I have news.
After two years of procuring our own food on a strictly amateur basis, Kevin and I are turning professional. We’ve gotten an aquaculture grant – the lease of a little over an acre for our exclusive use – in Barnstable’s West Bay, and we’re going into the oyster business.
The first time we drove down the driveway with our real estate agent to look at what is now our house, about three years ago, that wasn’t our plan.
Our plan was to buy a summer house. But that was before the financial upheaval that began in 2007 and got serious in 2008. A few months after we closed on the house, in March of 2008, we realized that it wasn’t the time to take on the burden of two homes. We put our Manhattan apartment on the block that summer, and we were in escrow in September of 2008, when the American financial system came to the brink of meltdown.
Kevin’s been a commodity trader his entire career, and there were changes in the commodity markets, unrelated to the financial crisis, that meant that the kind of trading he did might no longer be viable. He was an open-outcry trader, the kind that stood on the floor of the exchange, yelling and gesturing. The products he traded, primarily coffee and crude oil futures, were increasingly being traded electronically, and the trading floor was being phased out.
Electronic trading is a different animal from open-outcry trading, and most individual traders making the transition found it to be an inhospitable platform for what they did. Kevin was no exception, and he gradually wound down his operation until he stopped trading altogether earlier this year.
It was brutally difficult for him. Being a trader was a part of his identity. It was what he did every working day of his adult life. It was how he’d made his circle of friends. It was fundamental to him. Reimagining yourself at fifty is no easy task.
But Kevin’s always wanted to grow things.
When he was in fourth grade, in a Catholic school (from which he was eventually expelled for kissing a Jewish girl in the confessional), Sister Cora asked the students what they wanted to be when they grew up. As they went around the room, with each girl saying she wanted to be a teacher or a nurse and each boy saying he wanted to be a cop or a fireman, it occurred to Kevin that he didn’t really know what he wanted to be.
When Sister Cora got to him, he decided, on the spur of the moment. “I want to be a farmer,” he said.
Sister Cora looked at him, dubious. Kevin didn’t exactly have the reputation for being cooperative and ingenuous, and she suspected she was being made game of. “No you don’t,” was what she told him.
Well, if he hadn’t been quite decided about farming before, he certainly was then.
From our earliest days together, he’s talked about retiring to a farm, and he was the impetus behind our Manhattan rooftop garden. When we bought this house, one of the first things we did was choose a spot for the garden and clear the site. Those of you who follow this space know how he’s taken to the chickens and the turkeys and the bees (but especially the chickens).
In the course of my work, we’ve met a lot people involved in the food community here on Cape Cod. Several of them, including Florence and David Lowell (of the Naked Oyster) and Les Hemmila (of Barnstable Seafarms) grow oysters, and it was a business that appealed to Kevin.
Over the summer, while our grant was in the works, he spent a lot of time out on the flats with Les, under whose tutelage he’s taken 100,000 oysters from the size of pinheads to the size of soup spoons.
The grant’s been officially ours for over a month now, but I didn’t want to tell you about it until all the paperwork was done, the i’s dotted and t’s crossed. Our grant has some limitations on the kind of gear we can use, so we’ll have to figure out how to proceed within those limits and it’ll be a while before we have a crop of oysters.
If we’re lucky, we’ll be able to put some stock out there to overwinter, but that depends on conditions and availability of the right kind of seed. Regardless, we’ll be ramping up in the spring.
I’ll be writing about it. About oysters, about how to grow them. About our experiments and our obstacles, our successes and failures. About becoming professional farmers. The thing is, though, that it doesn’t exactly fall under Starving’s purview. Although it’s certainly related, it’s a different kind of enterprise.
So here’s the question: Are you interested? If you’re here to read about the growing and gathering, fishing and hunting, I don’t want to trespass on your interest by telling you about oyster farming. I could do it on a separate site, affiliated with our oyster company. But if you are interested, I’ll do it here, as an adjunct to our ongoing amateur efforts. If you’ve got a moment, let me know what you think.
And wish us luck.