Cape Small Oysters
To truly capture all the beauty of an oyster farm is to paint a picture that engages both the mind and the senses while honoring and rejoicing in the very essence and splendor of the place itself. From bustling Portland, ME hop on I-295 and drive an hour up to the midcoast of Maine along the rolling and wooded coastline. Once you pass by the local fire department and center store, you will begin to see lawns piled high, decorated in lobster traps, and that’s probably a good sign that you’ve entered at last into the historic and scenic fishing village of West Point, located on the Phippsburg Peninsula on Casco Bay. Continue east until you reach the ocean and you'll eventually arrive at ‘The General Store,’ also known as our Basecamp, and jump off point to access Cape Small Oyster Farm. Tall pines speckle the horizon on a rocky backdrop while a crisp, clean breeze stirs the salty air. Initial reactions upon arrival of the seaside outpost are that you have arrived in someplace very magical indeed. A stairway leads down onto the expansive shared deck drenched in midday sunshine, and a secondary descent down the gangway to the docks will eventually lead you clamoring into an authentic oyster boat (lucky you :). After a five minute zip across the open channel, you’re nestled up in the belly of Small Point Harbor and have reached one the most idyllic spots that produces some very tasty oysters with a side of love, passion and hope for the whole aquaculture industry.
As our entire team emulates, you must be adventurous and versatile with the ability and desire to wear many hats in order to get the most out of our work experiences. Luckily, one of my favorites to wear is working as a farmhand on our oyster farm and sharing it with newcomers. Named for the nearby cape, Cape Small was the first oyster farm I had ever been on and for that it shares a special place in my heart. The farm is now in its fourth season since grower and owner of Maine Oyster Company, John Herrigel, began it as a hobby farm back in 2016 and since then has had many a visitor while helping to share and educate others about a larger mission. Although the farm is humble in stature, it is where a lot of the inspiration from which the vision of our company is derived, which is, to share and celebrate the story of Maine oyster farmers and the incredible, delectable shellfish they produce, while supporting a local and sustainable industry here in Maine. The grow-out process here is simple and effective using seed from a hatchery and a series of different size mesh bags. It has three separate headlines of floating cages each containing four to six bags filled with the adorable capers ranging in size from babies to harvestable. Whether it’s cleaning seaweed and creatures, such as crabs and mussels off the bags, or straightening a line in the boat, to shooting drone footage for future farm tours and enjoying a cold one on the raft in the late afternoon sun, there is always plenty to do on a sea farm and is highly encouraged to reach out to come experience this home on the ocean.
Now while you're out on the farm it’s going be vital that you slurp a couple yourself. To taste a Cape Small oyster is to taste something as pure and natural as the sea itself. Mud-covered, fresh out of the water, shucking a few for ‘quality control’ during sorting of markets on the float is an extremely gratifying experience and a must try on any farm. Proper washing reveals a robust pearly white shell perfect for beginning shuckers at home or made favorite and devoured by the dozen at our restaurant in Portland. A smaller oyster with a smooth, nutty sweetness accompanied by a delicate briny finish has given them the spot on and to the point tagline: “sweet, tiny and briny.” Plans to expand the farm by diversifying growing techniques and establishing more cages are on the horizon for the future, in an effort to supply slurpers and oyster connoisseurs alike with these briny beauties and to continue sharing the Maine oyster with the world. Upon return back to the dock, one is greeted by friendly lobstermen as a bright orange basket filled with oysters is brought up for transport where they can then be shipped direct to the consumer all over the country. Blessed by a nautical and generous family legacy in the spirit of true community, Cape Small Oyster Farm although still young, remains an important representation of spirit on the working waterfront. With lofty aspirations for transformation of the General Store one day into an aquaculture education and retreat center; places like this are not only hard to come by in today’s world, but completely necessary to the human soul and more than worthy of celebration.