And so, life goes on.

My time at Island Creek ended, ceremoniously, with that last lunch at Tsang’s. But there had been a pretty eventful week leading up it as well as a couple of neat oyster moments directly thereafter which I never properly reported.

It started with a visit from Adam James of the Hama Hama Oyster Company out in Lilliwaup, Washington. He was in town doing a tour of the Northeast and stopped by the farm for a quick morning to scope out the operation. While it wasn’t a great tide to get him out in waders, Chris, Skip, and I were able to show him the Plex and give him a peek at the cages.

Adam on the Plex

Skip popped a few oysters open for him, giving him a taste of Island Creeks at their peak. The oysters are just starting to get plump with all that pre-winter glycogen; the flavor is perfectly round and sweet. Just beautiful.

Adam’s operation is a lot different than ours. His family owns the 400 acres of tidal flats he farms on out in Washington’s Hood Canal.

While he has plenty of space to grow, he’s working with a unique, gravelly surface and 17-foot tides. His oysters are all naturally raised, meaning they’re grown from spat set on shell (versus ours, which are “free range”), which he harvests mostly by hand (their tides get them about 4-5 hours of picking time) and he’s growing both Pacifics and Olympias. He also grows geoducks and Manila clams.

As I was able to see for myself last week, his operation is similar to Island Creek in so many ways. Dave and I visited his farm on our trip to the Northwest the week after I left the farm and found it to be just the right day trip for our week-long tour. The company recently built a brand new retail operation and processing facility which sits right off Hwy 101 on the eastern edge of the Olympic Peninsula — the drive over from Seattle takes you across the spindly fingers of land that jut out into Puget Sound. We arrived to find Adam tapping away at his computer, which he happily abandoned to spend a day touring the farm.

After checking out his shucking and jarring operation (he has a big audience of shucked meat lovers) and sampling some of the oysters his wife Andrea was in the process of smoking, Adam and his dog Derby showed us around the rest of the farm. His family owns about 4,000 acres, all of which surround the Hamma Hamma river, a fresh water source that runs straight out of the Olympic range (and happens to be flush with salmon). A few family houses as well as a horse barn sit at the eastern edge of the property near the water but just past that sits a lovely forest park, planted originally by Adam’s grandfather — his family has owned the property since the 1920s. Up the hills, Adam pointed out where they’ve harvested and replanted glades along the range — they sell Christmas trees, too.

He walked us up the river a bit, pulling out a paper bag halfway through the walk to dive into his true passion: mushroom foraging. As we walked, he darted amongst the trees pulling up chanterelles and carefully stowing them away in his bag. Though he mostly forages for his own consumption and fascination, I’m hoping he’ll stash a few into the oyster shipments that have started showing up regularly at the Island Creek Oyster Bar.

Out on the water, Adam introduced us to one of the oyster crews who took us out for a ride on the barge. A heavy duty version of our skiff, the barge can handle a large number of oysters — they use it to pull up the seed which they keep on the southern part of their farm in rack systems as well as to harvest from the beds which sit a little farther north, close to the mouth of the river. That cold rush of fresh water, Adam said, is what gives Hama Hamas their sweet and briny balance.

We got to to sample a few, of course, fresh off the knife. As Adam pointed out, a few were still in spawn mode but those that weren’t were firm and juicy.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

With our appetites fully primed, Adam took us back to his cabin and made us a hearty, Northwestern lunch: bagel cheese burgers made from beef Andrea’s father grew topped with freshly picked chanterelles.

While Adam offered to put us up in his family’s guest cabin for the night, Dave and I made our way north into the Olympic range — but we’re determined to get back out soon and take you up on that offer, Adam. Thanks again for everything.



My very last day on the farm ended with a group lunch at Tsang’s. Wholesale and the crew… suits and boots… all noshing away on General Gau’s and pork spareribs.

While I have plenty to share about my last week on the farm, I’m about to hop on a plane to Portland, Oregon for a week of road tripping up the Pacific Northwest. So, I’ll leave you, for now, with some of my favorite Duxbury eateries.


