Last Saturday I sat outside of Miya’s with Bren while members of his Community Supported Fishery program came to pick up their shares. It could have been a pretty tough series of encounters; there had been no August delivery, as heavy rainfall triggered state-mandated closure of his acres, and the September boxes contained only clams, since his oyster beds were still closed. There had been a disclaimer when we signed up for the program, letting us know that farming was unpredictable and there would be no refunds, but it had been easy to ignore with visions of freshly-caught, freshly-shucked oysters beckoning— now came the test of just how Community Supported the program really was.
And you know, everyone who came by was lovely. This was likely in part, Bren pointed out, because Irene was an understandable catastrophe that had affected all of us in one way and another; people were still in disaster-relief mode, eager to be helpful. But it was also a mark of the kind of economic and social community that CSFs and CSAs can build: Bren was not just an oysterman but also a businessman, and a neighbor whose livelihood was being threatened; the threat of a month without oysters was subsumed by the threat that the CSF might end entirely. We weren’t just dissatisfied consumers; we had become, in the language of Carlo Petrini’s Slow Food, co-producers, without whom the business of good food was impossible. I’ve explained CSAs countless times: farmers need money at the beginning of the season, and it’s far less risky when they don’t have to rely on the success of a single crop to make a living. Now I watched it in action: it was that money that I’d paid out in advance that would help keep Bren and Thimble Island Oysters going after nearly 80% of his beds had been wiped out.
I’m always a little wary of the “co-producer” model— there’s so much more work to being part of the Food Movement, whatever that is, than buying things— but it is important, and I think expresses a particular piece of what this thing is for me and why I care about it. If I’m going to spend money on food anyway, I want it to go to Bren and men and women like him, people I know, people in my community, who literally and figuratively weather the same storms. It encourages me to be sympathetic to them; it reminds me that food is not produced in a vacuum. If I want someone else to grow my food— a difficult and risky business at the best of times— then I should know all of the costs, and be prepared to pay for the privilege.
80% of the oysters of CT’s first Community Supported Fishery, Thimble Island Oyster, was wiped out by the Hurricane but our members will still be receiving clams in the interim; we are all trying to think of ways of helping oysterman Bren Smith rebuild in the aftermath. The best way way we can help is by signing up for a 2012 CSF membership. Help out and get the freshest seafood back in return! http://www.etsy.com/listing/75395775/thimble-island-oyster-csf-share The above photo is of Captain Ben Kerzner and I with seaweed that we had dived for on the grounds of Thimble Island Oyster. The invasive seaweed, deliciously called Dead Man’s Fingers, is used as a soup base at Miya’s.