n a white-capped Monday in early May, Jules Opton-Himmel
M.E.M. ’07 holds up an index finger speckled with a dozen translucent, pinhead-sized oyster seed.
We’re in Ninigret Pond, the shallow Rhode Island lagoon in which Opton-Himmel cultivates shellfish on three acres of sandy seabed. Four days earlier, he’d received a $5,000 shipment of seed — tiny oysters barely older than larvae — from a nearby hatchery, and this morning we’ve bounced across the pond in his handmade skiff to check on the seed’s development. The future of his farm, Walrus and Carpenter Oysters
, now literally clings to his fingertips, and Opton-Himmel is nervous.
“If you look really close, you can see some of that frilly new growth,” he says, pointing at the tiny bivalves’ proto-shells. That’s the good news. The disconcerting news is that his upweller, a floating platform designed to pump nutrients and oxygen to the seed, is bucking in the choppy surf and threatening to slosh his babies — all 750,000 of them — out of their microwave-sized container. “I’d sleep a lot better if this thing had a plywood lid,” Opton-Himmel mutters as he rinses his hands in the upweller and watches the minuscule specks settle to the bottom.
We motor back to the west side of Ninigret Pond, where Walrus and Carpenter’s adult oysters are flourishing in three feet of greenish water. The oysters grow in mesh bags, bungee-corded to the bottom in long parallel rows, not unlike carrots or lettuce on a conventional farm. We stride up and down the rows in waders, Opton-Himmel pausing occasionally to rub his dark, trim beard and inspect his crop.