…for the Old Italian…


…for the mac n cheese (and usually a Twix and some cookie samples)…

Gunther Tootie's

…for a bagel and the best coffee in town…

The Winsor House

…for an IPA, a warm fire, and some laughs…

Snug Harbor

…for the crabcake sandwich…

French Memories

…for ham and cheese croissants…

Yo Taco

…for the chicken verde burrito…

True Blue BBQ

…for the pulled pork sammy…


… and a fried chicken box lunch.

There will be one more meal to enjoy, just not in Duxbury. The Island Creek Oyster Bar opens for business tonight… around the same time we hop on the plane. My best of luck to everyone who worked their tails off to get that place running. You guys are going to rock. We’ll be there as soon as we get back…

In classic Island Creek fashion, my last few weeks on the farm have been packed with some incredible memories. That’s right. One week and counting.

I don’t think I’ve made any official announcements on this site, so here goes: This spring, I got a book deal with St. Martin’s Press. The book, titled SHUCKED, will be a memoir about my time at Island Creek, about leaving the real world to get my hands dirty on an oyster farm, and about my relationship with a farm, a town, and its people. Sadly, my time is almost up but the good news is that I get to take a few months off to write before my deadline in February. If all goes as planned, the book will be out next fall… just in time for peak oyster season.

I won’t dwell on how weepy I’ve been or how I can’t imagine a day without a high five from Skip, a smile from Shore, or a hug from CJ. Because while it’s way too sad for me to put into words just yet, it’s a happy reality for me to face. Not to mention, I don’t have time to be sad what with the way I’ve been spending my days and nights.

This week, the insanity started at the Chefs Collaborative National Summit. I spent Monday sitting in on panels listening to some pretty incredible voices weigh in on the current state of our seafood supply. Chefs Jasper White and Ana Sortun were part of the introductory session and gave some entertaining commentary on how they got connected with local, sustainable cooking. A few of their comments:

Jasper: I was frustrated with the seafood supply so I started my own wholesale company. It was so much red tape, that was five years ago, but I did it so I could get control of my supply. I tell every chef, “you have the right to see what we’re doing. Get up at 4 a.m., and come see what we do. Come to the auction, come see what it means to get 6,000 pounds of local swordfish in and what we do with it.”

Ana: I think culinary schools should get back in touch with the seasons. At the school I went to [La Varenne Ecole de Cuisine], they had us rip up recipes that weren’t in season. We cooked from what was available.

Jasper: [On sustainability lists] The focal point should be on environment instead of a single species. Keep the oceans clean. We’ll figure out how to grow it. And we promise, we’ll make it taste good.

My next stop was a panel called The Gulf Oil Disaster: What Will Become of our Domestic Seafood Supply? where the discussion was heated. Margaret Curole, an advocate for Louisiana fishermen, was hoarse from all of the speaking she’s done since the spill, and was the loudest dissenter of the group. She was frustrated that certain fishing areas had been opened prematurely and even more frustrated with the promotions boards which are pushing for people to eat Gulf seafood. She argued that they are putting pressure on those fishermen to fish when the fishermen themselves are still seeing oil in the water. Chef Stephen Stryjewski, co-owner of Cochon (who, like a true New Orleanian, referred to my favorite bivalves as “ersters”) explained that oystermen were losing most of their crop not from oil, but from the fresh water diversion the government approved back in May — it was meant to save the oyster beds but all of that fresh water has done more harm than good.

Curole and Stryjewski

After lunch, I checked in on a panel called Is Local Sustainable? A Look at New England Fisheries, where chef Michael Leviton sat down with three fishermen to discuss their reasoning for supporting local fisheries. Two of the fishermen have started community supported fisheries, one from Port Clyde, ME, the other down in Barnstable while Adam Fuller, a former chef talked about becoming a lobsterman with Snappy Lobster in order to open up the supply chain. Their message was: Get to know your local fisherman, learn what’s in season, and buy local when you can. Leviton took it one step further, from the chef’s perspective: Support local…at the highest quality.

