A day with Aaron & Eric from The Big Rock Oyster Company

Earlier today I met up with my brother, father and step mother before meeting Aaron and Eric who took us on a 'working tour" of their 2 acre oyster farm in Crowes Pasture, East Dennis, MA. Due to the timing of the tides, we arranged to meet them at the East Dennis Tedeschi at 8:30 AM before proceeding to Crowes Pasture. Also at the meeting point was a group of people that Eric met during the recent 2009 MS Bike Ride, a 2 day / 150 mile bike ride from Boston Harbor to Provincetown to raise money for Multiple Sclerosis.

Getting to Crowes Pasture is somewhat of an adventure in itself and requires either walking or a four wheel drive vehicle. The posted speed limit signs of 10 MPH are laughable because you can only drive about 2- 4 MPH due to the large bumps and turns but soon enough we arrived, parked the car and walked a few feet to the beach.

Here is a picture of our arrival onto the beach.

After taking in the nice scenery we proceeded about 200 yards to Aaron and Eric's oyster beds. Aaron and Eric are quick to explain the oyster growing process and to answer any questions. Working so close to the beach, people often approach them and ask questions. The common ones include:

1. Do you find pearls in the oysters?
Answer: No, probably because they aren't opening the oysters. However, Aaron's brother-in-law did find a tiny pearl once! How oysters make pearls: "The oyster’s mantle (skin) makes both an outer white crusty shell, and a smooth inner shell. The smooth inner part is called “nacre” or “Mother of Pearl.” Sometimes a bit of sand gets inside the oyster’s shell. This is very irritating to the oyster, like getting an eyelash in your eye. So the oyster covers this bit of dirt with shiny smooth Mother of Pearl. It keeps covering the dirt and rolling it around until it doesn’t cause any more irritation. This makes a pearl."source.

2. Where can we buy your oysters?
Answer: The oysters grown by Big Rock Oyster Company can be found in local restaurants.

3. What do you feed the oysters?
Answer: Well, they don't hand feed each of the 2.5 million oysters three times a day... Oysters are filter-feeders. They suck in water and filter out and swallow the plankton.

We also learned that Aaron applied for the permit seven years ago when he heard the town was starting to sell permits to residents. Aaron and Eric now own two acres of land and can grow about 2.5 million oysters. What they produce, they eat, give to friends and sell to wholesalers. They prefer to sell 1000 oysters at a time but often fill smaller orders upon request. I'd encourage you to contact them to place an order but from what I understand their oysters are so popular that they can't produce them fast enough and have no problem selling them to those who wish to pick them up.

The motto of the day was, "Work as much or as little as you want." I chose to work. My main job involved moving the younger/smaller oysters from the bags to cages. Others spent time sorting oysters by size, using a home-made oyster sorting machine that Eric built with a friend.

Aaron and Eric are impressive guys. They both maintain full time work and put in at least three to four hours of work five days per week on the oysters. If it wasn't for the tide coming in and putting the oysters under 8 - 10 feet of water, I think they'd spend all day tending to their oysters. Many oyster farmers grow attached to the oysters they are harvesting, and these two are no exception. They care about the end result and are proud that people buy and enjoy what they grow.

Here are additional pictures:

Eric and Aaron.

For my efforts today, Aaron handed me an empty bag and told me to take what I would eat. I took about 30 oysters. I ate 10 for lunch, dropped 10 off to my father-in-law in Falmouth and will eat the rest right now. Today was a great day of working, learning and enjoying fresh oysters from The Big Rock Oyster Company!