Our Executive Director, Linda Hunter, sat down with Diani Taylor, a fifth generation oyster farmer from Shelton, Washington to talk about her family’s legacy of sustainable aquaculture, the future of oyster farming and our favorite – the Olympia Oyster.
LH – Tell us about your family and why they have stuck with the oyster business. It’s really hard work, right?
DT – It is hard work, but farming shellfish is also really rewarding. My great, great grandfather started farming in the South Puget Sound over 120 years ago and we still farm some of the tidelands that he did in the 1890’s. To me, there’s a tremendous sense of pride in that. Life on the tides is a different world. You are working with your hands in some of the most beautiful places on the planet to grow an amazing source of protein. It provides a great sense of accomplishment to farm clams, oysters, and mussels and to see people love what you’ve produced so much. When people enjoy our shellfish, it’s not just good food that we are providing, but, to me, it’s also sharing a part of my family history. I can’t imagine other work that would be as meaningful as it is to work for my family and to pass the tradition on.
LH – And then, you went off to college but came back to the farm. Why? What new strategies and challenges are you focusing on?
DT – I worked on the farm in the summers during high school and college, but didn’t go through school only thinking about coming back. I think I knew I wanted to come back when I started working on my college’s organic farm in Montana, and when I studied at an outdoor education program focused on communities and the environment in Swan Valley, Montana. I majored in Environmental Studies and being able to apply what I was learning was an incredible experience. I found a passion for food and farming, and the communities and environments involved. It became pretty clear that nothing would be as fulfilling as working for my family business.
I am no longer working on the farm, but now work mostly work with policy and regulatory issues like water quality that is so important to shellfish. Since coming back, I decided that I needed to go back to school to better represent my family business and shellfish farming in general on important issues like water quality and ocean acidification. So, today I am in my second year in the evening program at Seattle University School of Law. Working and going to law school simultaneously is probably the largest challenge I’ve ever faced, but it should provide the skills necessary to successfully work on issues that our farms are facing now and in the future.
LH – As you know, The Watershed Project is hoping to restore native populations of Olympia oysters to San Francisco Bay. They are really slow to mature – unlike the Pacific oysters that we enjoy here from great places like Tomales Bay. How do you make that slow growing oyster lucrative at Taylor?
DT – We are so proud to grow Olympias, our native oyster. They take a long time to mature, but farming Olympia oysters is important to us. Olympia oysters were the reason why my family, and so many others, started farming on the West Coast. We grow Olympia oysters because they are delicious and we want to grow many types of oysters. It is good to have diversity in what you grow and sell. Olympia’s tend to have a distinct coppery taste that makes it stand out from other oysters. We also believe that it is just the right thing to do to promote our native oyster.
LH – How do oyster restoration efforts and oyster farming work hand in hand to benefit local ecosystems and lead to a more sustainable planet?
DT – Olympia oysters are the only native oyster to the West Coast. They are an extremely important part of a healthy ecosystem, providing three-dimensional habitat and clean water to countless species. Shellfish farms require healthy ecosystems to function on a daily basis and the long-term health of our bays is necessary to continue farming. Oyster restoration efforts are a natural partner to shellfish farms to maintain a healthy environment and continue to grow shellfish for the future.
LH – Thank you Diani, it is truly inspiring to learn about others who are dedicated to this work protecting and restoring our beloved oysters!