The sun had just begun to look over our shoulders as we approached the beach of Cape May Court House, NJ. Nature had beaten us to the punch on their morning assignments. Seagulls were flocking over their breakfast feast as the tide rolled away from the shore. There was a morning breeze that swirled and helped to offset the smell that was left behind. These were our first impressions upon arriving at Lisa Calvo’s oyster farm.
No matter who you are, there’s always a great sense of anticipation when you meet someone that up to that point you could only envision. The small cottage where Lisa stores all of the needed equipment blended in with the rest of the buildings on the paved but sandy beachfront street. Lisa was the first to greet us. One by one we met the rest of her crew – Patty Woodruff, Diane Driessen, and Sarah Borsetti quietly walked over with coffees in hand and sleepy eyes; a 6AM call time comes early for everyone. We muddled near the quaint cottage as both of our teams prepared for the work ahead. Once all needed supplies were loaded into the beach cart, we headed down to the water.
As we waded through the knee-deep water of low tide, we approached a series of racks perched out on a sandbar. Each rack looked like a bed frame cut off just above the legs. Upon each rack was a layer of netted bags. Each bag contained an appropriate number of growing oysters. Different sections of racks accommodate oysters at varied stages of growth. Lisa’s team focused
After a short set up, the oyster team quickly fell into their familiar process. While standing around a metal table supported by sawhorses, they began to sort the oysters. Meanwhile, camera in hand, Chris transitioned into shooting mode. Using PVC piping as a gauge of size, the team divided the oysters into three buckets. One bucket was for ideal large oysters, one for less attractive large oysters, and one for those that needed more time for growth. The ideal large oysters go to market, small ones return to the algae covered bag and the ugly ones, well that day, we ate them!
We spent the majority of our morning gaining a better understanding of the positive environmental impact of oysters. These uncanny bivalves are particularly efficient at cleaning the water they live and grow in. For instance, a single two-inch oyster can filter 50 gallons of water per day. That is 16,800 gallons of water filtered in one year. Their presence in southern New Jersey has not only improved our dinner menus but also the cleanliness of the waters enjoyed on its coast. Lisa and her team are making a significant impact and at the forefront of a thriving industry. We are grateful for the opportunity and education from a world that we were always curious about. Perhaps you can put yourself in our shoes the next time you order a dozen oysters from Cape May.