It was a sad day; an unimaginable day. But for the swing vote of one Ninth Circuit court judge, the gathering would have been a victorious celebration. Instead, supporters of the Lunny family flocked to the shore of Drakes Bay on the last day of July to say farewell. After years of contentious legal battles to keep California’s last remaining oyster cannery open, the Supreme Court’s decision to decline review of their case seemed to put the final nail in the coffin.
Emotions were raw, but the camaraderie of those gathered could not be dampened by the morning fog and cold breeze that swept in from the Pacific. The gray skies seemed to reflect the general mood as speaker after speaker lamented the company’s fate.
It is a complex, precedent setting case; one that pitted the National Park Service against the small family aquaculture farm–and it became a media circus along the way. The Lunnys fought the good fight. They stood strong against false accusations of environmental harm, refuted scientific reports the park submitted as evidence, and fought back against personal slander.
The ranching community in West Marin and supporters far and wide rallied around them, launching a “Save Our Drakes Bay Oyster Farm” sign campaign, organizing fundraisers to help defray legal costs, and letting the family know they were not alone.
Yet despite the valiant efforts of many, the outcome was not favorable. Long time workers and their families have lost their jobs and will be displaced; the Lunnys are being forced to close a sustainable and environmentally sound business that has operated successfully for nearly a century; and our state will lose forty percent of its shellfish harvest–an estimated 500,000 pounds of pristine oyster meat grown annually in Drakes Bay.
“Years from now we will see and feel the ripple effect of this decision throughout the state,” said speaker Jane Gyorgy, blog author of oysterzone.org. Tess Elliott, editor of the Point Reyes Light, concurred and pointed to the long-standing legacy of working agricultural landscapes that have, until now, coexisted peacefully in West Marin with the Point Reyes National Seashore. “These farms and ranches are models of economic resilience and cooperative management,” noted Elliot. “The Lunnys have fought with heroic courage, persistence, and generosity. This battle does not end here.”
Albert Straus, founder of West Marin-based Straus Family Creamery, commended the Lunnys as “stewards of the land and an integral part of our community,” and issued a call to action. “The battle to keep our farming community intact continues,” he said noting the park is systematically eliminating jobs and housing within the community. “We must encourage them (the National Park Service) to work with us to maintain the fabric of viable agriculture landscapes in the future.”
Sam Dolcini, President of the Marin Farm Bureau, echoed his sentiments. “It’s ironic to note that nearly every acre of land preserved (by the National Park Service) was agricultural land first. If we hadn’t gotten it right, it wouldn’t be here to preserve.”
Pioneer agriculture preservation advocate Phyllis Faber, who founded the Marin Agricultural Land Trust in 1980 with Ellen Straus, expressed outrage. “I think the park service has made an enormous mistake,” she said. “This bay is the nursery of the ocean. The oysters are a gift of nature that naturally filter the waters of the Estero and keep it clean, healthy, and strong. It’s a crime for the park to take out this resource. Shame on them!”
As the crowd raised shucked oysters in a farewell toast, Kevin and Nancy Lunny thanked supporters for their unwavering encouragement. “The silver lining in this journey has been all of you,” Kevin said gesturing to the tear streaked faces surrounding him. Looking on the bright side of things has kept the Lunnys going. Optimism and hard work are the reasons their family has, and will continue to endure.
But it was Nancy’s heart-felt reading of a poem titled, The Builder (author unknown), that best summed up the feelings of the day:
I saw them tearing a building down
A team of men in my hometown.
With a heave and a ho and a yes yes yell,
they swung a beam and a sidewall fell.
And I said to the foreman, “Are these men skilled?”
“Like the ones you’d use if you had to build?”
And he laughed and said, “Oh no, indeed…
the most common labor is all I need…
for I can destroy in a day or two
what takes a builder ten years to do.”
So I thought to myself as I went on my way…
Which one of these roles am I willing to play?
Am I one who is tearing down as I carelessly make my way around?
Or am I one who builds with care, in order to make the world a
little better… because I was there?
Like the oysters that cling to their briny beds beneath Drakes Bay, many still cling to hope. Another motion for a preliminary injunction hearing was filed on the slim chance that legal remedies can still “pull this moth from the flame”.
Indeed the Lunny’s fate, good or bad, has united this tight-knit community around a common theme: survival. Their plight has ignited a palpable uneasiness among other ranchers bordering the park lands, along with suspicions that the United States government will continue its efforts to extinguish agriculture in the region. It begs the question, “Is what happened to Drakes Bay Oyster Company a cautionary tale that could happen again?”
Even as the flame of hope flickers for the Lunny family, our thoughts must shift to the future. This unique region’s deep-rooted history of working agriculture landscapes is endangered, and its community is steeling itself to insure this tragic outcome is not repeated.