Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Old Oysters

The other morning while walking down Commercial St on my way to work, I found something interesting- some very old oysters of mysterious origin. They were thick (about three times thicker that any oyster you’d find at a modern fish market) and their growth rings were very close together. These were not the oyster I look at on a daily basis.

The city is going through a bit of a construction boom and parts of downtown are almost unrecognizable.  Its encouraging, I guess, but still a bit strange. In the six months I’d been working at the fish-market, I've seen a boatyard and two hotels go-up. Across from one of these new hotels, a work crew had been excavating to improve the sidewalk. Scattered in their debris pile were some strange looking bleached-out oysters.

Until the 1850’s, Commercial St was part of the harbor. Wharves came right up to the base of the hilly Portland peninsula, near modern-day Fore St. Industry was thriving at this time and the city was a major east coast port and rail-hub, comparable in size to Boston. To bolster the shipping industry and compete against arch-rival Boston, the city underwent a massive public works project- filling in what were then shallow coves and building a massive road and rail connector between the wharves and the Atlantic and Saint Laurence Railroad. A massive amount of fill was used to complete the project and the Portland peninsula was greatly expanded.

Portland during the construction project- Commercial Street runs as a causeway over much of its length.

Which brings us back to the oysters: The sandy-fill along the sidewalk was full of them- but where did they come from?

This is where things get murky. Maine’s oysters were wiped out in pre-colonial times (potentially by disease or overfishing) though there is plenty of archaeological evidence they were abundant in other parts of the state for at least a millennium. Oysters in other parts of the northeast fared slightly better, but were fished-out by the 1870s. 

Did my oysters live and die before the city was built? It is certainly a possibility. The fill used to build Commercial St could have been dredged on site. The harbor could have once nurtured oysters.

Alternately, the oysters could be imported. Historic shell piles (called middens) were mined and used in road construction. Could this be the source of the Commercial St. fill? 

Or... were these oysters just imported whole and enjoyed on the waterfront, shells tossed casually aside?

Thursday, April 10, 2014

It has been a busy couple of weeks. Things are really starting to move!

Brooks Trap Mill began building the first of my oyster cages and I've contacted a diver to install my sea anchors and longlines later this spring. I've reserved some oyster seed from a farmer near Chebeague Island- though the water still needs to warm up before those baby oysters are ready to go. I'm heading up to the UMaine's Darling Marine Center on Monday along with another new oyster farmer for a crash course in aquaculture rigging.

Those of you who know me can attest I'm not a "high-stress-guy". The general mood these days is a frazzled sort of excitement as I tackle the inevitable challenges of starting a business (all while holding down my day job at the fish market). Its been good to work my brain a bit. Nothing like time-sensitive problem-solving to get the ol' gears turning.

On a somewhat related note, I'm hoping to raise some funds to ease the pain of my start-up costs. I've started a crowd-funding campaign on indiegogo (like Kickstarter, but a slightly better deal). The link to my page is below:


Please share the page with anyone who is interested in oysters, community supported agriculture, seaweed (that delicious superfood), environmentally-minded farming, and supporters of small local businesses...Don't forget the foodies, gourmets, and gastronomes in your life. Really, please share!

The perks/rewards should be pretty cool.  I'm especially excited about the plates Kat is working on and the shirts Eric will be making. Let me know If you think of a reward that should be up on the indiegogo page. I can add things like that throughout the campaign.