How does a native New Yorker who has a master's degree in engineering, move to Block Island, and start farming oysters?
We wanted to know the same thing, and with the help of the "I Luv R.I.' Facebook page we found out everything we ever needed to know about raising these tiny sea creatures.
On a picture perfect Rhode Island morning The Rhode Show headed over to the island on "The Block Island Ferry" and met Chris Warfel, owner of "Sun Farm Oysters."
His experiment turned into more than he expected.
"I had no idea actually, what I was getting into at all. I do like working outdoors;my undergraduate degree is in forestry engineering, so I do like to be outdoors. It's a nice combination, actually, for me," said Warfel.
Chris is an engineer who stumbled into the oyster business.
"I developed a renewable power incubator for oysters. At the end I had quite a few oysters left over, and without a license you cannot have oysters, can't posses them. I asked to see if that was true, and they said yes, but we can set you up with a farm. So, that's how it started."
The process begins with buying oysters at about a sixteenth of an inch.
"We buy approximately two million babies a year, which is like, two gallons, actually. We sell anywhere between forty and seventy thousand a year."
Two million baby oysters sounds like a lot, but they take their time to grow to market size.
"They grow at different rates, even when they start out at the same size. After the first year, we actually don't know how old they are, because, we sort them by size. But, it's two to five years generally."
"We just change the size of the mesh as the oysters get bigger. We seed them out and put them in larger mesh size until we bring them to market."
Chris says that farmed oysters can be sold at any size, but wild ones have to be three inches to be market ready.
"We have fifty percent more oysters this year than we did last year, and I still think we're going to sell out."
Predators like crabs and mussels can kill oysters, "This is the worst. Last year we had a barnacle set in the other pond, and this year we have a mussel set in this pond - put them back in."
Chris knows that he is not going to get rich off this business
"I'm a very small farmer. It's not a big money maker but I think it's important to show that it can be done and maybe I will learn enough that it does become my main source of income."
Chris tells us as of right now he is only selling the oysters to local restaurants here on Block Island, but does expect to expand the business real soon.
"We have sold occasionally to the main land. But, right now it looks like we're going to sell everything we have this year right on the island."
Chris was never even a fan of oysters, but trying them without cocktail sauce changed everything.
"I put no cocktail sauce on it and I ate it. I go, this is good. Before, I had put cocktail sauce on it and I never really liked the taste. Once I had it without anything, I kind of grew to like them."
Chris said that every year the business is growing and expanding.
If you know of a local business that stands out in the state head over to the 'I LUV R.I.' Facebook page and tell us all about it.
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