Our Girl. The Oysterplex. The Clubhouse. The barge used by the workers at Island Creek Oysters goes by any number of nicknames. Anchored in the middle of Duxbury Bay, Massachusetts, a few hundred yards from the watery expanse where millions of superbriny, deep-cupped oysters grow, the 40-foot barge with the shingled garage on top is the heart of the farm.
A few years ago, I decided to take a break from my job as an editor and try life as an oyster farmer. I spent two years working alongside Island Creek's founder, Skip Bennett. During the bay's massive, 10-foot low tides, we'd motor out from the barge to the mud flats where, in bulky waders, we'd tromp across the fields picking oysters by hand. Then we'd return to the barge to cull (sort by size), clean and bag our haul before shipping it to restaurants around the country, like New York City's Le Bernardin and Napa Valley's The French Laundry, or to local places like Boston's new Island Creek Oyster Bar.
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Bennett started raising oysters in the early 1990s. He grew up working on Duxbury Bay with his father (then a commercial lobsterman, now an oysterman) and originally set out to farm quahog clams. But his entire clam crop was wiped out by a common shellfish parasite after just a few years. Oysters were not a logical second choice, but he decided that would be his backup plan. "My mentor in the business told me I was crazy, going from bad to worse," he said.