A final panel of the current state of food writing had me intrigued as Tom Philpott of, Corby Kummer of The Atlantic, Jane Black of the Washington Post (and soon to be author), Corie Brown of, and Francis Lam of, hashed out what changes they’ve observed in the world of food journalism. Despite the massive shift of media from print to online, each sounded optimistic about coverage as a whole. We’re getting more news, more stories, and more politics… and seeing less of the fluffy, recipe-driven, cooking content (though, there’s still room for that too). What I enjoyed hearing was Philpott’s theory that the elite, holier-than-thou gourmands of the past have become story savvy (I’m paraphrasing). They want to soak in their foie gras… but not before finding out who raised it, packaged it, shipped it, and prepared it.

All encouraging news for someone who writes about food online and in print. Especially considering the project ahead of me.

Tuesday, Skip sat on a panel with fellow oyster folks Jon Rowley and Poppy Tooker. Our friend, author Rowan Jacobsen moderated the discussion, which ended with a tasting of east coast, gulf, and west coast oysters. Chris, Shore and I shucked for the group while Skip encouraged the audience to get to know its purveyors and buy from reputable sources.

Chef Leviton and the Bunker Hill C.C. culinary team

Tuesday night, we put together a pretty epic oyster table at Eastern Standard: John Finger of Hog Island Oysters was in town so Chris, Shore and I sat down with he and Rowan, as well as ES proprietor Garrett Harker for one of the most luxurious wine dinners I’ve ever experienced. ES wine director Colleen Hein opened some insane bottles, including a mindblowingly rich H. Billiot brut reserve grand cru… an absolute stunner with our selection of oysters.

And, it was a perfect way to celebrate Bug’s 26th birthday, which we did more of on Wednesday. Jeremy Sewall (chef at the new restaurant) very thoughtfully offered to cook for Shore’s entire group of friends…inside the almost-ready Island Creek Oyster Bar space. It was the perfect ICO meal: sharing plates, standing at the table, dunking chunks of lobster into butter, passing the wine, and putting down piles of beer. I share these photos reluctantly — and only because they take place in the kitchen.

Bug and J

a sneak peek at J Sewall's lobster roll

Hog Island's John Finger and Skip Bennett

Asia & Corydon

Gardner breaking down a 2.5 pounder

Just wait until you see the space. Any day now… I promise.

Well, it’s officially over… and it has been for almost two weeks. Apologies (again!) for taking so long to get this to you. But truthfully, I don’t think I’d fully digested all that occurred at this year’s Oyster Festival until just now. But here I am, with a recap at last.

It was an absolute whirlwind, from the moment the tents went up until the very last oyster was shucked. While we kept the footprint and general scope the same as last year (oysters, Harpoon, 20+ chefs, super-fun bands) we’d made some improvements to the system. One of those was the addition of a serious volunteer program — it produced more than 450 volunteers who did everything from teach our guests about recycling to working side by side with the chefs. We got them all under the tents on Thursday night for a little info session where Shore, Michelle Conway (our tireless volunteer coordinator and my new hero) and I filled them in on what to expect.

From there, it was straight into Friday for a long day of set up, a flurry of ticket sales and visitors at the office. On site, we got the signs hung, the tables set up, and put all the bones in place. That night, we celebrated with pizza and a few beers under the tent and welcomed a few friends who’d come in for the Fest (Nantucket buddies Seth and Angela Raynor & winemaker Jim Clendenen)

Saturday morning, we woke up to an absolutely brilliant sunny morning. After gathering all my last minute lists, supplies, and sanity at the office, I was out to the beach first thing. By 9 a.m., the place was buzzing with committee members who were anxious to get the final touches in place. Meanwhile, over at our friends the Hale’s house (where I’ve had more than a few Will Heward-hosted dinners), chef Ming Tsai and the TV crew of his show Simply Ming got busy shooting a number of segments for his upcoming season (look for Skip, Shore, and Jeremy Sewall once the show starts up again).

By noon, the Fest space was starting to look like a party and I got to spend a few quiet minutes with the who’d arrived.

But before long, it was 3 p.m. and Fest was underway. The crowds arrived in droves. From the minute the party started, the raw bars were packed – we shucked 34,000 oysters over the course of the day! Our shucker volunteers were animals, a few of them even worked straight through the event. (Thank you, Mark Goldberg!)

