THE SHUCKIN' TRUCK
Another product often served at Matunuck Oyster Bar is the Salt Pond oyster. The Salt Pond operation does not directly use a traditional bag grow-out method. Salt Pond farm owner Dave Roebuck did spend two months working with Bob Rheault down on his farm. It was there that Roebuck learned about upwellers.
Bob Rheault explains: “I developed a modified rack and bag method that involves cages that allowed us to grow several bags in a small space. Later we learned we could finish them off after a season in the bags by placing them on the bottom. Because the bottom is pretty muddy, we were under the impression it couldn’t be done, but we learned that in certain types of mud the oysters thrive just fine. Dave saw this, and our upwellers, and he was off and running.”
What is an upweller? Bob explains: “Envision eight boxes with a screen bottom and no top. The Upweller pumps hundreds of gallons of food rich water up through a dense bed of baby seed and they grow incredibly well.” Bob had modified some of the designs he had seen others employing so that he could put his wellers under the dock in a small-boat marina. Using the upweller Bob was able to shave a whole year off his production cycle. The filter feeding juvenile oysters rapidly chow down and beef up. An upweller was key to Bob Rheault’s farm success. He invented an upweller design that enabled his oysters to grow faster and therefore reach market faster.
Dave Roebuck owns ten upwellers of the Rheault design. Dave explains: “I start my seedlings in the upweller at the size of 1 millimeter and grow them up to 1/2" . They are transported to a rack and bag system (Perry Raso) farm. I sell seed to other farms out of the upwellers and over-wintered seed with Perry after they grow to 1.5" from his farm. I work with Perry on our seed business together.” Dave also rakes fresh adult oysters from the pond bottom and mechanically sorts them by size with a tumbler on his boat.
Besides Bob and Perry, Dave has another influence – his family. His father is a lobsterman and Dave’s brother harvests sea scallops. All fisherman know that they need to find a low cost way to sell their catch to a distributor [one middleman to pay] who then sells to a market or restaurant [a second middle man to pay]– or do they? Dave saw Perry’s Matunuck model and how well it works to eliminate the first middleman. Take ‘em from the bay and plate ‘em. Says Dave, “I needed to find a retail outlet for my oysters.” But the Roebuck family can directly furnish fresh lobsters, scallops, AND shucked oysters. Why not eliminate two sets of middlemen and truck the seafood directly to the customer? His Shuckin’ Truck idea was born.
Three years ago Dave bought a used food truck and fitted it out to shuck and serve oysters and cook and serve seafood. Then he loaded it up with the family seafood and set sail by freeway for local venues where seafood lovers can be found. He must obtain a permit for each place he visits. Soon he found another entrepreneurial spirit and he had two Shuckin’ Trucks. He ships the seafood overnight to his second truck owner – who is in Maynard, Massachusetts. It isn’t magic, but it IS hard work. Dave works the farm during the week and the Shuckin’ Truck on the weekends. Anywhere with a large crowd of people can expect to find a Shuckin’ Truck. The Shuckin’ Truck is a kind of reverse upweller. It increases the flow of seafood to consumers.
All of these people contribute to the current success of the Rhode Island oyster. They are not alone. There are other inspirational universities, researchers, educators, shellfish farmers, distributors, seafood markets, restaurants, and regulatory officials in Rhode Island. The people mentioned today offer great role models for creative invention and they demonstrate how to push the envelope.
THANK YOU ALL. ED.