The Farrells bring home several hundred thousand oysters for the winter
By Doreen Leggett
Wendy Farrell had spent the morning taking oysters off her grant in Orleans and was using a measuring ring to sort them on a big wooden table in her backyard -- while also talking a bit about real estate.
“Most Cape Codders have three jobs right? The job you love, the job that pays the bills, and the job where you help your friends,” she says as she moves the larger oysters to their own bag.
Wendy loves both her work on the grant and her foray into real estate with Gibson Sotheby’s International Realty.
Most of the year, Wendy, her husband Kyle, and one or more of their three children put in a few hours a day on their grant, Rock Creek Oysters on Cape Cod Bay.
But come late December they have to get hundreds of thousands of oysters, and associated gear, off the flats near Rock Harbor and Skaket Beach so they reach out to friends and family.
“We line pickup trucks in the parking lot,” said Kyle on a windy day, with low barometric pressure holding the tide in. It should have been just sloshing over his boots not lapping at his waist.
That day there were only two trucks in the lot, his and his brother Jonathan’s, who is a lobsterman. One reason was it was a working Monday, the other was the plus tide, which looked like it might stop them from getting on the flats. Instead of having four hours to haul they only had two.
Farrell watched the white caps. Under more typical circumstances, “we could have made a few trips by now,” he said.
He and others had already spent several days on the flats. Town officials let growers move gear with an all-terrain vehicle so they had piled cages on the back and shuttled to the beach. Their 11-year-old son Macklin joined over the weekend; he didn’t want to miss the opportunity to ride around in the six- wheeler.
Kyle Farrell’s mom Gale was there as well. She had been a grant holder long before her son. She said she grew quahogs in Eastham for a number of years, but the grant – on Cape Cod National Seashore property – was farther away so she had to deal with theft more than she wanted. Now she scratches in the wild fishery.
Kyle started in the wild fishery and paid his way through college.
“He worked out of Hemmingway (a landing in Eastham) during the day and at night he worked in the kitchen of a local restaurant,” said Wendy.
Kyle went to Massachusetts Maritime Academy to be a marine engineer and went to sea for a bit, working on the Great Lakes until the shipping routes froze. He then worked for General Dynamic on submarine design at the Electric Boat shipyard for a few years before moving home in 1999 and working at the power plant on the canal in Sandwich.
Both Kyle and Wendy went to Nauset High School, graduated in the early 1990s only a year apart, but didn’t know each other then.
They met at the Land Ho! in Orleans one Halloween. Among many things in common, both loved the Cape and wanted to raise a family here.
The couple opted to apply for an aquaculture grant about a decade ago, the second applicant for a grant in Orleans on Cape Cod Bay. Only five grants have been allowed and the designees must work it, otherwise the grant goes to the next person on a waiting list.
“By the time we were done with the application process, which took a year to work through the five (permitting) agencies, there was a huge wait list to get the grant,” Wendy said.
Over the years they have tried different methods and found racks and bags work best.
“We made a lot of mistakes,” Kyle said.
They also realized that unlike some secluded areas, such as Barnstable Harbor, they couldn’t leave anything on their grant in the winter.
“Weight of the ice when the tide goes out will lay down on the gear and just crush it,” Kyle said. “Lessons learned.”
“We came out here one year and the metal was like tumbleweeds,” Wendy added.
Last year, the day after the Farrells got their gear in, the bay froze early; they were among the fortunate few who didn’t lose tens of thousands of dollars.
This year they started the process early, taking about seven days. Smaller seed oysters in bags, with finer mesh, are in a contraption that looks like a lobster trap. There are six bags per cage.
“Some people call them condos,” smiled Kyle.
As Christmas drew close, virtually all the oysters were off the grant, even the smallest ones. They are stored in a shed the Farrells built on their property in Orleans. They’ll likely go back out in March.
With the new shed, which has their name etched into a wooden board above, they can drive pickup trucks down the hill and walk the oysters into their winter quarters.
Before they made the driveway they had a playground set for their kids so the oysters took a nice ride down the slide.
“Once they’re bunkered they’re hands off,” Kyle said.
After most of the oysters were off the grant, Kyle looked at the piles of bags filling the shed.
“I was going to count the oysters this year,” Kyle said, ruefully looking at hundreds of bags inside. “But I didn’t.” And so when it comes to raw numbers, there’s only one thing he can say for sure: “There are a lot.”
“I don’t think anyone would enjoy hauling in all these oysters,” he said with a laugh. “But in the summer time this job is pretty hard to beat. It’s a nice lifestyle. I enjoy the industry. It’s a lot of fun, and I like to have something to call my own.”
Photo by Christine Walsh Sanders Photography.