Inside the VIP Tent, some of our superstar chefs, winemakers, and bartenders demo’d entertaining tips for the crowd; but Annie Copps and Jim Clendenen truly stole the show. The food lines snaked through the tent but somehow my parents (who were up for the weekend) managed to sneak in at least a few bites of lobster served up by the Island Creek Oyster Bar staff. (Curious yet?)

Jim and Annie (or ABC squared)

Around the Main Tent, chefs were putting out steak tacos, pulled pork sammies, oyster bloody Marys, lobster tacos, and razor clam ceviche. I walked through the crowd a few times, overwhelmed by the number of people, but they were all having a blast and raved about the food. Just as the sun was going down, I finally got a taste of my own — a mini pulled pork slider from the guys at East Coast Grill.

Before I knew it, our band Joe Bachman & the Crew were on stage ripping it up for the crowd. Shore, Skip and I got pulled up there a couple times but the best seat in the house was right beside the stage. And while I didn’t catch the actual announcement, I was pretty touched to find out that Shore went up there at one point and told the crowd that they’d named me the 2010 Island Creek Pearl. An honor I will never forget.

two bosses hard at work

Angela, Ming & Jane

the crowd

Of course, it wouldn’t be an Island Creek Oyster Fest without a killer finale. Ours came in the form of the band playing Bon Jovi’s Dead or Alive — for Berg and the boys, of course.

And just like that… the party ended. After shuttling everyone out of the tents, we made our way over to CJ’s for his historic after party. And look – we had the whole party bus to ourselves.

The after party was as wild as it’s ever been. DJ Ryan Brown spun some tunes, the dancefloor was a mess, and someone passed out in the bushes. Just like high school…

one happy Berg

...and my old friend A2!

It was yet another epic night in the history of Island Creek…one I’m proud to say I helped pull off. We raised about $150,000 for the Island Creek Oysters Foundation, entertained 3,000 of our closest friends, and had a damn good time doing it.

So you think we’d give ourselves a break, right?

Not this crowd.

The following week, Island Creek hosted a pretty incredible oyster tasting at Eastern Standard. We invited a number of wine experts from around the city to sit down and taste 18 varieties of oysters with us. It was a wonderful array with oysters from across the country. A few stand outs (for me) were the Moon Shoals, Totten Virginicas, East Beach Blonds, Kusshis, and Hog Islands. Man, those West Coasters grow some fine oysters. My favorite moment came when Skip tasted the Kusshi — he immediately turned to me and said, “I think I just fell in love with oysters again.”

No higher praise from an oyster farmer, I’d say.

the kumamoto

We’d asked all of our guests to take notes in order to put together a list of oyster language, one that would help the team at Island Creek expand its own vocabulary. The tasting came just in time – the previously mentioned Island Creek Oyster Bar opening is right around the corner. We needed some ammunition for the restaurant staff and with this tasting, are now awash in new terminology. Listening to Theresa Paopao (of Oleana) describe the buttery taste as not just butter but “lobster butter” was eye opening. We also had Nick Zappia of The Blue Room who chimed in with descriptions like “beefy,” “toothsome,” “lime green,” and “full bodied.” Each oyster brought out a new set of descriptors, giving us, the oyster growers, a new world of words to aim for.

Kai Gagnon from Bergamot, Liz Vilardi from the Blue Room and Central Bottle, and even Rebecca Alssid, culinary director of Boston University (a pioneer in the world of culinary education) were also at the table — it was truly humbling. I did my best to capture as much of their knowledge as possible. For those that have read from the beginning, this was a tasting that I’ve been waiting 18 months to sit through.

Fitting, then, that it should arrive so close to my final days.

It’s true. I’m leaving Island Creek in about three weeks. I’m not quite sure I’m ready to face that final day… so for now, I’ll just say I’m ready to pack a lot in until October 15th.

Lucky for me, we’ve got a restaurant to open.

Mention a hurricane to an oyster farmer and you’ll likely get a weather report. While mostly contradictory, these reports can be useful for their range of entertainment. Part meteorology, part superstition, with a healthy dose of gut instinct thrown in, weather predictions for a hurricane provide hours (and hours) of fascinating farm banter.

A casual polling of Island Creek growers resulted in these thoughts:

Mike George: “Bah. We’ll get 40 mph, easy. But that’s no worse than what it blows like here in the winter. And personally? I don’t care. I’ve got 100 crates stacked up in my cooler right now.”

Gregg Morris: “Of course it won’t rain! I mean, it may rain a little. But not a lot. You know why? Because we prepared early. If I’d left my float on the mooring, we’d get a ton. It’s free insurance!”

Skip Bennett: “Who’s got a blender?”

Lisa Scharoun: “Good boogie boarding this weekend I bet.”

Billy Bennett: “Oh, it looks bad. We’ll probably lose power. Better get those coolers filled with ice.”

And, of course, I picked up a few non oyster farming locals’ thoughts, too:

Guy 1 at True Blue roadside bbq stand: “Whaddya think we’ll get? 60, 70 miles per hour?”
Guy 2: “Nah. 40 easy. Maybe if you’re on the Cape, you’ll see 75. But up here? 50 tops.”
Guy 1: “Humph. I’ll bet it gets up to 60.”
Guy 2: “Yeah, like I said, 60 easy.”
Guy 1: “Nuthin’ like a good storm on the haah-bah.”
Guy 2: “Got that right.”

I love days like today. Despite the shaky predictions on wind gusts and jokes about hurricane parties, and even with Hurricane Earl barreling up the coastline, folks on the farm are in an easy going mood. Summer’s winding down, the guys are taking a three-day weekend. And football season’s right around the corner. Earlier this week, down at the harbor, things weren’t so lighthearted though. In just under 36 hours, about 90% of the boats were taken off their moorings by nervous owners while the growers moved their big floats and loose gear over to the Blue Fish River for safety. I’d show you a picture but my camera’s on the fritz. This morning, the harbor looked a little like this.

As for me, I’ve been neck deep in Oyster Fest planning so the weather only concerns me a little. Worst-case scenario, we get 6+inches of rain tonight which would put us in a rain closure, meaning our growers can’t harvest for up to 4 days. Since we’re about 8 days away from the Fest, I figure even with a closure, we’ll still have about 48 hours to get 35,000 oysters out of the water in time for next Saturday’s festivities. But, you know, no big deal. No amount of fretting or anxiety can stop a hurricane… so we’ll just wait and see.

Speaking of the Fest, if you’re wondering where my posts have been, you can blame it on that big ole 3,000 person party coming up next weekend. Between fretting about when our Duxbury raised pig will get slaughtered, keeping on top of our crazy number of volunteers, and wondering when our t-shirts will arrive, I’ve hardly had time to sleep, let alone blog. All that work, plus a few other things have been keeping me busy…sort of.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

Suburban Shepherds, posted with vodpod

I mean, can I really complain?

Just keep your fingers crossed for good weather next weekend. And hopefully, I’ll see you on the beach.

It’s safe to say that The First Annual Island Creek Oyster Olympics won’t be the last. The festivities took place last Saturday in and around Duxbury Bay under a sparkling blue sky; the weather, the people, the events, and of course, the friendly competition turned it into a new tradition for the Island Creek Oyster family.

The two teams, led by Skip and Mark, gathered on Don Merry’s Oyster Plex for the first event: Oyster Diving. Each team member was allowed one dive to try and secure a yellow bag of oysters. With some snorkeling masks and a few suggestive hints, Team Bennett came out on top, picking up 4 oyster bags to Team Bouthillier’s 3.

preparing to dive

Don Merry picks up a point for Team Bouthillier

We moved over to Long Point Flat where the course was laid for an epic mud fling. Each team put 4 members on the field and lined up across from one another. Then, with PVC pipes in hand, the teams did their best to fling and flop each other into a muddy mess. They successfully muddied each other but we’re still unclear on who actually came out clean. The victory went to Team Bouthillier’s… despite the fact that they carried the muddiest player (that would be me).

Team Bouthillier readies for battle

Team Bennett gets themselves dirtier than the opposing team

Blake Doyle wins points for farthest fling

Can we go again?!

Our next event, the mud run, may very well be the competition that kills us all. Each team put 4 runners on the course, with points going to first and second place. The distance was far, the runners were severely out of shape, and the mud proved a vicious foe. In the end, Scott and Blake Doyle crossed first. And, every player finished… barely.

and they're off!

...and, they're walking....

...and they're struggling...

...and they're down.

Next up: The Oyster Sack relay race, wherein little Lila almost hopped her team to victory. But Team Bouthillier won out once again, putting them at least a dozen points in front of Team Bennett.

Our hoppiest Hopper

The day ended with a 6 (or 7) inning game of Whiffle Ball which Team Bouthillier cleaned up with a 4 to 1 win. The competition was fierce, especially as the teams started to expand (spectators became players as the game ran on), but in the end, Team Bouthillier took home the coveted Golden Oyster.

the crowd goes wild(ish)

What really made the day was the group that came out. Those who played had just as much fun as those who watched — though I suspect that the ones who watched have way more to chuckle about.

Big thanks to Samantha and Maya for pulling the day together — happy birthday Sam!

Now, we start training for next year.

I’d forgotten that what it feels like to get through a summer work day at Island Creek. Between early tides, late nights, and Oyster Fest planning, the time I get to actually sit down and decompress has been shaved down to a few minutes a day. But, I can’t complain. That’s summertime on the oyster farm.

Hopefully you’ll forgive the lapse in posts. But just to recap:

We had two successful float dinners in the last few weeks – one involving a few visiting editors from Food & Wine and their families (dinner: Jeremy Sewall’s kickass chowder & heirloom tomato salad, lobster, steamers, steamer dogs); the other for the entire restaurant team from Lineage (dinner: lots of oysters and mignonette, Skip’s on-the-fly razor clam, asparagus, and tomato salad, steamers, lobsters, and sausages).

perfect weather for our Lineage float dinner

the carnage

Skip prepping razor clams

We’ve gotten the process down pretty pat — especially nice considering we’re putting on a traveling party for anywhere from 15 to 25 people. They are always a success, no matter what the weather (as our F&W friends can attest) and almost always end up with some shenanigans or another (bridge jumping, in the case of the Lineage night).

We’re doing fewer charity raw bars now that it’s summertime but did make an exception for Mark Wahlberg and his brother Paul who threw a premiere party for “The Other Guys,” which Mark stars in. It was a great party at Paul’s new restaurant Alma Nove. Mark even ate a few of our oysters. Plus, we got to hang out with this guy:

Meanwhile, back on the farm, we said goodbye to Steve of Jeeves who has taken a “real” job in the seafood industry (he’ll be doing sales for a customer of ours). His parting note to Berg put everyone in stitches… even the Bergman himself.

Steve of Jeeves leaves Berg a goodbye note

Work? What work? Oh, right. We do grow oysters, don’t we. Actually, the past two weeks have been oysterless for Skip’s crew (we’re waiting to dip into the 2009 crop…a few more weeks!) So instead of harvesting, our daily work has been focused on one thing: The back river. For the first time since he started growing oysters, Skip had a barnacle set on his back river bags this summer. We went out to clean them last week and found a few of the outside rows covered in the little buggers.

barnacle-covered pipe

Once they set to the bags, they can reduce food and water flow, taking those two precious resources away from the seed. Skip and Berg reacted immediately: We needed to switch all of the seed over to new, larger-weave bags (the barnacles will most likely not grow back now that we’re this far into the summer). The process takes time, even with the crew working in teams (pulling bags out, unpiping, pouring oysters into a basket, filling the new bag, repiping and setting back on the line), but over the course of two weeks, we’ve gotten almost every bag transferred over. There’s something so satisfying about watching the clean bags line up behind you. You can practically see the oysters smiling.

This is also the time of year we start to see our crew disperse. Eva’s last day was yesterday; others like Michelle and Maggie will be gone in a few weeks. And just like that, the seed crew will disband. We had our last grade this week, resulting in a tote full of tiny quarters and the very last of the runt seed.

our triploids: the white rim is new growth

Our upwellers are still full of seed which we’ll keep clean for another week or so before the planting begins. Once we plant what’s in the river, we can refill those bags with the seed from our upwellers. Personally, I just want to see the pumps get shut down… all in good time.

For now, we have bags to clean and plenty of events to keep us busy. In fact, later today, we’re participating in the First Annual Island Creek Oyster Olympics! Five oyster-farm related competitions; 3 cutthroat teams; 1 peachy summer day. A recap post is soon to follow!

A pile of lobsters for dinner?

It was the least the crew deserved after a week of drainer tides. So Will hosted a crew dinner at his place on Thursday night. He and Berg pulled up a pile of “lobbies” from their traps last week. The result? A feast of steamed meats that the crew literally devoured standing up.

We’re not the only ones flush with the luxury meat, as this great article in NY Mag can attest (and we know a lot of guys that consider Old Bay their “secret”). But it sure was nice to see Berg’s biggest catch, a 2 1/2 pounder get lumped into the feast.

Maggie and Eva contributed with a few sides, like Brussels sprouts and broccoli (which were also devoured within minutes of being plated), while Michelle whipped up a nice guacamole for the crew. My contribution? Brats for the grill, of course.

2010 seed crew

The girls and I had lots to celebrate that night. We’d officially shut down one of our upwellers (the dreaded 20s) earlier in the week and can probably count on getting the rest of the seed wrapped up by the end of the month. It’s a far cry from last year’s late August wrap up but one we’re all a little sad to see coming. Just when we’ve gotten the dance down to a science (lift the silo, tip forward, steady the tote, spray the hose here, watch your feet, don’t lose the wingnut…) it already seems to be ending. Hopefully, for those who make it back next year, the routine won’t escape us over the winter.

This week also marked Dave’s first hand-picking tide. We stayed with Maggie on Sunday night so we could arrive at the water for our 5 a.m. start time Monday morning. Dave kept up with the crew, as did Skip’s daughter Samantha, and all in all, we picked a somewhat hefty number of crates. I did hear about some tight hamstrings later in the week but I think Dave was surprised at how enjoyable the work was. Plus, he got to see one of the week’s most beautiful sunrises…one of my personal favorite perks of the job.

I’ve been hearing it for weeks. We’re in the midst of the best season Island Creek has ever seen. High temps, crystal clear days, very little wind = perfect conditions for both the crew and the seed. The bay is packed with life, as evidenced by the schools of herring dancing across the top of the water near the docks every day. Terns flit around our heads while we grade and eels are swimming in our upwellers. We haven’t had much rain which means there’s not a lot of fresh water entering the Bay but the seed is still finding plenty of food. Last year at this time (the absolute worst season in Island Creek history), we were still a month and a half away from shutting down the upweller. On Friday, Skip hinted that we might be getting out of ours in a week or two. What a difference a year makes.

The temperatures are causing our seed to explode at a much faster rate. And faster growing seed requires a lot of extra hands. This year, Maggie, Eva, and Michelle have jumped on the seed crew, making my job as seed manager much, much easier. We’ve been grading every day for the past three weeks and have the routine — and stimulating conversation — down to a science. (Eva and I actually startled ourselves on the first day of grading when we realized we’d both forgotten how to tip a silo and what word we used for “subs.” Luckily, we got our wits about us quickly.)

Grading essentials: totes, silos, buckets, graders

Skip’s playing with a few other products this year, like clams and scallops. The clams are a nice touch – they’ve been hanging out in our upwellers so Michelle and I graded some a few weeks back. Such a difference from oysters! They’re smooth and mostly pearly white so they slide through the grader like beads. So clean! So easy to work with! No, we’re not turning into a clam farm. But I wouldn’t complain if we did…

But who am I kidding? I’m an oyster girl. The seed is sharp and fickle and fragile. They’re our babies. My crew mates are mastering their ability to identify which seed came what hatchery. We make a stellar team. Plus, being able to hang out with them for hours at a time makes the tedious, painful parts of the job (including toe injuries and a million tiny finger cuts) all worthwhile.

bonded by seed

Other than the new faces on the seed crew, characters around the docks are all the same. Gustav, the resident cormorant, has been guzzling down whole, live eels while we grade. And just like last year, we spend the day dancing around DBMS students, teachers, and rowers.

