Jan 5, 2011: 2010's Top Dozen

Posted by Adam James on December 05, 2014 2 Comments

In no particular order, here are the top 12 most memorable moments from 2010, as seen on the Hama Hama Farm.

1. Creating a tumble farm, so that we can offer boutique tumbled oysters to some of our higher-end clients.

2. Spring & Summer Open Farm Days, where we invite the public onto our beach to learn about oyster culture and harvest their own shellfish. This year we had about a hundred people show up in March (when it was sunny) about 10 people show up in April (when it poured) and about 150 arrive in May (when it was glorious).

3. Hosting events at our new facility. We hosted the Washington Farm Forestry's annual meeting, Monica's Bakery Culinary Tour, and the Culinary Institute of America (catered by Flying Fish Restaurant).

4. Debut of our wholesale smoked & pickled oysters. In June we started wholesaling our smoked and pickled to select local establishments... only a few, though, because the product sold so fast through our own retail store this summer that we didn't have very much left over to wholesale!

5. Our new waterfront picnic area, where retail customers can stretch their legs, relax on the water, barbecue their own oysters, and watch the goings-on at the farm.

6. National media attention, most notably Via magazine in California covering our picnic area, and Coastal Living advising vacationers traveling the 101 to start their trip by slurping an oyster at our farm.  

7. Foraged mushroom sales. Last fall was a banner year for chanterelles, and we finally got smart and started offering some to our restaurant customers.

8. Our first-ever evening holiday party. (Oyster fan is embarrassed not to have posted about this when it happened!) On December 9th we gathered all the HH family together at the Grove Street Brewpub in Shelton for some revelry, recognition, and re-gifting.

9. River restoration on the Hamma Hamma, which is designed to save a salt marsh & improve salmon habitat.

10. New hires: Tiffany, Andrea, Carrie, Jose Luis, Miriam, Elisa, Alex, Carlos, Dave. F., Scott, Gambino & JJ all joined team Hama Hama in 2010, not to mention our new Company President, Robbins H.! 

11. Adam moved into his new house! This is exciting on many levels... well, mainly it's exciting for Adam & Andi, but it's also exciting for everyone at Hama Hama because now his old farm house is available for us to use for cooking demonstrations, late night parties, & noon time naps.

12. Adam's East Coast Trip. In October Adam headed East to shuck oysters at the NY Food & Wine Festival, visit some family, schmooze with some customers & business associates, and get interviewed by Esquire magazine. He wrote up a highly entertaining recap of his insanely busy trip, which you'll find after the jump.

One of the many great things about being an oyster farmer is that you can basically take a trip to just about any coastline in the world and, if you look hard enough, find like-hearted men and women.

Last week I went on a whirlwind trip to the East Coast.  I took about 10 pictures, met 30 or so incredible people who were connected in some way to the oyster industry, ate about 120 oysters of varying complexions (naturally accompanied by a few microbrews/wines), sailed around the Statue of Liberty, planted my feet at the site of the Boston Massacre, and slept about 20 hours in 4 nights.  The initial motivation behind the trip was to take 80 dozen or so oysters to the New York Food and Wine Festival in lower Manhattan. Having only been to NYC once before, and having had a desire to see more of the East Coast and explore some business opportunities up in the land of the Red Sox,  I decided to forego sleep for a week and make the roundabout trip happen.

The trip was intense. I caught the red eye departing Seattle Friday night at 10 pm.  I didn't sleep much on the plane and found myself in a nearly foreign country (NYC) by 8:30 the next day. Thank God for family. My cousins have an apartment on the Upper West Side. I dropped off my luggage there, drank a cappuccino, and they made sure my directions were accurate and lined me out on the subway.  I caught the #3 train down to the meat packing district. The only thing tripier then the subway itself and being surrounded by people who won't answer a simple question like "did the conductor say 'Houston street?', is this Houston street??" is walking up out of the subway tunnel into a scene that is just totally different than the one you left behind.  I suppose you get used to it.....

