Early this fall, the inaugural Farm.Field.Sea. An Island Culinary Adventure, took place. It was a weekend celebration of local food and its sources on Martha’s Vineyard. Each day offered a new adventure working closely with farmers and fishermen on the Island.
Then together, you design a menu with whatever you gather, the freshest ingredients possible from the land and water, getting to know our farmers, and authentic collaborators along the way. Then you end the day by cooking together with your bounty.
Farm.Field.Sea has so much to offer a foodie who wants to know where their food is coming from. Luckily on Martha’s Vineyard, we have a number of amazing farms, both land and sea. Most of the world is not so lucky, and Farm.Field.Sea really gives you the chance to follow your food from farm or water to the table.
What interested me were the Sea excursions, and part of those, was to meet local oyster farmers and learn about their work, learn to shuck, and of course eat the oysters fresh from the water.
Unfortunately, with the two cases of Vibrio Parahaemolyticus (VP), a naturally occurring bacteria found in the water, that have caused the oyster farms in Katama Bay to be shut down temporarily, sadly there would be no oyster shucking or tasting.
Not discouraged one bit, I was looking forward to learning more about our oysters and about an oyster farm that I was not familiar with, Honeysuckle Oyster Farm.
Sunday morning of the event, it a grey, rainy New England morning, but Farm.Field.Sea. is rain or shine, and one should be prepared to get a little wet or dirty. I donned my yellow rain coat and boots, and it was off to Katama Bay.
Even in the rain, it was beautiful, and I felt like I was a salty fisherman, braving the elements to make my living (no comparison I know). There at the dock, along was a number of Farm.Field.Sea. participants and Nic Turner, a young, blonde, smiling guy, not phased by the rain, standing in his boat.
Nic talked us through the process of farming oysters, from tiny seeds imported from Maine that spend time in the upweller (nursery), to when they develops a foot (oysters can swim for a small portion of their life) and finally when they seek a hard surface, like a piece of shell or rock, where they sort of cement themselves and grow into oysters.
We were all hanging onto his every word. It was so fun being in the elements, by the water, listening to an oyster farmer.
During these various growth stages, Nic is responsible for the oysters safety from predators. To help, the oysters are placed in mesh bags, which keeps them relatively safe while continuing to grow in the waters of Katama Bay.
There were so many cool things I learned at this Farm.Field.Sea. event, but I was intrigued by the “drills”. I had never heard of such a thing.
Rick Karney from the Martha’s Vineyard Shellfish Group was also there, and he told us about the pesky snail. Apparently there is this sea snail that can bore through an oyster shell with its sandpaper- like tongue and scoop out the oyster meat.
Yuck, that’s one nasty sea snail! It’s a big problem that oyster farmers have to deal with.
He was involved with a couple of commercial fisheries doing scalloping and conching. There came a point where he had to invest in a bigger boat in order to survive or find something different to do.
He had always liked the idea of oysters and aquaculture and its level of sustainability. Plus, there are a lot less x factors when farming oysters — except for this year with the VP bacteria.
Honeysuckle Oysters are a bit more briney then other oysters because they finish their growth cycle in the salty waters of Katama Bay, but they have a nice sweet finish — partly why they are called Honeysuckle Oysters.
The other reason for the name is because Nic has honeysuckle vines at the end of the road where he lives, so it’s also a nod to his home.
It takes a little time to get as big as lets say Sweet Neck Farm, where there are over 150,000 oysters grown.
For the 2013 season, you could find Honeysuckle Oysters at the Harbor View, Lattanzi’s Restaurant, and Lobsterville Bar & Grille. Sadly, I have not tried a Honeysuckle Oyster yet, but definitely will make a point to do so. I love oysters and imagine these are delicious.
Getting Back to Harvesting Oysters in Katama Bay
So, the state began testing the waters of Katama Bay for levels of VP on September 23rd and testing continues until October 7th which is only a couple days away. Then Nic and the other oyster farmers on Katama Bay will know if they can get back to their oysters.
Unfortunately, the VP has had an impact on the oyster season for these farmers. The oysters are continuing to grow in the water.
So, when (I am hopeful that the water gets an OK) the oysters are harvested, there will be some that will go right to local restaurants, but some will be too big to eat raw. So, they’ll have to be sold for other uses.
Also, Nic says, “Many of the farmers were unable to move their seed oysters from the upweller (nursery) into cages (which would normally be freed up as oysters are harvested and sold). The consequence could be that some oysters are stunted in growth, which would be troublesome for the 2014/15 season.” I’m hoping that they are lucky and there is not much of an impact.
Meeting Nic Turner at Farm.Field.Sea. was a fun, educational experience. An event like this offers a truly unique experience of where food comes from on Martha’s Vineyard.
Because of it, I have a deeper respect for oysters from Martha’s Vineyard, and I loved meeting one of the next generation of sea farmers, not afraid to take chances and work hard. It truly is a labor of love, and Nic gets to enjoy it every time he shucks an oyster fresh from the water and savors a little piece of heaven — his heaven. I can’t wait to try them!
You can also find Honeysuckle Oyster Farm and Farm.Field.Sea. (there will be one in the Spring and Fall of 2014) on Facebook. And speaking of social media, don’t forget to “Like” us on Facebook, on follow us on Twitter, Linked In, Pinterest and YouTube.
Special thanks to Ben Scott, Blue Rock Design Co for some of the great photos of Honeysuckle Oyster Farm.