Let’s contemplate the “love” that goes into the growing of the oyster that you desire at your favorite raw bar, restaurant, or seafood retailer. The oyster growing process reminds me of the Nigerian proverb “It takes a whole village to raise an oyster” (liberally adjusted by the author for this application). Previously during my Seabattical, I learned by lending a hand (and back) at other oyster grants in Duxbury Bay and in Wellfleet. On this frosty mid-November morning I found myself on a small powerboat crossing Buzzards Bay. This time to work on another oyster growing operation at the Cuttyhunk Oyster farm.
Upon our arrival, the enthusiastic team geared up (hip boots, gloves, and warm work clothes) and golf-carted across the island to the Cuttyhunk Pond farm site. From the floating work barge we pulled numerous lantern nets where the oysters were growing like pumpkins on a vine.
Here’s where the work began. We divided and conquered the work list. My job was to empty the oysters from the nets into milk crates. Two of the team began culling the oysters into market sized oysters and those that would be returned to the nets for further growing out. Next the nets had to be “picked” by hand to clear them from oysters which had stuck or grown themselves into the nets. This task reminded me of extracting meatballs from a tangled clump of spaghetti noodles. Ideally, I would remove the fouled oysters without damaging the net. Occasionally, with an especially stubborn oyster, the net would have to be cut with the most minimal incision required to remove the offending oyster. The net cleaning process, which seemed to go on for hours, appealed to my compulsive nature. After each net was “picked” it was spread out above the high tide line to bake in the sun.
The work was entertained by sporadic conversations, joking, stories, and long periods of peaceful, contemplative, harmonic working silence. Every once in a while I stood up to stretch my back out from my hunched-over-the-net working position. I took in the breathtaking seascape surroundings, and then grabbed another lantern net to sort out. It was fulfilling to be a part of this a brood of hardworking cheerful aquatic farmers.
As the cullers CONTINUED their sorting, the rest of the team filled repaired lantern nets with oysters that were going back into the water to grow larger. At the crescendo of both operations, we all jumped back on the barge to rehang the nets back into their aquatic pumpkin patch.
Today, I was once again reminded of the extraordinary effort and care that the farming of organic food (especially the oyster in this case) receives before it lands on our palate. Certainly the process adds value to the food and to the appropriateness of the adage “what you eat is what you are”.
Thanks to Captain Seth Garfield and his jolly team of ocean ranchers for allowing me to contribute to the workings of the Cuttyhunk Oyster Farm.