Meet Oyster Farmer

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Meet Oyster Farmers, Phil Allen and Sue John

—Twenty-five years ago at Cortes Seafest, Phil and I got into food vending.

I came to Cortes the winter Hague Lake froze, to study organic farming at Linnaea, and Phil came from England to visit me. Two urbanites: a teacher from East Van and an insurance sales support from London, England, transplanted to a little cabin in the woods.

By spring Phil was still here and our funds were running low. We had no money for rent, but we had all this food and out of desperation we got geared to sell juggling balls, jewelry and sushi. Food vending takes lots of logistics and I forgot to bring a knife to cut the sushi rolls.  I went over to the Seafest main tent and Mike Gibbons lent me one, and I felt so foolish seeing those amazing trays of food at the seafood tents…  and to be selling my little platter of sushi… I didn’t see the line up of people following me and amazingly we made enough for our $350 rent.

Eventually, Phil found oyster beach work. One November night he returned home really late, he confessed that while carrying the fir table down the beach, he slipped on the algae covered rocks and had fallen on his back and got winded, lying there in the dark, alone with just the sound of the waves and rain falling on his face.

The next night, I went with him to give a hand. On the moonlit beach, exposed at low tide, a headlight strapped over our toques, we collected, cluster busted and sized oysters into vexar bags, and kept watch over the encroaching tide. By 2 a.m. the rain drizzle turned to sleet, by 4 a.m. we drove home in the dark and we laughed to escape this surreal labour.

A year later, Phil got a sturdy little boat from Jimmy, bought an oyster raft from Bill and Dwayne, and rented beach space from Bertha. Then we met Mike, Doug, John, Evelyn, Julia, Marcel, Mary, Delia, Scot, Hank, Victor and the many hardworking folks of the oyster farming collective. We learned to gauge the tides and moon, navigate the local waters, manage dodgy engines, keep peace with the wolves, set seed and live the life of oyster farming. The best day of the week was Tuesday, delivery day. Farmers could be seen with full boats at the dock, with their orders, bagged and tagged, hand in hand, working to get every oyster on the truck.

Twenty-five years later, 4 rafts lighter, we farm less intensively and only during daylight. We still get excited by each and every oyster we cultivate and respect the precarious nature of good and bad weather, markets, seed, public opinion and body aches. Most importantly we cherish the good friends we made in foul weather and bad situations we had and may still have to encounter… and dream of a time when we can sell directly to a willing market.

So with good fortune, we will again offer great food this year at our Cortes Seafest… Wow!  See you there!

Susan John



Gorge Harbour Marina

Music begins at 11:00

Serving begins at 11:30

Good times last all day.

You do not need a ticket.  Just be there, stand in line to get your plate.  A plate full of seafood – $22 at the Seafest.