Producer Profile: Drake’s Bay Oyster Company, California
We don’t usually feature non-ruminant producers, but please bear with us on this one.
People have been farming oysters on Drake’s Bay for centuries, beginning with the indigenous Miwok tribe and continuing almost non-stop to the present day. But if the Department of the Interior has its say, that will come to a halt.
Drake’s Bay Oyster company is owned by Kevin Lunny and his family, fourth-generation farmers and ranchers in West Marin County, CA. They’re also AGA members.
The Lunny cattle ranch, known also as the Historic G Ranch, is situated in the heart of Point Reyes National Seashore, with Pacific Ocean bordering one side of the ranch and Drake’s Estero bordering the other. The Lunny family began their Point Reyes operation with a dairy more than 60 years ago. In the 1970s, they sold the dairy herd and moved into grassfed beef. Their pastures are certified organic, and the family is committed to good stewardship of one of California’s most beautiful and historically significant pieces of land.
In the 1960s, the National Park Service, with the support of several environmental groups and the state of California, bought the land from all of the ranchers on Point Reyes in order to curb the threat of impending rampant development and to create a national seashore and wilderness area. They also had the foresight to preserve the historical and cultural aspects of Point Reyes, and so allowed the ranchers and the Johnson’s Oyster Company to sign long-term leases, renewable in perpetuity.
Several years ago, the Lunnys bought Johnson’s Oyster Company, which had been farming oysters on the estero for more than 60 years. The place had become dilapidated and run down, and the Park Service required that they invest more than $300,000 in the property to restore the oyster beds, cannery, and buildings.
Today DBOC employs and houses thirty people and produces forty percent of the oysters consumed in California, both fresh and canned in the last remaining oyster cannery in the state. It’s the only one of the working farms on Point Reyes that’s open to the public, giving visitors the opportunity to learn about history, sustainable oyster farming, and the natural beauty of the place.
Oysters, because they’re filter feeders, improve water quality and create healthy habitats in lagoons and estuaries.They’re one of the few marine species that can be farmed sustainably. Life should be good for DBOC. But it’s not.
After a decade of wrangling and bad science, the Department of the Interior under Secretary Ken Salazar declined to renew the DBOC lease in December last year. The case is currently working its way through the court system, and if the Lunny family loses, the closure of DBOC will have a devastating impact on the people who work and live there, on the sustainable seafood market in California, and on the lagoon itself, not to mention on the Lunnys.
Grassfed in the Kitchen
This isn’t exactly a grassfed recipe, but we’re on a roll with the oysters, and it is grilling season. If you live close to the coast, it should be easy to find raw, shucked oysters, but if you live in the fly-over states, you might have to search out a good fish market.
12 large shucked oysters with the shells
1 stick butter
1 clove garlic, finely minced
1 teaspoon lemon juice
2-4 dashes hot pepper sauce
1/2 teaspoon salt
Heat the grill to high.
Scrub the oyster shells and place a raw oyster on 12 of the half shells. You can discard the remaining shells. If the oysters are too small for the grill grate, fill a baking pan with rock salt to hold them in place and set them inside.
In a skillet, melt the butter and saute the garlic until soft, about 2-3 minutes. Add the lemon juice, hot sauce, and salt and cook for another minute.
Set the oysters on the hot grill and drizzle with the melted butter mixture. Reserve the extra. Close the grill and cook for about 3 minutes, or until the oysters are curling on the edges and the butter is sizzling.
Carefully remove the oysters from the grill. You don’t want to spill any of the delicious juice. Serve immediately with the remaining butter on the side.