The Ag Day report

This past Thursday was Ag Day here in Massachusetts, a day designated for farmers and food producers to come talk to legislators. I brushed the chicken poop off my shoes and, in my capacity as nascent oyster farmer, headed for Boston. I went with Les Hemmila of Barnstable Seafarms and a posse of other growers, and we met with state officials and talked about aquaculture in the commonwealth.

I learned a lot, but I’d say the number one lesson was this: Nothing on earth would possess me to be a dentist.

It’s not that I have anything against dentists. They do a necessary and constructive job. Without dentists, we’d all have to resort to the tie-the-string-to-the-tooth-and-slam-the-door trick. But I don’t want to be a dentist. I also don’t want to be a tax auditor, a divorce lawyer, or an immigration officer. I don’t want to be the guy nobody wants to see.

As part of Ag Day, one big room in the Statehouse was set up with tables of wares from Massachusetts growers. We, the aquaculture contingent, had two big trays of ice with oysters from three different areas and clams from one. At noon, the doors opened and legions of legislators, aides, and staff streamed in.

A great many of them headed straight for our table. I started shucking for all I was worth. I told everyone who came through a little bit about the oyster I handed over – where it was from, why it tasted so good. I was so busy that it took me a while to notice that the line at our table was longer than the line at any other table.

Everybody wanted oysters.

For the two hours the hall was open, we were the most popular people in the room. (Although the dairy farmers, who had ice cream, gave us a run for our money.) Popularity isn’t something I have a lot of experience with, so maybe it was the novelty, but it felt awfully good to be the person everyone wanted to get close to – even if it was just because I was giving away oysters.

After we’d been shucking for an hour or so, Governor Deval Patrick made his appearance. It happened that he stopped by the other end of our table, where John Lowell of the East Dennis Oyster Farm was giving out samples of the beautiful, white-shelled oysters his company is known for. Governor Patrick tried one, and his approval showed on his face.

He did a photo op with John Lowell, and was about to move on when I decided that the governor of the commonwealth of Massachusetts couldn’t get away with eating just one oyster.

“Governor Patrick,” I called shamelessly. “If you’ve tried an oyster from East Dennis, it’s only fair that you try an oyster from Barnstable.”

I don’t suppose you get to be governor by telling constituents who force oysters on you to take a hike, or worse. This particular governor was game, and he came over to inspect my wares. I picked up a perfect, deep-cupped specimen from Wianno Oyster, and forced my knife into the hinge.

It was hard to answer the governor’s questions when all I could think was, “please don’t let this be the one where I stab my hand and bleed in the brine.”

The shucking came off successfully, and the oyster went down the gubernatorial hatch.

That's me, handing an oyster to Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick (photo by Kris Clark)

Our Ag Day meetings with the legislators went very well. No surprise there, since it’s hard not to like shellfish aquaculture. We grow a product that’s unique to our state. We employ people and bring revenue in. Our oysters are healthful and our farms sustainable. And, because we raise filter feeders, we leave the water cleaner than we found it.

What’s best, though, is being in the business of producing a product that people take such pleasure in. As much as I want our governor to appreciate and support our industry, I think it’s pretty groovy that he likes to eat oysters. While he may very well be willing to put some executive muscle behind Massachusetts dentistry, it’s a safe bet he still hates root canals.

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  1. I think that a very safe bet. I’ve had more than I care to remember, and while none of them were the root canals of root canal fame, I wouldn’t exactly volunteer for another one.

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