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3/12/2021 - The Best Part of Direct Oyster Sales


In an uncertain year like 2020 the energy and fulfillment that the direct sales project brought to our farm was so welcome. We had never done direct sales before, and suddenly there were individual customers waiting! Our shellfish went fresh from farm to person.

And with that came a renewed joy and enthusiasm for the work.  

On those extra difficult days when I arrived at the farm with rain drumming on the roof of the truck, I would admittedly sit in the vehicle a bit longer than necessary, just resisting the bone chilling wet to come. But then a ping would come through on my phone indicating another oyster order had come through, and suddenly it was easy to pop out into the crescendo of rain pounding the evergreen boughs.

 

Luck with the weather

With our oysters being hauled up from the cold depths the morning we sell them we kept a close eye on the weather forecast, and especially the wind. We don’t have any system to hold them in off farm. While this means that the oysters are extremely fresh and clean, it also meant that we are at the mercy of the weather for harvest – which, over the winter, can be tricky. Somehow the winds played in our favor, or at least weren’t so terrible we couldn’t wrestle the oysters up, but still there were many a night spent listening to blows wondering if this would finally be the day we couldn’t get to the oysters.

Overall, we were quite lucky with the weather on sales days. There were only a couple of days with any real nasty cold or wet. One of which was the snowstorm which landed squarely on our specially planned Valentine’s Day weekend sales, and understandably we had a handful of customers who couldn’t make it out in the slippery conditions. So, we ended up with some extra clams and learned that ten pounds of clams in one chowder is amazing! Three to four clams per spoonful – now that’s a Northwest dinner.

Thanks!

These direct sales could never have happened without the support of our family and friends, and for them we are grateful. Both of Van and I’s parents were more than generous in helping with watching our son Wayne, and our friends were there both to listen to ideas and support the shellfish Thursdays.

And we felt we made lots of new friends too! It was the best getting to know new shellfish fans. I was also stunned how many folks found us through Instagram – I had always thought of this as a platform to just share about our farm (and get a little creative), but suddenly it was creating true and real connection. In a time like this, where connection is challenging, I really appreciate these social media (now in life) relationships.

With our first go around of direct to consumer at a close, we look forward to April when we plan on being on Lake Union once a month for direct off the boat sales. In the meantime, we’ll be working on various farm maintenance projects, and the less exciting routine paperwork side of things (hello tax season!).

Your oyster farmer,

Alice

2/16/2021 - Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night

Last Wednesday I woke anxious to check the weather report, as a winter storm was predicted to hit the very day we were doing a special harvest and delivery to Seattle for Valentine’s.

I was nervous about icy conditions that would work to complicate (or cancel) the plan and shared my worries with Van. My concerns ranged from just getting into Seattle with the clams and oysters to getting the butters and mignonettes for the Valentine's special – and, perhaps most concerning, if we would have to totally cancel on everyone. He listened patiently, and responded simply, “It’ll snow, or it won’t. We’ll just deal with what happens.”

It was the reminder I needed. Like is always the case with oyster farming, the elements were out of my control - so there was no use worrying.

Working with the elements

With oyster farming, the main job is really working with natural processes and forces - there’s only so many factors that can be influenced by human hand. This is one of the very reasons why we find oyster farming to be so awesome and special. So, it’s up to us to figure out how to work in tandem with nature.

For example, winter low tides (when we have to do most of our prep work to get to our oysters later in the week) are literally in the middle of the night. Thus, we must plan our work well enough for these rather inconvenient low tide windows, otherwise we won’t have enough oysters. Or, as another example, how the heavy surf brought by wind works to break down our farm. If we neglect maintenance after wind storms the oysters will become ruined or lost.

But these complicating factors are the exact same ones that make oyster farming worthwhile – inasmuch as they are what makes oysters even happen.

  • The snow, as unpleasant as it may be work in and how it complicates delivery, eventually delivers minerals down to the farm from the neighboring Olympic Mountains. These minerals give the oysters their unique flavor, help them grow, and make them a nutrient rich food.
  • The reason that the tides happen at night in the winter has to do with the Earth’s tilt, which also causes the seasons. Seasonality is key to the oyster’s life cycle, controlling everything from feeding patterns to when they go into dormant periods.
  • Waves, while hard on farm equipment, are also what helps bring food to the oysters, along with tidal current. Waves also help to jostle the oysters, which nudges them into growing a deeper, and more delicious, shape.

