Kentucky State University leads the way in sustainable fish farming, meet Doug’s golden retrievers and Versailles’ well-known trainer Kim Littlefield, Murray State grad Sue Darnell Ellis is a teacher and grandmother with a galactic mission, and The Seafood Lady serves up Florida-style seafood in the heart of Louisville.
Aquaculture at Kentucky State University
One of the biggest challenges in modern food science is increasing production sustainably for a growing population. Kentucky State University’s aquaculture program is at the forefront of this effort.
“The division of aquaculture at Kentucky State began in the early 80s,” says Jim Tidwell, Ph.D., Chair of the Division of Aquaculture at KSU. He adds that the program at KSU is the only one of its kind in Kentucky, and one of few aquaculture programs in the region. “We’re a unique resource for Kentucky farmers and for the whole region. We do a lot of international work as well. Aquaculture is fish farming, shrimp farming,” Tidwell explains. “We go from the egg to the plate.”
Research at KSU examines all aspects of seafood production, including breeding and raising aquatic species. A big focus is on optimizing nutrition using some innovative ideas.
“We do a lot of work on alternative feed ingredients,” says Tidwell. “We’ve done a lot of work on distillers’ grains. We’ve got seven distilleries right here around Frankfort, so [we look at] how we can use those byproducts to now become part of a fish feed that’s an efficient use of those resources.”
Janelle Hager is a research associate in aquaponics. She showed Kentucky Life an aquaponics system that grows tilapia alongside vegetables in a greenhouse system.
“It’s a small, commercial-sized system,” Hager explains. “We have four fish tanks that we’re growing tilapia in. [The fish food] is really the driving force of the whole system. It produces the nutrients for our fish and our plants in the system. They eat it, then we remove their solid waste via clarifiers. We have another series of filtration systems that remove all of our fine solids from the system and then the water moves down into our plant beds.”
The plants are primarily leafy green vegetables like lettuce and kale. Through the aquaponic system, the roots of the plants have constant access to the nutrient-rich water that comes from the tilapia production. Hager says that a lettuce crop grown though this system matures in about two to three weeks, a week faster than a traditional soil-based model.
At KSU’s aquaculture technologies building, researchers are using technology to produce saltwater seafood in a landlocked state.
“Because we reuse the water, we use filters to clean the water,” explains Andrew Ray, Ph.D., an assistant professor in the Division of Aquaculture. “What that allows us to do in this case is add salt to the water—sea salt—and grow marine shrimp right here in Kentucky. This species grows exceptionally fast and does really well at high densities. It’s exceptionally disease-resistant as well. By producing fresh, high-quality shrimp where we know the source of the shrimp, we know they’re antibiotic free, they’re hormone-free, they’re all-natural, we can deliver these shrimp right to Kentucky consumers.”
“In agriculture we talk about a really good producer as a green thumb,” says Tidwell. “In our area, we’d say a really good producer has a slimy thumb. This is the fastest growing food producing enterprise in the world. It’s the only area where the human being has remained at the hunter gatherer stage and we’re only just now turning into farmers.”
Littlefield Dog Training
It’s a big Kentucky Life moment as Buddy and Jackson, host Doug Flynn’s golden retrievers, make their on-screen debut. Doug, his wife Olga, and their two canine family members met with Kim Littlefield of Littlefield Dog Training in Versailles.
“We do a lot of teaching, both in classes and one-on-one,” says Littlefield. “We do basic pet obedience and some competition obedience. [We do] a lot of agility training. We also have a small kennel in the back and keep some dogs and train the dogs that are here. It’s a busy place.”
Through obedience training, dogs become good pets and members of the family. Littlefield also works with dog owners who are having trouble with a particular behavior problem, and that can make a huge difference in the dog’s future.
“Ninety-nine percent of the business is pets—people want to have a dog they can stand to live with—so it’s sit, down, stay come, walk on a loose lead, that kind of thing,” says Littlefield. “We get a lot of people who have problems with the dog. I’m always trying to solve those problems so they can keep the dog in the home and have a successful family.”
Both obedience and agility training not only help solidify the bond between dogs and their people, but they’re a lot of fun, too.
“Whatever game you want to play with your dog, you need to start with a foundation of obedience,” Littlefield explains. “Once we’ve got that, we start with agility stuff, little tunnels and other obstacles. Most of my agility students are just looking to have a good time. They enjoy working with their dog and it’s a great venue for continuing to work on your obedience where the dogs are having fun.”
