In case you were just trying to buy oysters, you can do that here, but feel free to stick around and read about why we need to hold this rare 'Clear the Farm' sale.
It’s that time of year again when the oysters are going to start growing soon and we need to finalize our farm operations plan. Sadly, part of the plan this year is figuring out what to do with excess oysters (and we have some exciting, uplifting ideas). Thanks to our amazing customers, in 2020 we ended up keeping sales at about 60% of our 2019 total. All things considered, we are thrilled with that number as it was enough to get us to this point. But that is still 40% fewer oysters sold and only 20% of what we had available to sell, and those unsold oysters are a problem.
The pandemic has depressed sales for longer than anyone really thought, and while there is some light at the end of the tunnel, we are probably still a few months away from the market really getting back to normal. With that in mind, we have to be realistic about how many oysters we’ll be able to move between now and then. Sadly, that number will not be what we need it to be for our farm to operate as it should.
Farms only have enough grow out gear to handle the size of the crop they expect to grow and sell. When oysters are sold, that frees up gear that is then cleaned and put back in rotation. So if we grow a set number of oysters, but don’t sell them, they still take up gear and less is freed up to put into rotation for smaller oysters that are growing. At some point, the farm will just run out of gear. At that point, the choice has to be made on what to do with the excess oysters. Normally, any extras would just be sold on another market. For example, we occasionally sell some oysters to local shucking operations. However, the pandemic has made that less of an option.
We are building new gear to handle more oysters, but most of that gear is needed for growing our young oysters. Even if we decided to build enough gear to hold all of our oysters, we would never be able to keep up with all that gear without hiring more help and probably getting another boat. All those excess oysters are getting big, and big oysters take up a LOT of gear. We can fit about 1,000 of our average 3” oysters in one of our cages. That number drops to 500 to 600 for our larger oysters. You can see how we’ll run out of gear really quickly once the oysters start growing again! And it’s hard to hire more help or buy new equipment when the root of the issue is a lack of sales. So as spring approaches, the practical thing to do is clear off as many of our larger oysters as we can, and hope the market begins to recover as our smaller oysters grow to market size.
To that end we have a few ideas including giving folks the opportunity to sponsor some good works with oysters.
The first idea is obviously to sell as many of them as we can. So this month we are shifting back to more pickups through the month so we can get to more people, and running a ‘Clear the Farm’ sale where we’re giving folks 25% off for orders of $50+ spent on oysters (accessories do not count). So call your quarantine buddies and start planning some oyster parties! You can buy oysters by clicking here.
Another option we are looking at is using the excess oysters on a reef. This would be similar to the SOAR program by the Pew Trust and The Nature Conservancy, which bought oysters from farmers for use in restoration projects. It is a wonderful program, but Virginia was not included in the project. However, just because we were not able to participate in that program does not mean that we can’t just do it ourselves!
So we are going to start taking sponsorships to support planting our oysters on our restoration projects. We have a few spots in mind on our current leases, and are talking to a potential partner about this idea and potentially other spots.
A third option is to try and get these oysters into the hands of folks in need or just in a need of a pick me-up like our First Responders. This has been a trickier option as most food banks offer either dry goods or frozen goods. Most do not have refrigeration as part of their setup. We think there are still options to make this work, one of them being us just loading up the truck and parking at the food bank locations, but that probably won’t work for many locations just due to distance and scheduling. We're also trying to find a partner to get oysters in the hands of First Responders and those who are risking their lives to take care of others. There are a lot of logistics to work out so we’ll post some announcements as soon as we get some plans solidified.
If anyone has resources that can help us plan these projects, please don't hesitate to reach out to us.
Hopefully through these three options we can get some oyster off the farm and clear up some gear for this coming year!
In the meantime, don't hesitate to take advantage of our 'Clear the Farm' sale and buy oysters here.