Westcott Bay Shellfish
It is not often we think about how our food gets onto our plate. Whether in a restaurant or at home, if you are not the one doing the food prep or cooking sometimes it feels as though the food just appears. As every day consumers we are separated from the process and that often leaves us uncertain about where our food really comes from. And so on one sunny, beautiful day I set out to change this as I met up with Erik, Andrea and Sam from Westcott Bay Shellfish. I paid a visit to their farm in part because I love their oysters, but also to watch and document their process and ask as many questions as time would permit. I think it is important to know where your food comes from and better yet get to know the people who work hard to grow your food. Meeting the farmers who work hard day in and out will be eye opening, interesting and if you are really fortunate you might make a new friend or be inspired to make a career change.
When I first set foot at Westcott Bay Shellfish I was immediately struck by how beautiful the backdrop of their work is. I imagine it would make anyone who sits behind a computer in a cramped cubicle all day think twice about going back to the office. On this particular day, there was a steady stream of boats coming into the bay and people eager to partake in oysters. The idea of an equal number of customers arriving by boat as by car seems magical to a city dweller as myself.
Picnic tables scattered along the waterfront are filled with people eager to eat and learn how to shuck an oyster. Andrea expertly demonstrates how to shuck oysters to her guests. Guests open one oyster, slurp it down and quickly start the process all over again.
For those of you a bit squeamish at the thought of a raw oyster, you can ease your way into the world of oysters by partaking in barbecued oysters. On Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays, they offer barbecued oysters from 12-4pm. They also have a booth at the San Juan Island Farmer's Market every Saturday from 10-1pm.
Sam Waite pulling in a rack of oysters from the water. These bags were hosed off and the oysters were sorted by size and then put back in the water for another year or so.
As the daughter of an entrepreneur and an entrepreneur myself there is certain pride I feel when I witness the owner of the company getting their hands dirty. It is nice to see there are no egos nor hierarchy when it comes to who pitches in to work. Here owner and employee work side by side sharing the load.
Erik and Sam working together to get the oysters out of the bags and sorted.
This was a special day because it was the first time they had used their brand new sorter. What would have taken them hours to do by hand is now done in a matter of minutes.
The oysters are dumped into this machine and go through two sorting rings before they can drop into the final bucket. If they are smaller than the openings they will drop down below and be put back into the water for a little longer than the larger ones. In an oyster's lifetime it will typically be handled three times. In my ignorance, I always assumed they sat in the water growing, only to be plucked out when they were the correct size. Not quite! They need a little more help than that to become the perfect little oyster.
After graduating college in a couple weeks, Sam Waite will be the new Assistant Manager at Westcott Bay Shellfish. Sam is soft spoken, but has a quiet strength about him. It is evident he loves his job and he was happy to answer my many questions while he worked.
In a world of stressed out, unhappy, overworked people it was refreshing to see cheerful banter between these two. I realize not every day is sunshine and blue skies, but when it is, I imagine they are so pumped to come to work.
These oysters have grown to their desired size and are ready to be washed off, sorted and sold. On their property they have holding tanks with constant flowing saltwater so their guests can select, bag and purchase fresh oysters at their discretion.
In case you think this work is easy, these bags can reach several hundred pounds. It was not an easy task to wrangle these wet, slimy bags up onto the dock.
It was so fun to see the process and enthusiasm for their work. Now when I buy Westcott Bay oysters I know I am supporting hardworking people who enjoy what they do and want to share it with others. I can only hope they begin selling to Seattle restaurants in the near future so I will not have to travel as far to enjoy them. However, with such a gorgeous piece of waterfront property I can still think of plenty reasons why I would still want to come for a visit.
Hours of operation: 11:00am - 5:00pm Daily (May 26th-mid September)
They also have a booth at the San Juan Island Farmer's Market in Friday Harbor every Saturday from 10-1pm
904 Westcott Drive, Friday Harbor, WA 98250
Regular Season, April-October