Littlefield says that it’s “absolutely imperative” that the dogs are having fun when they go into a training session. Play is naturally incorporated into training. And her philosophy works—clients tell her that their dogs perk up and get excited as soon as they turn down Troy Pike toward “dog school.”
Like the Flynns, Littlefield’s own dogs are golden retrievers. She competes in field trials with her dogs, which plays into the traits that have been bred for in retrievers for generations.
“These dogs are high drive dogs,” says Littlefield. “They love to work, whether that’s field work where we’re swimming and picking up ducks or agility or basic obedience. Whatever we’re going to do, they’re gung-ho.”
Sue Darnell Ellis
In 1984, President Ronald Reagan announced NASA’s Teacher in Space Project, a program designed to honor teachers and inspire students to take a deeper interest in math, science, and technology. Paducah schoolteacher Sue Darnell Ellis was selected to be the Kentucky ambassador to the project.
The Teacher in Space Project was suspended in 1990 because of the tragic 1986 Challenger explosion in which teacher Christa McAuliffe died. But Ellis didn’t walk away from the educational opportunities that she had been working toward for her western Kentucky students and community.
“When I was selected to represent Kentucky for the NASA teacher in space program, and we lost the Challenger, Dr. Larry Allen invited me to come to Paducah schools to do some stuff with NASA,” says Ellis. “From all of that we created the NASA Space Project. It was a community involvement program.”
Ellis and a team of volunteers worked with students, teachers, and families in 19 western Kentucky school districts in the Space Science Education Program. The program was a success, and NASA took notice. Ellis’s program became their national model for space education.
Ellis was recruited by the Kentucky Department of Education, where she served as State Science Consultant from 1989 through 1993. From there, she went on to a long tenure at NASA where she was the Curriculum and Staff Development Specialist, working with educators across the country on math, science, and technology materials.
“Sue took a stand when the Challenger exploded,” says Dr. Renee Fister, a professor of mathematics at Ellis’s alma mater, Murray State University. “She said, ‘I’m going to do what Christa McAuliffe didn’t have the opportunity to do.’
“We in Kentucky sometimes get down on ourselves,” adds Fister, “To be the hub of NASA teacher education at that point—we have a lot to be proud of.”
The Seafood Lady
Before she became The Seafood Lady of Louisville, Nichelle Thurston was just a Florida transplant with a hankering for some Cajun-style seafood.
“I’d been here for five years or more, and I realized that I couldn’t find the type of food that we eat on the Gulf Coast,” says Thurston. “I ate at numerous places that people recommended, but it just didn’t do it for me—It didn’t have that edge of what I was looking for.”
So Thurston starting making her own seafood feasts and sharing them with a few neighbors. Those neighbors raved about her cooking to their friends, and more and more people started showing up at Thurston’s door.
“Once the line started forming around the block, there started being problems!” Thurston says. “At that point I realized that it was time to switch over—it’s a business now. I went out and bought my food truck. I had the food truck for eight months before I went into my first brick-and-mortar at Seventh and Oak.”
Thurston’s business got a boost when it was featured on national TV in January.
“Guy Fieri with the Food Network came to the restaurant and we filmed for his show,” says Thurston. “He was one of the most amazing people I’ve ever met. He gave us a lot of advice to stay strong to last for a long time. Everything turned out good—we were on the show and it’s brought us some awesome business.”
The business has its roots in Thurston’s family and has inspired other family members to follow suit.
“All of our recipes are recipes from my grandfather,” Thurston explains. “He was a master chef. It definitely inspired my family—they all have opened seafood restaurants since I opened mine.”
Through her popular restaurant, Thurston hopes to inspire her customers.
“My goal is to build—I wouldn’t say build a community—but I would say individually to help build people,” she says. “That in turn helps build community in the long run. Just helping people from different walks of life, bringing them in and showing them that anything is possible…I wasn’t born with a silver spoon in my mouth. I know what it is to come from poverty. To show people that they can come from that and end up here, or even farther than where I am, is an inspiration for me to continue to be great.”
Thurston’s story is compelling, but it’s the mouthwatering food that keeps her local customers coming back, and brings in diners from far-off places.
“We’ve had people drive, six, seven hours,” she says. “Surprisingly, we have people come here from New Orleans. They say, ‘We just wanted to try it!’ That really knocks my socks off. And then when they say it’s really good, that’s a pleasure because I know Cajun seafood is their specialty. To have them come here and tell me that my food is good—which I already know that it is—for them to tell me that, it’s kind of like a top off.”