A Taste of America Is in Idaho’s Magic Valley.
Nestled in south central Idaho, amid Rocky Mountain wilderness and the clear-flowing Snake River, resides a family of local farms that may be unlike any you’ve seen before.
Riverence follows a land-based farm model, but instead of tending potatoes, wheat or cattle they are cultivating something just as valuable – premium, American-raised trout.
In October 2022, Riverence family of farms became the first North American trout producers to achieve ASC-certification, meaning their farm-raised rainbow and steelhead trout meet the highest global standards for responsible aquaculture production.
That’s a big deal for any aquaculture farm. For Riverence, who employs over 300 local team members, manages 14 farm sites, and produces more than 22 million pounds of trout a year, it’s an enormous commitment. Yet a look through the company’s history of forward-thinking and dedication to sustainable practices reveals this as a natural next step in their journey.
To pull back the curtain, we went directly to the source. Riverence’s Vice President of Sustainability, Todd English, joined by Assistant Manager Brandi Lowe and Taylor Sturdevant, Incubation & Shipping Lead, weigh in on how they care for fish in the most responsible way possible, while being good stewards of their resources and “doing more with less.”
The magic of Magic Valley
“I think Magic Valley is one of the most breathtaking natural phenomena,” observes Sturdevant. “The ability for Riverence to have consistent and fresh available spring water is remarkable. Our farms are like no other, specifically due to these amazing natural resources.”
“We get a little bit of every extreme,” says Lowe, who has always called Magic Valley home. “From the glistening snow in the winter to the scorching sun in mid-summer, from the sagebrush in the desert to the trout and sturgeon swimming deep within the Snake River, even from the brisk air in the mountains with a sky filled with stars to a fiery pink sunset early in the evening there’s a little bit of magic all around us.”
According to English, “Idaho’s Magic Valley is unique in many ways but most importantly because of the incredible spring water resource we are lucky to have access to and take care of. It’s here because of a unique geological event that happened 17,000 years ago and crystal-clear water has been flowing ever since. It’s the perfect temperature and flow rate to produce incredibly clean-tasting rainbow trout and steelhead.”
The people make the place
You might be wondering – how does one get started working on a trout farm in the middle of the Gem State?
For Lowe, it was only natural.
“I was born and raised in southern Idaho and never planned to leave the area. On a field day in kindergarten, we visited an aquaculture facility and my six-year-old self thought feeding fish all day was possibly one of the best jobs I had ever heard of,” says the farmer, who now assists with every aspect of fish husbandry and management. “I always wanted to work outside and do something I felt fulfilled in, and it turns out I got hired at the same facility that I toured when I was just six years old, almost 16 years later.”
It’s a different story for English, who once built a career co-founding startup companies fighting climate change.
“I am also a passionate fisherman with a degree in Integrative Biology, so it only made sense that I ended up in the fish world. That said, I wasn’t always a proponent of aquaculture given my upbringing in the Northwest where ‘wild’ reigns supreme. But I recognized the importance of what aquaculture means for the future of the planet, wild fish, and a healthy diet and now I’m hooked.”
A company that values good and good quality
“Do good when nobody is watching is probably the value that sticks with me,” says English. “Our values are constantly guiding me and others to do the right thing at this company. We don’t take shortcuts. During my four years in sustainability with Riverence, we have made significant strides in fish health and improvements in environmental quality as well as community involvement and employee benefits. Our goal has always been to create a company where people and environment are respected.”
Lowe agrees, adding that “Riverence’s company values guide my day every day while I am working. Encouragement is my favorite value as it celebrates the team inclusion and diversity of every person who works at Riverence.”
“Animal welfare and product quality are some of the most essential standards I emphasize with my team,” says Sturdevant. “Without the proper animal welfare practices, our sustainability goals could never be met. Happy fish allow for the success of our company, ultimately allowing us to produce only clean and successful products.”
By producing eggs and fish on land and in clear spring water, Riverence is able to deliver high quality, responsible products with minimal environmental impact. Their carefully monitored land-based production system means no escapes (which can negatively impact wild fish populations and disturb local biodiversity) year-round consistency, and an ability to have full control over their aquatic environments.
From hatch to harvest
“We’re a vertically integrated company from egg to distribution, but we started on fish genetics before all else,” says English. “Aquaculture genetics have long been far behind those of other protein productions, so we set off to change that through very careful selection.”
Riverence also operates a state-of-the-art facility in Washington state that allows them to breed and select the highest quality, non-GMO eggs for their farms’ future trout production.
“Genetics are one of the three pillars of health, so it is critical we started improving them while we also worked on nutrition and environment,” English continues. “In 2017, we completely revamped the feed to minimize our impact and provide much better nutrition to develop healthy immune systems and strong skeletal structures. Our fish eat well and swim in some of the clearest water on the planet.”
“Our site in Washington differs from our sites in Magic Valley,” adds Sturdevant, who found her niche in Riverence’s incubation and shipping department.
“We are a brood facility with 90% recirculating aquaculture systems (RAS). RAS allows the use of less water in our day-to-day farming practices. Our trout families are genetically selected to be the best egg-producing fish. This means we stock less fish on-site, use less water, and get a better quality egg. We strive for quality over quantity.”
Working in harmony
“One of the things that attracted me to the aquaculture industry, especially Riverence, was their dedication to sustainability and conservation,” Sturdevant admits. “Unlike many agricultural systems, there is a symbiotic relationship between our product and the environment. Fish is the most sustainable animal protein source, and I am excited to be a part of that.”
Sturdevant holds a degree in Animal Science and came to Riverence four years ago after first working in the dairy industry.
“Working for a company that values environmental and social sustainability is extremely important to me,” adds English. “I know that I have buy-in at the ownership level that supports initiatives necessary to facilitate monumental change – I don’t have to fight for it.”
“Achieving ASC certification means that our entire process from social to environmental to employee safety has been validated. It also means we meet or exceed the best trout farming practices of today.”
“By taking care of our resources, we are not only promoting better products in nature, but we are also working to improve the land for future use while simultaneously feeding the world a healthy protein source,” says Lowe. “ASC certification means we can give our customers and partners the peace of mind that we take every action and consideration in promoting good practices while raising a great source of nutrition.”
Straight from the farm to your fork
Idaho-raised steelhead trout has a tender, flaky texture and a milder flavor profile than salmon, making it an easy win even for new seafood eaters. Cooked fillets are incredible when baked, grilled, pan-fried whole or flaked fresh into salads.
For Sturdevant, it’s all about the dip. “Hands down, absolutely my Smoked Trout Dip. This is a party favorite, and I love to entertain family and friends. This starts with our Riverence smoked trout, cream cheese, sour cream, fresh lemon juice, fresh dill, fresh garlic, hot sauce, salt/pepper and my secret ingredient, horseradish! Whip in a blender and serve with veggies and sliced baguette.”
English prefers a simple yet flavorful method that’s incredibly simple to achieve at home. “My favorite way of cooking trout is to barbeque it on a cedar plank. The cedar imparts a traditional Northwest-style flavor to the trout and it’s stunningly delicious. Simply soak a cedar plank for an hour, place the trout on top with olive oil salt and pepper and grill for 5 minutes on medium high. That’s it!”
You can find Riverence’s premium steelhead and rainbow trout products at restaurants and retailers throughout the U.S., including H-E-B, Hy-Vee, Giant Foods, Ingles Markets, Harris Teeter, Wegmans and New Seasons Markets.
Try more trout recipes from Riverence below: