Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Oyster Farming on Tomales Bay

I've eaten thousands of Oysters, killed thousands more, but until this past Sunday, I had only shucked, slurped, and savored.  However, thanks to the Pickleweed Community Oyster Farm and Luc Chamberland, I am now a proud Oyster farmer.  Well, as much as an individual who goes apple-picking for a day is an apple farmer, I suppose.  But we did plant our own Oysters and now have the chance, nay, responsibility of going back up to Tomales Bay every month or so and checking in on their progress.

The farming we're doing is pretty straight forward, almost anachronistic, at least once you have the baby Oysters.  Having seen the hatchery process at Drakes Bay Oyster Company, I can tell you that larval development is anything but simple.  We had the good fortune of being able to skip that part.  The Oysters we planted had been shipped in from another hatchery and were all ready and set to go into the water.  They're actually quite adorable. 


Once the packages of Oysters were cracked open, we had to count them out, placing 1,000 to a bag.  This was conveniently estimated with a standard measuring cup.


After a solid 45 minutes or so, the hard mesh plastic bags were filled, firmly "riot-tied" shut, and ready to be loaded on to the boat.


This was where the fun part came.  Any excuse to get on a boat, I'm in.  If Oysters are involved, doubly so.  However, I'm the first to admit I'm not the strongest swimmer.  That's why I like fishing; don't go into their environment but take them out and into yours.  Perhaps a little unfair, but it's leisure, not sport to me.

Typically, the farmers go out at lower tide.  In our case, there was a group of other first time farmers that went out before us.  So, when it was our turn to go, the water was a little rougher than usual.  I'm fine with that, but only while on a boat.  I knew we'd be getting in the water.  When we arrived at the actual planting ground, Luc's son, who was our captain, said "whoa, that's actually kind of deep."  Not the most encouraging words from the savvy pro.

However, nothing was keeping me from planting my little bivalve buddies.  I eagerly hopped in the frigid water, only to learn that my right boot in my waders had a hole in it.  Awesome.  We trudged about 40 yards away from the boat and began running into long tethers.  Our trusty captain lunged his hand into the water, pulled up a yellow line, and had us tie our treasure on.


After we finished and my boot was filled with Tomales Bay's finest, Luc's son grabbed a few harvest ready bags and we headed back to the beach.  Living in the city and rarely making it up there, I have to say that spending time on the bay does give you that transcendentalist feeling to just say "fuck it, I'm becoming an Oyster farmer or something."  It is truly beautiful, but I think that whole Haight-Ashbury "concrete doesn't breathe, man" is another converstation.

Instead, what I can tell you is that we returned to the beach, fired up the grill, and cracked open plenty of beers and Oysters.  Hopefully, the end product you see below will genuinely be one of the fruits of my own labor 10 to 18 months from now. 


If you live in the area, I highly recommend getting in touch with Luc to become a part of the Pickleweed Community Oyster Farm.  Everyone from school children to stock brokers are involved, and it's very user friendly.  It not only gives the opportunity to frequently go up to Tomales Bay, but the excuse.  "Sorry, honey, can't go to your sister's this weekend.  I have to go and take care of the Oysters."  Just don't forget your sunscreen because damn have my past few days sucked.

Cheers,
The SF Oysternerd  

7 comments:

  1. Great idea, which deserves to be tried out everywhere possible. There aren't any losers in community participation projects- the true spirit of human collaboration! Hope your bivalve buddies will enjoy their new home!

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    1. Cheers to that! There are a few in Seattle I've heard of and some in Boston and Long Island. Are you familiar with any in Europe?

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  2. Great post! Your little bivalve buddy is indeed adorable.

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  3. How exciting! Can't wait to see how things go throughout the next 18 months! The pix are such a great companion to your post.

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    1. Hey everyone. I wanted to make a quick correction to this post. The oysters that we ate that day were not from Pickleweed. They were from a neighboring farm, and quite delicious. My apologies for the confusion.

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  4. Does SF Oyster Nerd have any comments on the "San Francisco Chronicle" item (6/17/12 edition) about the "Oyster Guy" of Sun Fat Seafood Co. in San Francisco? See article and multi-media presentation at: http://blog.sfgate.com/cityexposed/2012/06/16/demystifying-oysters/ Is the advice about oyster selection consistent with what SF Oyster Nerd would offer?

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    1. Sun Fat hands down has the widest retail selection in the city. They are well handled and kept fresh in those nice upwelling tanks. Everything looks good, but just be sure to punch a hole in that plastic bag they tie up for you. Oysters need to breath and can suffocate in the tied plastic. Other than that, Sun Fat is one of the best choices in the city for oysters. Sustainable seafood might be a different story, but oysters are great.

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