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Category: Agriculture

Hello Oysters! Reflections from a Wareham Oyster Farmer

At 63 years old, Wareham’s David Paling decided to embark on a second career as an oyster farmer. He shared his story with us in the current print issue of South Coast Almanac and we’re reprinting it here. Settle in and read his story (and join us for a boat ride to his shellfish grant on July 20th — details below)…

On good days being an oyster farmer can feel like you’ve got the best job in the world. When cool weather and low tides sync, and your boat is running well, and the tasks that day are not back-breaking, and all around you have hundreds of thousands of happy oysters suspended in their floating bags silently gobbling up planktonic food and growing like crazy, it is easy to reach the level of happiness that is elation. The miracle of farm raising Crassostrea virginica — Eastern oysters — can do this. Bliss comes in many forms: an hour or two wading in quiescent water and finding nothing wrong with gear, nor any evidence of human or natural predation; the freedom of being the master of your own liquid domain, driven by tide and weather rather than artificial schedules imposed by more traditional occupations; the thrill of seeing your crop — fingernail sized when you bought them from a hatchery — achieve the three-inch length, deep-cupped status required by today’s market forces; the wonder of nature all around you with cobalt skies and shimmering sun overhead and teal water below giving life to the likes of so many species. The list is simply too long to capture. In times like these, the work doesn’t seem like work, and you feel lucky to be amidst these marvels, a part of the ecosystemic, global spin.

oyster farmer

David & Steve with the All In

But there are bad days as well, and it becomes quite clear that oyster farming is not easy money and physically not something that anyone can get up from their chair and do. To wit: Steve Patterson and myself, general partners and owners of Crooked River Shellfish Farm, have accidentally dumped our oysters on the substrate by miscalculating the mesh size of our containing bags. We’ve had closure flaps fail, spilling yet more of our young spat along the shallow bottom. We’ve bounced our boat — the ‘All In’ — off the docks. We’ve gone home bleeding from contact with razor-sharp barnacles and oyster shell edges. There have been other low points. The first day we found dead oysters, natural victims of the expected mortality rate dealing with them, I got a whiff for the first time of this necrotic slop and it smelled as bad as, no worse than, a dead oyster. The constant repetitions of hoisting some 183,000 oysters in and out of the boat for culling purposes has escalated degeneration and my arthritis has me hurting from topgallant mast to stern. And once, when replacing the drain plug after emptying the boat of sea water at full throttle, I threw myself, my wife and oldest daughter Carly all out of the ‘All In’ when it took a violent right turn the moment I let go of the wheel.

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6 Amazing Women: Eva Sommaripa

Eva Sommaripa (Photo by Elin Bodin)

March is women’s history month and we’ve had a fun month, introducing you to the six amazing women we chose to feature in our inaugural issue.  If you’ve been keeping track, you know we’ve introduced five women so far this month.

Who is the sixth? Well, we actually introduced you to her on our blog back in January (because we wanted to be thinking about spring and farming back in those cold, dark days).  Eva Sommaripa is a food pioneer, who is known all over Rhode Island and Massachusetts for her remarkable herbs, microgreens and foraged edibles. For those of you who missed it, please feel free to check out the print version of our 2016 article on Eva right here: Eva Sommaripa

And if you want to keep up with more of our favorite South Coast folks, sign up here for our free emails filled with lots of juicy stories and local tidbits.

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The Beet Goes On! CSA Season Is Just Around the Corner

Photo courtesy of Bay End Farm

There’s a national day for everything and February 24 is “CSA Day.” It’s been feeling like spring all week so it makes sense to think about the growing season ahead. And to dramatically declare that CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) changed my family’s life.

For over 15 years, we’ve been getting a big weekly bag from Bay End Farm in Buzzards Bay from June through October. We pay upfront in April for a season’s worth of produce. And then we wait for the bounty to arrive. Each week, it’s like getting the mystery bag of penny candy at the candy store. You don’t necessarily know what will be in it. But you know you’re going to enjoy it.  All of a sudden, you have a stake in the weather and the growing season. You are grateful for rain. And sunshine.


All of a sudden, you have a stake in the weather and the growing season. You are grateful for rain. And sunshine.


Having a bag full of vegetables delivered each week taught me how to cook. I had a refrigerator filled with fresh produce – and more was coming in seven days. I had to do something with it. I couldn’t procrastinate. So I hauled out my Joy of Cooking, received as a wedding gift, and figured out how to cook beets and kale and soups. And now I can cook. That’s the first life-changing thing our CSA bags brought us.

CSA Day

Erin & Kofi, our favorite farmers

People ask if we sometimes get sick of some vegetables. Occasionally, maybe. I still don’t quite know what to do with escarole, for example. But that is more than made up for by the vegetables that we’ve been introduced to.  As young kids, my daughters were willing to try unconventional things like kohlrabi and bok choi because it came from Kofi and Erin’s farm. And, guess what? Nine times out of ten, they loved the new vegetables. I’ve also enjoyed the introduction in my kitchen to old favorites that I would never buy otherwise. Beets, for instance. I love ’em. But outside of my farm share, I never buy them because cooking beets seems like too much of a commitment.

So that’s the other life changing thing for us: we eat better. We eat better because we must eat better – those vegetables aren’t going to eat themselves.

A few years ago, we added to our CSA lifestyle by signing up for chicken and pork at Copicut Farms. Once you’ve eaten their meat, you’ll never want supermarket meat again.

We’re so lucky to be on the South Coast where it’s easy to support local farms and eat wonderfully.

We’re also lucky to have the Southeastern Massachusetts Agricultural Partnership (SEMAP) which helps direct us to local food and sustainable farming. They have a website that you can easily lose yourself in to find local beef, duck, lamb, cut flowers, fruit, and more. To find a CSA near you, click here. (I’ve plugged in a New Bedford address because that’s central for the South Coast but feel free to enter a town closer to you. Just click on the “change town” link on the right hand side). Then, celebrate CSA Day by calling or emailing a farmer to sign up for your food this summer.

Years into this CSA experience, we all look forward to the harvest of favorite vegetables like they are old friends: “I think it should be time soon for lemon cucumbers.” “Oh, look! The sugar snap peas are back!” “Tomatoes soon…” We now have a healthy appreciation for seasonal eating. We also have a healthy appreciation for the passage of seasons and time. There is something bittersweet about wondering if you’re eating the last heirloom tomato of the year from the place you’ve come to think of as your farm.

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