In 1985 I left the confines of San Francisco’s business district with its desks and ties, and moved north to the verdant hills surrounding Tomales Bay. This was the land of my grandfathers and their grandfathers, who worked this land from 1850 on. Many of them had been sea men and others were farmers, but to the best of my knowledge none had ever been sea farmers.
I began by reading every bulletin and book that I could lay my hands on about shellfish culture, specifically mussel culture. I wanted to grow bivalves. I talked with extension agents
and sea farmers around the country to find out how they practiced their craft. What where the tricks? What did and didn’t work? I worked at Penn Cove Mussel Farm in Washington State with Ian Jeffords and his crew, stringing columnar nets jammed with hundreds of juvenile mussels to six inch diameter eucalyptus spars that formed the deck of the rafts that dotted Penn Cove. The work could be tedious and often hard, but the scenery was unsurpassed. The air was always crisp and clean, the water blue and mysterious. I was hooked.
Growing food in the water became my passion. From my first five-acre Tomales Bay lease where I began culturing mussels, to the additional 87 acres under lease today, my goal has remained the same; grow the best and sell the freshest. Each species has a preferred habit. The oysters thrive at the surface of the substrate so I position them either directly on
gravel bottoms or on racks above sandy bottoms. Mussels thrive in the water column, so I suspend them. Clams do best buried in sand or gravel, so I raise them in protective bags partially filled with sand. My leases span the range of hydrographic characteristics in Tomales Bay, from subtidal to intertidal and from bay mouth to back bay, and I take care to raise each product in its preferred habitat. When ready for market, the products are sorted and bagged and carefully kept chilled until delivery.
I’ve been selling my product for over 25 years direct to wholesalers and at farmers markets, and still regularly attend markets in San Francisco (Alemany), Vallejo and Sacramento. Customers love our shellfish, brimming with fresh sea water in tightly closed shells. These little treasures are a rich source of protein, vitamins, and minerals and the shells can even be used as an amendment for soils needing calcium!