The Kachemak Bay Shellfish Cooperative
The Kachemak Bay Shellfish Cooperative of Homer, Alaska has proven to be a positive and sustainable operation in the community, and is an excellent example of the power of local food. The pristine and nutrient rich waters of Southeast Alaska provide a home for the 14 farm cooperatives throughout Kachemak Bay. Ron and Marie Bader, operators of Moss Island Oyster Farm are two of many inspiring oyster farmers of the Kachemak Bay community. Their one acre farm in Peterson Bay harbors 384 lantern nets that yield the freshest oysters one can imagine.
I was waiting on our floating dock in Peterson Bay with my co-naturalist and teen campers, ready to discover the inner workings of Ron and Marie’s oyster farming first hand. During my time as a summer naturalist with the non-profit Center for Alaskan Coastal Studies, we focus on science-based education in Kachemak Bay through camps and tours to foster environmental stewardship. What better way to teach kids about the capacity for sustainable food production in the area than to meet local oyster farmers?
Ron and Marie Bader’s oyster farm is the epitome of a sustainable, productive, and romantic Alaskan way of life.”
Two retired schoolteachers, Ron and Marie Bader provided us with a glimpse into their world with a beautiful clarity. They began their farm in 1993, with a hatch of imported juvenile oysters from the lower 48. Oysters require waters of 70 degrees to reproduce, which makes their hatching in these 50 degree Alaskan waters impossible, eliminating the possibility of oysters becoming invasive. The two year old juveniles are placed in oyster lanterns strung in rows in the bay, which will receive attention and care from the farmers, and the tide. Ron Bader describes Kachemak Bay’s fifth largest tide swing in the world as an economic benefit for the community. “The tide brings money in and out and the tide brings nutrients in and out, and we are able to use that money.” And they are doing just that, taking advantage of the immense stock of nutrients in the bay to feed their oysters. Their ability to harvest the monetary productivity of the tides is spread throughout the community, allowing local restaurants to benefit from their operation as well.
The work requires constant net cleaning to ensure that blue mussels, sea stars, and other critters of the ocean do not impede their oyster growth. The batch is usually harvested around four years of age. When a lantern is pulled for harvest, it is cleaned of kelp, hosed, opened and the oysters cleaned and sorted based on size and shape. If they are too small, they will return to the lanterns for another year of growth. We were able to get a lesson on sorting and shucking, and try delicious oysters fresh from the bay. The work is a labor of love, full of continued excitement and learning. Marie explained that even after twenty years of operation, every lantern pulled is a surprise. “We never know what we will find” she told us.
Ron and Marie Bader’s oyster farm is the epitome of a sustainable, productive, and romantic Alaskan way of life. Their hard work and connection with the ocean yields benefits for themselves and the community, and serves as an excellent model of the result of successful local food production.
Do you enjoy eating fresh oysters? Do you have a special way of preparing them?
Photo credit: Gabriella DiGiovanni
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