Anyway, my brother Tom and his friend Kendra had traveled down to the city from New Haven.  As we had approximately 40 dozen oysters to shuck over the course of the 2 hour event, their presence was critical; the fact that Kendra had never before shucked an oyster meant that things were going to be even that much more exciting.  We caught some fuel at a great little breakfast joint then headed towards the Highline Park Trail and the Standard Hotel.

We swung by the event to make sure that the oysters had arrived. (They had.)  The venue at the Standard Hotel was sweet and the day gorgeous.  There were 8 oysters being featured and each oyster was paired up with a restaurant and chef.  Most of the oysters were East Coast, and all the farmers were there to do the shucking. 

The event was a hoot. At first it appeared that they forgot to put a table out for Hama Hama, and then I realized that they had actually placed us right behind the bar, so we had our own set of taps. This came in handy because I'd been awake for a little over 24 hours and needed fuel. Before the doors opened I had the opportunity to walk the floor and slap hands with the various chefs.  I met the guys from Island Creek oysters and they let me sample a few of their oysters.  And they were delicious. The texture was exquisite; the oysters sort of crunched in your mouth like cold large nearly ripe grapes.  I also really enjoyed the Wiley Point's from Maine and the Mystics from northern Connecticut. From there I talked to the chef from the Mermaid Oyster Bar, and basically chatted just about everybody up while Tom and Kendra got our site prepped.  We started shucking about 20 minutes before the doors opened and never caught up until closing time.  Alice and Lou (my cousins from the upper west side) showed up.  It was awesome.  Once the other growers figured out we had access to three taps, they would come by and we'd fill ‘em a glass.

Did I mention the weather was simply spectacular? After the event Kendra had arranged for us to go sailing with her brother-in-law aboard the Adirondack III which was running tours out of the Chelsea Pier.  So we hopped aboard this 80' wooden schooner for a phenomenal 2 hour tour of the Hudson and East Bay rivers.  Not only was there great winds, warm sun and good people, but the boat had an open bar.  Needless to say, the sailing tour was epic, and offered a great perspective of the city and some of the surrounding landmarks, and I'd highly recommend it to anyone who is visiting Manhattan.

After the sail, we returned to Alice and Lou’s place.  Alice had prepared a chanterelle risotto with broiled leg of lamb (I knew better then to visit the city this time of year without bringing some local foraged wild edibles.) The meal was delicious, and true to Lou's reputation, extremely well paired with wine from his collection.  I was totally trashed at this point yet somehow wasn't able to get to sleep.

Sunday morning, we spent about an hour drinking cappuccinos and going over ways to drive out of the city.  I was picking up a rental car a few blocks over and Lou helped figure out the easiest way for me to navigate over to Long Island.  After deciding on a route, I took off. The plan was solid but unfortunately I hit construction and had to detour. Next thing I knew I was driving right by the Twin Towers, straight into the heart of the beast.

Once I finally got out of Manhattan I spent the rest of that day exploring Long Island.  To be honest: I headed straight for the beach.  I had a little time to kill and was still frazzled from both the morning and the previous day’s connections. The sky was bluebird, the wind light and the sun warm.  I was able to breathe a bit and prepare for the next leg: Boston.

That afternoon I met with Chris from Blue Island Shellfish farms.  Chris distributes a lot of oysters for us into Manhattan, and besides being a distributer he has his own oyster nursery and farm operations.  As if I hadn't eaten enough oysters at the event the day before, Chris pulled just about everything he had out of his walk in, include some west coasters. The Kushis were unusually skinny, and the second west coast oyster I tried was so spawny I needed a Harpoon IPA to kill the bad taste it left in my mouth.  Aside from those experiences, the tasting went well, and I hooked Chris up with a couple packages of our smoked oysters which he shared with his guys, who went absolutely nuts for the product.

