JOHNSON CITY (July 9, 2013) — “Bear in mind I was the first person in the Southeast to raise fish for commercial purposes,” says Dick Jennings, age 89. The story of the Jennings family and its thriving trout farm in western North Carolina is the subject of a new half-hour documentary released by East Tennessee State University.
When Jennings, a Pittsburgh, Pa., native, first began to sell trout to restaurants, his methods, he admits, were sometimes “primitive.” The Gerber baby food company furnished him with tin cans free of charge. He would put fish into those cans with, he says, “a little wet ice,” and load them onto a bus bound for Atlanta, where a friend would make the rounds to restaurants.
Jennings Trout eventually became Sunburst Trout, moving from Jackson County, N.C., to its present spot in Haywood County, near Canton, on property formerly owned by Champion Paper Co. Located in the Pisgah National Forest, the area was once known as the Sunburst logging community, and Dick’s daughter Sally Eason, who runs the business today, thought it would be a fitting new name for the family enterprise.
Filets make up about 60 percent of Sunburst’s business. Since 1985, the company has expanded to offer some 15 value-added products. The first was smoked trout, done off the back of a tractor-trailer rig.
Trout caviar, once thrown away and viewed as a nuisance, has become a big seller at Sunburst, catching the attention of chefs like Jacques Pépin.
The new documentary, entitled “Rainbows at Sunburst: The Story of a North Carolina Trout Farm,” was produced by the ETSU Office of University Relations and the Center for Appalachian Studies and Services. Music for the production was performed by Brittany Jones of Harrisburg, Pa., a student the Bluegrass, Old-Time, and Country Music Studies program at ETSU. For more information, call (423) 439-4317 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.