For the first time in the industry’s history, a female – Mary Quitman Holmes – is Alabama's Catfish Farmer of the Year. She said as a young girl growing up in Hale County, she dreamed of a different career path.
“When my dad got home from working at the bank, I would ride down to the farm with him to check on his fish,” Holmes said. “I never imagined I would end up back on the farm, but it has been one of the best decisions of my life.”
Reid Lawson, Holmes’s father, started a small catfish farm in Sawyerville before purchasing property in Perry County. He then relocated the farm to its current site between Newbern and Uniontown. Lawson is one of the five original owners of Harvest Select, a catfish processing plant in Uniontown. He also is a founding member of the Alabama Catfish Feedmill there. He continues to serve on Harvest Select's board of directors and is always willing to give advice to his daughter when it comes to the farm, she said.
“It’s been fun to work with my father and learn the tricks of the trade from him,” said Holmes. “We are closer now than we have ever been.”
Today, Lawson Catfish Farm has 350 acres of water and is growing under Holmes’s supervision. She said the farm will add 50 acres of water for more catfish this year. Her sister, Amy Lawson Cooper, recently moved back to Greensboro with her family and is involved with the family farm.
“Originally when I moved back to Greensboro in 2008, I just helped with payroll and kept the books for the farm,” said Holmes, whose farm grows nearly 3 million pounds of catfish a year. “Now, I'm involved in the day-to-day decisions on the farm and in making long-term plans.”
Holmes said when she meets new people they're often shocked to discover she's a catfish farmer. When she was named Alabama Catfish Farmer of the Year in February, she became a spokesperson for the catfish industry. That included representing Alabama at the largest seafood show in America -— the International Boston Seafood Show.
“The seafood show was amazing,” Holmes said. “I had never even been to Boston or a seafood show. There were people from all over the world selling and promoting fish, and they all loved catfish. People came day after day to learn more about the industry and to sample our fish.”
Wife to William and mother of three children — Mary Coleman, 14, Elizabeth, 8, and Lawson, 6 — Holmes has a passion for promoting U.S. Farm-Raised Catfish. She said these fish are a safe, healthy food she confidently feeds her family.
“The biggest challenge catfish farmers face is competition with low-quality imports,” she said. “U.S. catfish are raised in clean water with a healthy diet of pelleted grain,” said Holmes. “They are strictly monitored to produce a safe food that you would want to feed your children.”
Regarding day-to-day farm chores, Holmes said she couldn't survive without farm manager Menno Clemmer and assistant manager Rock Hoskins.
“We have great farm managers,” she said. “Menno has been with us almost 12 years, and Rock has been here three. They are an amazing team to work with.”
The Alabama Farmers Federation’s Mitt Walker, who is the organization's Catfish Division director, said he's excited Holmes is representing the state.
“Lawson Catfish Farm has a great reputation in Alabama, and we're pleased Mary Quitman is carrying on that legacy,” Walker said.
“I know she's done a great job representing U.S. Farm-Raised Catfish, and we congratulate her on recognition as Alabama’s Catfish Farmer of the Year.”
Holmes, a University of Alabama graduate with a degree in finance, worked at several banks and lived in Tuscaloosa, Birmingham and New York before returning to Greensboro. In addition to catfish farming, she is vice chairman of the Peoples Bank of Greensboro, serves on the Southern Academy board of trustees, The University of Alabama Honors College board of visitors, serves on the department of Camp McDowell and is a member and trustee of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Greensboro.
Catfish Farmers of America Executive Vice President Roger Barlow said The Catfish Institute honors a catfish farmer from each of the top three catfish-producing states – Alabama, Arkansas and Mississippi.
“Each of these individuals worked hard to ensure the viability of the U.S. Farm-Raised Catfish industry,” said Barlow, who also is president of the institute. “They are the face of the industry and will be used in many promotions throughout the year. We applaud them and thank them for their continued efforts.”
For more information about U.S. Farm-Raised Catfish, visit UScatfish.com.
For more information about Alabama's catfish industry, visit tinyurl.com/BamaCatfish.