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Oyster Farmers Hit Hard by COVID-19; Have to Pivot

Grant from Slow Food East End Helps

All food producers and purveyors on the East End were hit hard by the shut down due to COVID-19, but few were hit so fast as the oyster industry. Most of those farming our waters sold their oysters to restaurants. When they closed, their entire market dried up.
“I know of one farmer who had to take oysters back from the wholesaler,” says Karen Rivara, an owner of Aeros Cultured Oyster Company in Southold, which sells seed oysters to many local farmers.
So when Slow Food East End offered resilience grants to help the food community, more than half of the applicants were oyster companies. You can donate so we can help as many farmers and food producers on the East End that we can.
Steven Schnee of Founders Oyster Farm also in Southold said he got clobbered when the restaurants closed. “It’s been getting better in the past two weeks,” he says. “But I’ve found a sweet spot selling at the wineries.” It requires a lot of precautions and sterilizing. “I wear gloves and a mask, the table is six feet away from the customer; I’ve got wipes and spray. And the customer puts the money in a jar.”
He used the bulk of his grant for maintenance and to buy seed. “I had to fix the boat and the engine. It really helped to keep the wheels greased and the operation running.”
“One hundred percent of my business is direct to restaurants,” says Meg Strecker of Yennicott Oysters. “That turned out to be a lesson. You think you’re preparing for everything but you cannot prepare for everything.”
Strecker has taken to selling her oysters at KK’s The Farm’s farm stand in Southold. But the unsold oysters were getting big — restaurants like them four inches and under — and not many people know what to do with a bigger oyster. “They’re not comfortable shucking them, so we came up with the idea to teach customers how to cook them on the grill or in a pan,” she says. “And use ingredients from the farm. One of my favorites, because I have celiac, is the fried oyster po-boy tacos.”
Strecker used her grant money to buy biodegradable packaging, create shucking kits and to print postcards with recipes. She adds, “It turns out you have to spend a lot of money to help you make money.”
Clean oyster with cold water & place on tray
preheat grill or oven to med heat
place oysters cup side down on grill or in oven proof pan/skillet
when oyster opens pull off top shell and spoon in:
Ira’s Stinging Nettle Pesto from The Farm; orcompound butter; or 1”-strip local bacon, chopped shallot & white wine; or grated cheese, white wine & chopped greens/herbs.
Close grill lid cook for 3-5 mins



AAQ / Resource: Riverhead Bay Motors