While perhaps not as obvious and tangible as the natural processes I’m working with on my farm, I know every job has their own elements that they work with themselves. In the end, however, it seems these factors deserve credit for what makes a particular product unique and worthwhile.

Celebrate What Makes an Oyster an Oyster

I got lots of phone calls and texts Saturday morning inquiring if we’d still be there that afternoon. Yep, we would still be there - we front loaded all the work that we could do on Friday and made it into the city. We were happy to see that the vast majority of folks who had pre-ordered were able to make it too; we genuinely hope you had fun cooking and shucking at home.

Admittedly, in the cold and slippery conditions on the boat, it wasn’t the most fun oyster selling day – but with the snow falling it was certainly beautiful, and the whole rigamarole of making it happen despite the conditions quite memorable. That and watching all the cross-country skiers pass by on the Lake Union trail right above the boat!

With precipitation and cold weather being a key component of growing oysters it’s worth celebrating that this is part of what makes an oyster an oyster – even if it did cause some jaw clenching last week!

Your Oyster Farmer,
Alice

2/9/2021 - A Fresh Approach for Fresh Oysters: Making Changes as the World Changes

Selling Fjordlux oysters direct off our boat at a pier on West Lake Union was definitely not in our shellfish company’s plans for 2020 - but it was exactly what we found ourselves doing December 2020.

In our five years of commercial harvest at Set & Drift farm, our Fjordlux oysters have been sold almost entirely at premium seafood restaurants nationwide, with almost none direct to consumer. With the immense and heartbreaking impacts to the restaurant industry during the pandemic, however, the past year has been different.

In response, we made big changes to how we do things by bringing our oysters fresh into Seattle for direct sales – right off our boat and direct to you.

Finding an idea that worked…then come the details

It’s one thing to read about businesses working out new strategies in response to the pandemic, but quite another to be a small business actually doing it. Direct sales off our boat is just one idea of several we brainstormed. Each idea required research to see if it really made sense, and it took some time to settle on this particular approach.

Even once we did decide on this format, there were still a lot of details to pin down. Selling oysters out of an oyster skiff involves way more logistics than probably how simple it sounds, from sourcing ice in an amount and price that made sense, to creating a pick-up system off the boat (for our very first week we used a food grade plastic pail to make this happen – fancy? Hardly, but it did the trick. At least now we moved on to food grade stainless steel pans!). Not to mention making sure we had all the certifications, payment platforms, and harvest arrangements in place for this new approach.

Since the get go, we’ve been so pleased and touched by how well it’s gone, and are so happy to  get to know our regulars coming by week to week. It’s gone so well that we added Hama Hama clams to the sales mix, and may even add other shellfish products. 

Focus on what truly matters

Like many other businesses, we’re running a tight crew these days. With just my husband and I working the farm while balancing outside responsibilities, we had to focus our limited time on getting what mattered right for those first sales – and be okay with less important things settling onto the back burner. For example:

  • Most important? The quality and freshness of our oysters, and making sure our operation was socially distant, sanitized, masked, and safe.
  • Less important? How our website appeared. When we finally went to publish the much fussed about draft of our fresh off the boat sales page, it didn’t work. Making it the way we wanted would have taken too much time and expense, so the fix was a bright yellow and fuchsia banner at the top of our website. Though reminiscent of design circa 2004, it functions just fine.

I think about all the business owners around the world having the similar conversations and dealing with their own pandemic challenges. I especially think of our restaurant friends and partners. We are fortunate to have this opportunity and are deeply grateful for the help we’ve received in making it happen.

Aw shucks, we appreciate the enthusiasm and support

Overall, it is an absolute pleasure to continue to farm oysters, and bring healthy, sustainable, and tasty seafood to market. The support and enthusiasm we’ve witnessed in response to our oyster sales is incredibly heartening. Honestly, that alone makes it worthwhile. Thank you.

Your Oyster Farmer,
Alice