Slideshow: Behind the Scenes: Island Creek Oyster Farm in Massachusetts

Duxbury Bay
Duxbury Bay
Almost 70 percent of the 35 billion gallons of water in this bay is newly replenished with each tide, keeping it clean and well-stocked with nutrients and oxygen. It's an ideal habitat for oyster farming.
Oyster Seed
Oyster Seed
Island Creek Oysters start their lives at one of several New England oyster hatcheries, including the one recently started by Island Creek itself. At this stage the tiny creatures are a mere two millimeters in length; this blue cloth bag contains some 800,000 oysters and weighs two pounds. Eighteen months on, the 20,000-or-so survivors will occupy a one-acre area and weigh 250,000 pounds.
The FLUPSY
The FLUPSY
Since oysters are—except at the very beginning of life before they've found a permanent home—sedentary creatures, oyster farming is closer in spirit to plant cultivation than it is to animal husbandry or fish farming. Oyster seeds are typically held in a FLUPSY, or FLoating UPweller SYstem. These floating devices (akin to greenhouses for the fledgling bivalves) hold a number of hand-built wooden boxes, or silos, with fine mesh bottoms that hold the precious baby oysters under the water, allowing them to feed while protecting them from predators as they begin to grow.
Days-Old Seed
Days-Old Seed
Oysters start their lives here in Duxbury Bay about the size of a pepper flake. In these very early stages of growth, the oysters will double in size nearly every day.
Making the Grade
Making the Grade
By September, many of the same oysters have grown to about 1/4 inch in length. Oysters grow at different rates, so at this point they are "graded" by sifting through screens to remove smaller ones that will be returned to the upweller to continue growing. Those that are 1/4 inch or larger will be transferred to their next home, the nursery.
Nursery School
Nursery School
For the next 2 to 3 months, the still-tiny oysters live in the protective confines of the nursery, a system of mesh bags contained within metal cages. About 1,200 oyster seeds fit into each bag. The cages are placed on the bottom of the bay, where the oysters continue to feed and grow.

[Photo: Island Creek Oysters]

Leaving the Nursery
Leaving the Nursery
Once the oysters are big enough (about two inches in length) to survive without protection, it's time for planting. Island Creek Oysters is a collective of 15 individually-run farms located in Duxbury bay. Each farmer has his own "grant," an area of underwater land which is leased from the state of Massachusetts.
Shovel Ready
Shovel Ready
There are a number of different ways to evenly distribute oysters onto the mud floor. Here, the farmer is using what is known as the snow shovel cast. The goal is optimum density per acre: not so dense that the oysters are too crowded (which will leave them oddly-shaped), but not so sparsely that space is wasted. Once the oysters are planted, there's nothing left to do but wait.

[Photo: Island Creek Oysters]

Harvest Time
Harvest Time
About 18 months after they arrive in Duxbury Bay as seed—starting in late summer—some of the oysters are ready for eating. Harvesting is done in one of two ways: hand picking or dragging. On the few days each month that the tide is low enough to completely drain the bay, it's as simple as walking out and plucking them off of the mud floor.

[Photo: Island Creek Oysters]

Drag Show
Drag Show
During the rest of the month, when the tides are high, the farmers use hand made dredges that consist of a short-toothed metal rake with a net attached to it. Here is John Brawley, one of Island Creek's oyster farmers and a marine biologist, demonstrating the method. After slowly dragging the net behind his boat, he pulls up his haul.
Mud Bath
Mud Bath
A quick dunk in the bay is all it takes to wash the silty mud from the oyster shells.
A Bumper Crop
A Bumper Crop
Aside from bits of seaweed and the odd razor-clam shell, there's little more than beautiful, fat oysters on the bay floor.
On Ice
On Ice
Here's the penultimate destination of some of those oysters, on the bar at the farm's flagship restaurant in Boston's Kenmore Square, the Island Creek Oyster Bar.