From there I headed north to Port Jefferson and caught a ferry to Connecticut. I spent the night in New Haven with Tom.  The next day, after a collegiate-style breakfast, I headed north.   My first stop was at Noank Aquaculture Collective/Mystic River oysters. I had met Jim and Karen at the oyster event in NYC on Saturday.  They were fascinating.  They run two small scale hatcheries, a few sizable farms, and manage a grower’s co-op. And if you need a marine crane built, call Jim.  The DIY attitude in this industry translates coast to coast for sure. I don't believe I've met as resourceful a bunch as oyster farmers.  These guys needed oyster seed so they built a hatchery. They needed a marine crane so they built one for their Carolina skiff.  Really a great ethic.

Next visit of the day was to American Mussel Harvesters up in Rhode Island.  They are a vertically integrated shellfish company.  Not only do they operate oyster and mussel farms, they have a modern processing facility and a distribution arm. They purchase many different varieties of east and west coast oysters, and so I again found myself sampling oysters.  I really enjoyed talking business with these guys, and on my way out met up with one of their staff, Mason.  He was at the flupsy sorting seed that would be planted later that day.  We talked shop and I encouraged him to get out west and look us up some day.

By then the day was getting late and I really wanted to get into Boston and meet up with folks at Pangea.  I made it in time to spend 20 minutes or so with a guy named Ben. Pangea specializes in oysters and they work the Greater Boston and East Coast area pretty hard.

After that visit I drove into Boston and tried to locate my hotel. Clearly this trip would have been impossible without the GPS, however I admit that by this point I had lost count of the number of "U" turns I'd made. (not to mention the number of honks which had been directed my way!)  Anyway, I did find the hotel. I dropped off the luggage and headed right out again to find B&G oysters.  But after driving in circles looking for a parking spot near the landmark oyster bar in the South End I admitted defeat and returned to the hotel, parked in a garage, and showered.  I needed to reboot, and I realized I badly needed some sleep. I’d probably only slept about 12 hours in the last 3 days.  But after the shower I found myself re-revved. I put a couple dozen 'ersters in my lab top bag with 3-4 moderately frozen gel ice packs and set out on foot. I went down to Grille 23 and talked the talk with the chef. My timing was actually working out as I was just after the dinner rush.  I stoked this guy on our pickled and raw oysters, tried a couple of their house oysters and then went on to Turner Seafood House.  As the chef at Turner was too busy to chat I headed over to B&G oysters.  I grabbed a pint of Harpoon at the bar, sat down right in front of Jose who was opening oysters for B&G. I looked around at the packed bar and busy surrounding room and asked, "You the only guy opening tonight?" He replied, “yeah it's kind of a slow night.” The gal to the right of me was from Denver.  She was about half way done with her sample dozen platter.  I asked her which oyster was her favorite so far and she said the Pemmaquid.  She complained a little about Denver’s lack of an oyster scene, and after we talked a little more I discovered that this gal has ordered oysters from Hama Hama's online store! 

After my drink the chef was available so I went downstairs.  I shucked a couple with Stephen, let him try the pickled and generally just had a great time sampling different oysters and talking up the Boston scene.  These guys are pretty fiercely loyal to their east coast product...And I guess that is understandable, however it isn't that way on the west coast. Pricing or shipping costs might limit the distribution of east coast oysters in Seattle, but not loyalty.  Maybe it has to do with the fact that our west coast farmed oyster is very much an immigrant oyster (having been introduced from Japan in the early 1900’s) whereas the east coasters are farming native species? Or maybe it is just Boston?

Anyway, I then went back upstairs and tried a few of their native cherrystone clams.  Hmm.. raw clams? They’re huge back east, but not out west. I also discovered that east coasters sell clams based on size, not species. Quahogs are the biggest, cherrystones are smaller, and littlenecks are the smallest. So a juvenile quahog would be sold as a littleneck, and a big littleneck might be sold as a cherrystone. Anyway, Jose shucked me a couple, along with some various oyster varieties, and then I hit the road.  From there I traveled to the Neptune Oyster Bar.  This was almost all the way across town, in the upper North End.  What a place!  The venue was thinning out as it was getting late.  The owner and kitchen manager weren't there, however I dropped some product off for the chef and then spent an hour or visiting with the wait staff and patrons.  We had a blast.  From there I ambled through the north end, got a little turned around and ended up in a deli full of Italians.  I was blown away; it really felt like I was in Europe.  I ordered a sandwich (needed to balance out all the oysters) and had a pretty interesting conversation with a couple locals about the history of the north end neighborhood.