Meanwhile, out on the float… actually, I have no idea what’s happening on the float. I’m never out there these days (usually because I’m racing back up to the shop to work on Festival details). I hear it’s tough times out there, though. We’ve dried up the lease, clearing it of almost all of this year’s oysters after a busy winter. The guys are still pulling up crates but our cull and count has slowed to a crawl as the crew picks out the very best of what we have left. This coming week will give us a better idea of what’s in store – we have a week of huge tides and plenty of time to examine our upcoming crop. Everyone is hoping that in a few weeks, we can start dipping into all that seed we planted last summer.

As for me, my time is split between the docks and the shop. I’m spending my “farm” time on the seed and when we’re done grading or washing and the crew heads out to the float, I make my way up to the office to work on Festival details. Tickets went on sale last week! (Got yours yet?? If not, get on it.) It’s a lot of back and forth and early mornings but so far, I think I’m doing an ok job keeping my eye on both. The seed gets my attention during the day while the Festival takes over my life at night. Yes, it’s a ton of work but nothing I would give up or trade considering I get to use both sides of my brain and watch these two projects unfold in all the right ways.

What I haven’t got is a lot of time for anything else. Chris has taken over most of the farm tours, raw bars, and marketing work I put in place this winter. Occasionally, he and the other suits make their way to the dock to play with the seed. (I kid. This was me about 6 weeks ago.)

Suits on seed

But that’s the beauty of seasonal work. We’re at the midpoint of summer and my mind and body can feel it. Weekends are for resting. Or blogging. Or just enjoying a long, lazy day of air conditioning. Tomorrow morning, I’ll be giddy to get back to work, back on the tide, and right back to tending seed.

There are weeks throughout the summer that just happen. The tides hit. The seed gets graded. Farm work gets done. And this was one of those weeks.

Ages ago (last Sunday), we hit a 6 am tide to do some hand picking and set cages. It was foggy and rainy but the crew was in high spirits. Because, of course, it was Sunday. Despite having to sacrifice a few hours of restorative weekend sleep, we were happy to be out there getting the work done.

Monday, we went out again. The weather turned a little nicer, the tide lasted a little longer, and once again, we got it done. We spent some time walking over and around the seed we planted last fall and those tiny little guys are absolutely cruising in size. Thinking back to all the washing, grading, and planting last summer, it was awesome to see this year’s crop doing so well. After the tide, the seed crew washed some seed, moving in and out around the rowers and trying desperately to keep them from falling in upwellers or tripping over silos.

we've got acres of new oysters

Tuesday: The tide went out even longer, came low a little later, and officially drained the bay. We had a photographer with us and Gardner and I finished setting cages (the most gratifying feeling in the world is seeing all 300 cages set and the project-finishing fist bump).

Wednesday: It was another long tide but the water came screaming back quickly. Still, we managed to get a ton of crates picked and put on the float for the weekly number.

On Thursday, the crew went out to the back river to get our lines squared away for the river bags. We’ll have seed ready to deploy back there as early as next week so it was a scramble to get the lines set and ready to go. Skip also got one more batch of seed — this time, a group of triploids, which (hopefully?) will be his last… for now anyway.

all the necessary gear

Friday was the day. The Big Grade. Our first of the summer and a successful one at that. It always happens around Father’s Day, Skip reminded me. We were three weeks in to seed (where did those weeks go?) and the babies were ready for it. We started by grading the biggest stuff, from two different hatcheries. The result was decent – a mostly full tote of quarters (oysters that are a quarter-inch in size) which we can start putting out as early as next week. Eva and I spent the day remembering all of those little tricks and motions that make the grade go easier. Dumping that first silo into a tote takes muscle memory. Then it was figuring out our system with the three-person grade, then remembering what it feels like to stand in front of a tote of water under the glaring sun for 8 hours, and finally, the feeling of immense satisfaction at tightening the last bolts and closing all the upwellers for the night. Getting it all done in one day, feeling like we’ve finally kicked off the summer, and knowing that we’ve got a million days just like that to get through before it all gets planted this fall.

And suddenly, it’s Saturday. I’m up at 5:30 (because to my body, that’s sleeping in), I can feel every little muscle tweak, I’m nursing a half ripped toe nail (stupid upweller doors), and all I can think about is seed. How much we got done yesterday and how much there still is to go. My parents are in town for the weekend so Dave and I are taking them to the farm for a tour today.

Because even at the end of a Big Week like that, all I want to do is go back.