Farewell to Drakes Bay Oyster Company


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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.

Supporters consoled each other in front of the company's Oyster Shack

Supporters consoled each other in front of the company’s Oyster Shack

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Kevin & Nancy Lunny: "It's not over yet."

Kevin & Nancy Lunny: “It’s not over yet.”

 

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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.

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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.

 

Ginny Lunny introduces their devoted team of workers

Ginny Lunny introduced the oyster company’s devoted team of workers

 

“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, owner of Straus Dairy

Albert Straus, owner of Straus Family Creamery

 

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!”

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Phyllis Faber, co-founder of Marin Agricultural Land Trust

 

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.

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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?

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Preparing for the farewell oyster toast

Preparing for the farewell oyster toast

 

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?”

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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.

The haunting refrain of a lone bagpipe concluded the ceremony.

The haunting refrain of a lone bagpipe concluded the ceremony.

More Photos

 

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Categories: Farms & Ranches, Food PoliticsTags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

16 comments

  1. I’m so sorry Drakes was forced to close down. It was a magical place while it endured and it also cultivated in me a love for oysters and the community!

    Are there any leftover Save Our Bay signs I could buy to hang in my NY Aprtment to bring back the fond memories? #neverletgo

    • Agreed Caitlin! I do not know if there are any remaining signs or where they might be. Most were distributed and posted on private property around West Marin County. They remained for some time after the final closure of the oyster company, but I haven’t seen one in awhile now. Thanks for reading!

  2. From a guy who really doesn’t like oysters but love the spirit of the Lunny family…

    What a shame. Not for the Lunny’s but for the people of this country. What has happened to common sense?

    My best wishes to the Lunny’s. You have fought hard and deserved better. I hope that somehow this isn’t really the end. And to the “ag” folks surrounding you, watch out. The big bad wolf is definitely at your door.

    Thanks to all who worked for you too. You are all a credit to what is left of this crazy society. I wish you the best.

  3. Thank you Karen for this beautiful tribute to Drake’s Bay Oyster Farm, the people who loved it, cared for it, built it up, made it be much more than anyone could’ve imagined, providing us with fresh sparkling oysters for many decades – the poem Nancy read says it all….are we builders of good honorable institutions, family’s, communities, and businesses or are we destroyers….that is a critical question we all must answer in the end. I am so sad that this beloved spot is closed after having been a visitor to it since the 1950’s. Family traditions led us to the oyster farm for EVERY celebration and family gathering….every single one. My heart is sad, heavy and I feel at a loss of what to do next…and, there must be a NEXT action to stop this from happening to more of our local farmers and ranchers.

    • Oh Tami!Thank you so much for taking the time to express your sentiments so beautifully. Though the good folks at Drake’s Bay appear to have lost this fight, they have also brought a national spotlight to this ongoing controversy. We must all remain vigilent and take action to preserve our rich agricultural history in Point Reyes. I pray the farming community in West Marin will continue to present a united front, and pull together to insure not one more ranch will fall in the future.

  4. A really lovely report of the event. Thank you!

  5. Karen,
    This is beautiful! What a grand tribute to Drakes Bay Oyster Farm. I’d love to post it on my personal Facebook page, if that is possible. Not sure if that can be done…. Thank you for your support.
    Ginny Cummings

    • I’m so pleased you like it Ginny! Please do post the blog link on your FB page with my blessings. Just open the blog post and copy the link to it that appears in your search bar. Paste it in a Facebook update along with any comments you’d like to make. Thanks so much for sharing and sending good thoughts to all of you at Drakes Bay Oyster Company.

  6. Wonderful blog. Thanks so much. Thanks for including the wonderful poem Nancy read. P

  7. So beautifully written. You’ve captured the spirit of this community, the farmers, the workers and the Lunnys. Thank you.

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