The oyster population in the Chesapeake Bay has severely dwindled, amounting to less than 1% of historic levels, according to the NOAA. In turn, from a consumer’s perspective, Virginia oysters have been increasingly replaced by other varieties from around the globe.
Yet if Rappahannock Oyster Co. has anything to say about it, the Bay oyster will once again reign supreme. Their mission? “To put the Chesapeake Bay oyster back on the map” and give consumers a chance to once again enjoy “what is arguably the greatest tasting oyster in the world.”
Their story is an inspiring one, to be sure. But as filmmaker Nathan Clarke portrays in a marvelous short film on the subject, the routine work of oyster farming has a beauty and grandeur all of its own.
The film moves slowly and steadily, accompanied by no narration other than the raw rumble of boats and machinery and the quiet clatter of oysters jostling in cages and nets. Clarke lets the work sing for itself, and my, how the song sticks. Man cultivates nature, and nature responds by cultivating man.
Regardless of what attributed to the decline of these oysters — whether disease, pollution, overharvesting, or otherwise — these entrepreneurs and watermen aren’t waiting around for the conditions to change, complaining, making excuses, or pointing fingers. Instead, they are proactively wielding their gifts, skills, and creative energy to bring back that which has been lost, and all for the taste buds of the rest of us.
This is what restorative stewardship and creative service look like: taking a tragedy of the commons and transforming it into a cause for the common good.
It’s beautiful stuff to behold.