How an oyster makes its way from beneath the water’s surface to your table can seem mysterious, so we took the hundred-mile drive outside Seattle along twisty roads lined with towering pines, to Lilliwaup, Washington, where the Hamma Hamma River pours into the Hood Canal, to discover how it works. The tidal flats here are routinely washed with cold, clear, plankton-rich water that breeds strong, healthy oysters, so it’s no surprise that the family-run Hama Hama Oyster Company has cultivated a reputation far bigger than its actual size. (And yes, the company spells its name with singular m’s, despite the river’s use of double m’s.)
As Adam James, who runs the farming operations at Hama Hama, explains while on a harvesting mission: “Oysters in the restaurants look one way, and oysters in the beach look entirely differently … We’ll need to get going early.”
During low tide at 1:30 a.m. James showed us how Hama Hama’s harvesters trudge across soft earth filling Mini Cooper-size steel cages with oysters. At low tide, the cages are accessible by foot. At high tide, James motors out on a barge, lifts them out of the water with the crane, and hauls them back to shore for processing. Here, a look at the process of farming oysters to get them to your table.