Virginia’s food deserts benefit from tilapia aquaculture
Nearly 18% of Virginia residents live in a food desert, where access to healthy, fresh food is limited due lack of proximity to a nearby grocery store, farm market or other fresh food retailers. A typical healthy and balanced diet includes a minimum of two (4.9 ounce) portions of fish a week. Residents of Virginia food deserts are challenged to find affordable fresh fish options, so the potential to raise and sell fresh tilapia appears to be a promising enterprise for interested food desert communities in Virginia.
In 2018, the Virginia State University aquaculture program provided training and ongoing technical assistance to establish eight nontraditional tilapia raising operations within or near Virginia food desert communities. Preliminary market feasibility studies were conducted to determine consumer willingness to pay, potential market outlets and barriers to food desert consumer acceptance. Tilapia tasting events introduced preparation and cooking methods to potential customers.
Each system can produce up to 120-240 pounds per year, with one fish typically weighing 8 ounces and an affordably priced market value of $3 per fish. With a typical yield of 20-40 fish per month or 240-480 fish per year, a food desert operation may potentially earn a gross income of $720-$1,440 annually, therefore infusing the local economy in the range of $1,195-$2,390 per operation. Total operational potential local economic benefit range is $9,560-$19,123. Additionally, a total of 1,920-3,840 fresh fish are made available for purchase by food desert residents in Virginia to increase their consumption of fresh fish in a healthy, balanced diet.