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I honestly thought I could get through my last few winter weeks on the farm without a single snowstorm. I’m also that girl that never thought it would rain on her wedding day and got married outside on the beach.
Naturally, it poured.
And we got 22 inches of snow in Duxbury this past weekend.
The snow made for a picturesque ride down to the farm on Monday, especially since Berg made the call to put us on the tide at 6:45 a.m. We arrived to find the sun rising over the snow-covered beach and our Oysterplex trimmed in icicles.
There was a lot of busy work involved with that much snow. A2, Quinn (who’s back in town for a few days on winter break) and I ran up to the shop to grab the farm truck only to find it completely snowed in. We shoveled it out (at one point, Billy Bennett stopped to watch us shovel and yell out: “Not what you signed up for, was it Erin?”) and ran it back down to the water so we could pick up the cages, which Berg and Chris had hauled out of the water for us. We made a few trips, getting several dozen cages out and stored away in the process. Our short day ended when the tide came up — we celebrated our mini success with a big breakfast at Persy’s.
Last week, we had purposely put a massive pile of bags into the cooler so that we could all take some time off for Christmas. Last Thursday and Friday were impressive: Despite sub-freezing temps, Pops (who is also back for winter break), Will, and Berg washed a ridiculous number of crates so we could load up the truck and get this huge stack of oysters packed away. Hopefully Santa is delivering a few bags like these to you and yours this week.
Monday was also the Island Creek Christmas party, a raucous affair that started at 4 pm and ended well past midnight. We set up a raw bar in the shop and a liquor bar in the office which made for a number of freezing-cold sprints from one venue to the next.
It was a wild night for the whole family. Skip pulled out half a case of champagne which went down like water with our glass perron. A2 found out that despite a lot of practice, he still can’t beat Skip in a shucking contest. And late, late into the night, we all came face to face with Don Merry’s ferocious dexterity with a hose. Dave and I left the scene soaking wet and laughing our heads off around 11:30.
This week, Dave and I are spending some time in Knoxville with my Murray side of the family (the 15-hour drive went well – our usually carsick dog, Rex, managed to pitch a no-hitter). While we won’t be eating any oysters (my expecting sis-in-law Allison wouldn’t be allowed to eat them anyway – yay!) we’ve got plenty of snowy Duxbury memories to get us through the week. Plus, I know somewhere in Charlotte, our friends the Williams are shucking and slurping a few dozen Island Creeks on our behalf. (Thanks, Jim!) Also looking forward to a visit from my sis Shannon and her husband, Brian, so we can toast the upcoming arrival of their new, adopted daughter Gracyn. Yes, 2010 is looking to be a very baby-filled year.
Speaking of babies, the Wall Street Journal did a nice job capturing the story of Island Creek in its infancy in this blog post (unfortunately, they misspelled Skip’s name… but the rest of it is accurate and fun to read).
Finally, a quick note of thanks for keeping up with Shucked. Through the ups and downs, the seed, the harvest, and the cold days of winter, it’s been an absolute joy to chronicle, especially knowing you’re out there going through it all with me. Here’s hoping your holidays are filled with family, love, and plenty of Island Creek oysters.
About two weeks back, on our last warm-ish day before the bitter cold set in, Skip’s crew convened at the office after work. It was 4:15 p.m. and the sky was dark. Skip presented us with an oyster farmer dilemma: What does one do between the time the sun sets and the bar opens? We were done with work, we’d put in a full day and we were ready for a brew. The Winsor House wouldn’t open for another 45 minutes. Skip’s answer: Warm Bud Light. (Random fact about Skip: He likes his beer warm.)
But more often than not, the farmers I work with enjoy heartier beers, especially ones that pair well with our ‘sters. So it only made sense, Skip told me a few months back, that Island Creek and Harpoon Brewery had decided to pair up to brew Harpoon’s next 100-Barrel Series, Island Creek Oyster Stout, a heady, dark beer brewed with our very own oysters. The guys are pretty stoked: They get to pair their creative energies with another local institution, one who supported us at Oyster Fest and who we support by drinking gallons and gallons of their IPA.
Last week the brewer Katie came down to check out the grant — she’s still working on her test batches (that’s actually chocolate stout in the bottle) but will be brewing in January. The beer launches on February 5th so keep your eyes on local beer menus.
While we were out there (it had been awhile since my last trip to the grant) we actually got some work done too (riiiggghhht…. work). We’ve been prepping for winter by stashing some oysters into mesh bags that will lay on the bottom of the grant. We connected all the bags together with system lines so that if there’s ice (fingers crossed there won’t be), we’ll be able to pull the bags up easily. Out on the tide last week, we got about 200 bags connected. As we zip tied everything together bare-handed, Skip cried out: “Hey office girl – no gloves?”
As we’d hoped (prayed, begged for, desperately needed), the last of the seed came out of the water this week. Berg pulled the very last of it today and Skip will get it planted tomorrow. No more dirty bags, no more cages (except the ones we have to pull)… We can all breathe a little easier. Berg especially (that stout can’t get here soon enough).
Friday was our first below-freezing day and of course, we weren’t ready for it. We got to work to find our hoses completely filled with ice (we defrosted them in the shower at the Maritime School) and spent the day tackling the temps and high winds.
Despite running out of propane for our space heater midday we survived the coldest day of the year. And while the temps are already much lower than they were my first day, I’m feeling a lot more prepared this time around. Maybe it’s the fact that the office is calling my name in just a few short weeks. Or maybe I’m just plain used to it.
After my day at Per Se, Berg texted me: “If you can’t handle the heat you can come back to the farm.” Ah, Berg. Always good at handing me a dose of reality. Honestly, I was ready to get back. Our trip to NY had left me with stars in my eyes – we’d eaten at Craft, visited the Food & Wine offices to chat with Kate Krader and Kristin Donnelly, who wrote a great blog post about it, and spent the day (and night) at Per Se. An oyster farmer can only handle so much.
My first day back, we were on the move once again. The float came back to land (if you can remember waaaay back, it’s been on the water since April.).
Now we’re anchored next to the dock by the Maritime School which means we’re hooked up to electricity and running water and we’re within spitting distance of the bathroom. (Hooray!) We like our new little nook. When the tide’s high, we can see over the wall that shields the dock from most high winds and waves and during low tide, like the epic drainer we had last night, it feels like we’re hidden away from the rest of the world. Nice little place to be for the winter.
We celebrated our first week with a few swigs of Harpoon from a growler Skip brought down. We used our sustainable ice bucket just for the occasion.
We’ve been lucky to have a mild fall and early winter so far. There are rumblings that this might be a “less-than average” year for snowfall – here’s hoping that’s true (though, Skip admitted that the oysters do like the cold for a little while).
And believe it or not, we’re nearly done with seed! I’m sure I sound like a broken record – we wanted to have it all planted by the end of October. But we depend on good weather and the tides to get access to the lease and neither have been on our side this fall. But Skip and Berg planted more of it yesterday and we’re hoping to get the final cages emptied and planted by next week. Once that’s done, we can get our cages up to storage and call it a year. Just in time for Christmas.
As for me, my time on the farm is winding down – incredibly hard to believe. The plan is for me to come off the farm and start working in the office on January 1st. I know, I know – Erin, you’re turning into a suit! (And conveniently, right in time for whatever cold snap we might get.) But that was my plan from the beginning and I’m sticking to it. I need to see how the company runs things from the other side. It’s a missing piece on my farm-to-table path so I’m looking forward to learning a new aspect of it all.
Yes, the guys are giving me a hard time about it. They’ve even come up with a new name for when I call it quits on the farm: Part-Time Pain.