From there I swung by the Union Oyster House as it was closing down. This is truly a unique spot.  And their staff claimed to smell the (in their opinion 'putrid') west coast oysters in my bag before I even walked in and busted them out!  Needless to say they weren't even open to a tasting! I couldn't believe it, but was past the point of dialogue or rationalization, so I decided to walk it off and head back to the hotel.

The next morning I headed out early to Island Creek Oysters in Duxbury.  On my way I had a great insight. I usually drink two cups of French press coffee every morning. I like it hot and plain, just coffee, which I grind fresh every morning.  Since leaving the care of my cappuccino mavens in Manhattan I hadn't had a decent cup of coffee.  Dunkin’ Doughnuts coffee rules the convenience store scene, and what they call coffee is simply hot black water disguised inside styro. But there is a critical moment in the Dunkin’ Doughnuts cooling cycle, which lasts for approximately 12 seconds, when it's still warm enough to pass as coffee and hasn't quite cooled down to black water.  Well on this drive I went ahead and hit my second cup up with two creams and one sugar.  Now, although I still wouldn't exactly call this coffee, it was meaningfully better.

Anyway, I rolled into Duxbury around 8 am.  These guys are just killing it. I first met John, one of the co-op members, who was packing oysters from his truck to the walk-in cooler.  Three minutes later Chris Sherman shows up.  We then hooked up with Erin Murray and headed down to the farm site.  I had a great tour of the farm.  We took a boat, visited the nursery, beds and processing area.  We talked shop, politics, oyster biology, west vs. east and a little bit of natural and social history.  Oyster farmers are, for the most part, very engaged, and these Island Creek folks are simply ruling it. I met Skip out on the processing raft and ate possibly one of the best oysters of the trip. It was naturally cold, very salty with a clean sweet finish- and again that intriguing texture-the oyster seemed to pop like a nearly ripe grape-  Everybody on this farm gets their hands and boots dirty. It was cool.

After the visit I drove down to Plymouth. I checked out the rock, visited the memorial to those early settlers and bought and devoured a lobster at some little shack along the wharf.  Afterwards I headed up to Captain Marden’s, talked a little shop with those guys.  They are a family-run business that distributes fish and shellfish in the greater Boston area.  They have a retail store, and they were pretty psyched about our smoked, pickled, shucked and live oyster line.  From there I headed back to the hotel where I actually think I napped. I was whipped. The rest of that afternoon and evening I balanced tourism and buisiness.  I hit up the freedom trail and let me tell you, there are more bricks in Boston then stars in the sky.  I spent some more time in the Neptune, and had a great visit with the owner and chef.  I also hit up McCormick's and a small retail store called the "Mercato del Mare."  I closed down the trip by doing possibly one of the most predictable things I could possibly do: drinking at pint (or two?) at the “Bell in Hand,” allegedly the oldest bar in America.

The next day I travelled back to the top left. The guys at the plant had kept the wheels turning. After checking up on some correspondences I grabbed the dog and went for a short walk in the woods, picked some chanterelles for supper, and realized how grateful I was to be home.

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Comments (2 Comments)

Posted by Oyster Fan on December 05, 2014

I doubt oyster shucking, or much about work on the tideflats, has changed much since 1966! Are you related to Bud by any chance?

Posted by mike hays on December 05, 2014

Wow, a great article? But who wrote it? lol. Ask Betty Gray about my oyster shucking prowess, circa 1966 lol. I made $1.00 an hour in high school, getting up in the middle of the night and working with Oliver Gray when the tide went out and piling those big bushel baskets on the barge! Can’t believe I survived that. Also was the ranger at the Hamma Hamma Guard Station for 3 summers, and spent 4 other summers fighting fires etc, cleaning toilets out of the Hoodsport Ranger Station, from 1967 until September, 1973, when I moved to LA! take care

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