the pond and swim freely. While the ponds are flooded, basket nets are set out at regular intervals. A piece of bait is dropped into the nets daily, causing the crawfish to climb on in. The ponds are harvested each day by a worker in a push boat who methodically and very skillfully pushes the small boat while dumping the crawfish into a bag on board. This process happens daily for about 6 months out of the year - from January through early July, typically. During peak months in a good season, D&G crawfish harvest about 800 bags of crawfish a day out of their ponds. The critters are then taking directly back to the onsite processing facility where they are washed and sorted by size.
From there, the larger ones are sent to the cooler to be kept for restaurants and other accounts. Others are dumped in a huge vat of boiling water, load after load in the next building. They are then dumped on long tables in a room filled with more workers who work methodically to extract the tail meat. It is then immediately moved to the next room where it is weighed and vacuum packed, then ready to send out to grocery store shelves around the country! As Dana walked me through the various parts of the operation, I couldn’t help but be impressed with the infrastructure they have built to keep the business not just bustling but growing.
One more interesting note, later in the day I had the chance to watch as one of the workers “seeded” one of their rice fields. The rice is planted in the empty crawfish ponds every other year to allow the pond to regenerate and to provide food for the crawfish that will live in it, after the grain is harvested, the next year. While the rice is planted, they “seed” the field with crawfish. I’m not sure what I expected the “seed” to look like but I definitely was surprised when he started flinging fully grown, freshly harvested crawfish out into the field. The crawfish then burrow down into the mud and will be there and waiting after they harvest the rice this fall and when they flood the field to harvest the crawfish!
To end my day of learning and fun way down south, the Frey’s treated me to a good old fashioned crawfish boil. They invited a few of their close friends, and showed me how they do it in Louisiana! I watched as Gerard whipped up a batch of crawfish etouffee using the freshly packaged tail meat. We then ate that over rice as a starter to the main event. Outside they were boiling a huge vat of crawfish which they drained and moved into a large cooler. Then they sprinkled the steaming crawfish with Zatarain's powder and stirred them up and took the cooler straight into their outdoor kitchen and served up the crawfish by the platter to the eagerly awaiting group. By the end of the night, I had the process down to pinch, twist and pull out that sweet, sweet tail meat.
Under the watchful eye and keen sense of the FarmHer of the operation, Dana, the farm has boomed. Dana takes pride in running the operation and she works hard to keep it strong and successful, getting just a few hours of sleep a night during peak crawfish season. But, as she says, she loves what she does and it is clear to me that this Louisiana woman, not only loves running the farm but also, spreading a little bit of her beloved culture, via crawfish, all around the country.
April 21, 2019
I really enjoy your informative program. I do not farm although I am drawn to the farm life and appreciate everything the farmer does and appreciate you exposing is to the fantastic female farmers that keep us fed ! Thanks
March 15, 2019
I had the pleasure of touring Dana’s farm a few years back. She is one busy lady! You can tell she takes pride in what she does and has taken the bull by the horns and worked hard to make that business a success! She also has a kind heart and has “adopted” several of her workers as family. Truly an inspiration! Can’t wait to see her again at Women in Ag!
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The busyness of holiday preparations, year-end closing of financial books, tax preparations, loan renewals and prepay of next year’s commodity inputs may have your snow globe resembling the topsy-turviness of a blizzard. Good health and wellbeing, including mental health, is a key factor that contributes to one’s ability to keep farming.
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