For better or for worse, America continues its shift from rural societies and cultures to urban. Sociologists have tracked this transformation for decades. What were once farms and forests are now parking lots and suburban homes. The benefits of life in small town America have slipped away from us as interstate highways connected all the big cities and all the towns and villages in between. Fueling all of this are things like the ease and allure of city living, the convenience of having necessary services aggregated into smallish blocks of real estate, and the manifold economic opportunities that result.
Throughout rural America, our youth graduate from high schools and technical schools and then head to urban areas to start the next part of their journey through life; having availed themselves of more lucrative jobs and opportunities to further their educations.
Left in the wake of all of this in Florida are areas in the interior of the peninsula of the state and northern parts of the state, including the Panhandle, where rural communities have struggled for years. I have heard it said many times that South Florida has the people, North Florida has the pine trees.
So, when economic opportunities arrive in these rural areas, I have often marveled at the amounts of "push back" that are thrown up by certain members of the community. My own belief is that many who are my age are somehow dreaming that we can keep Florida the way it was when they arrived here in the late 1960's or early 1970's. Some came as students at the University of Florida or Tallahassee's Florida State University. They were wide-eyed youngsters who thought they were supposed to "change the world". They decided to remain here after school because of the quality of life. One lady in particular, with whom I have jousted on a regular basis, believed that we Floridians should erect a fence between Florida and the rest of the country and make everybody else stay out. She used every ounce of her cunning and intellect to suppress Wakulla County's budding aquaculture industry, and she nearly succeeded in destroying it before it had a chance to get established.
Florida's nascent shellfish aquaculture industry has been subjected to the kind of persecution that only comes from those who also think that affording economic opportunities to native young people will only provoke another shopping center or another parking lot or another subdivision. The manipulation of truth, the ignoring of facts and the propagation of lies are all part of the package that has been used to suppress the industry in our part of Florida. This "push back" from certain corners of the populace has only served to delay the industry and temporarily suppress it, rather than destroy it. Franklin and Wakulla counties alone have over 85 shellfish aquaculture leases as of late 2020 and many more submerged areas are being considered for future development.
My own son Reid who is my business partner in Oyster Boss, chose to remain in RURAL AMERICA and put down his own roots rather than migrate to one of the regional urban powerhouses. His desire was to stay and raise a family among the hundreds of thousands of acres of public lands in this part of the state. I have often said that growing up his front yard was the half-million acre Apalachicola National Forest and his backyard was the Gulf of Mexico - not a bad place for a youngster to stretch his legs. Reid has focused his career goals on remaining in rural America, if at all possible. I took on the challenge of countering the lies and distortions from certain people in my community and dive head-long into making an oyster aquaculture business work for him and others.
Oyster Boss was born in 2016 when Reid broke away from a regional co-op to go it alone. We started picking up submerged leases in Alligator Harbor and now control 10.5 acres of bay bottom. This current season, we have averaged more than two million oysters in the water at any given time and will be planting 2.5 million seed oysters in 2021. We formed Oyster Boss to grow and farm oysters and also to process and market them locally and regionally. The decision was made that Reid would take charge of water operations and I would handle what is done on land. As a career fire technology contractor, I already had the business infrastructure in place to be able to handle HR, payroll, insurance, logistics and financing of the new business. What I personally lacked, Reid had plenty of. He jumped into the science and methods of growing oysters, while I took on the branding and marketing. He brought the great-tasting products to "the hill" while I handled the logistics of processing and delivery.
None of this stuff was easy.
So now that the local aquaculture naysayers are sufficiently suppressed and we no longer have to fight for our right to exist, we now get to battle hurricanes, tropical storms, unnamed storms, insanely hot water temperatures, diseases, unexplained die-offs and an assortment of other colorful maladies!
Despite the drawbacks, setbacks and "put-backs", Oyster Boss has been able to offer quality employment opportunities to dozens of fellow citizens of all ages with the focus on young people. We have helped to spread knowledge of the industry with outreaches to local high schools and other groups and I hope we have been a good citizen to our fellow growers and farmers.
We are now working with local and regional watermen to bring Florida wild-harvest oysters through our aquaculture pipeline. Our goal is to sustainably harvest wild Florida oysters for presentation to a world that is hungry for quality seafood. We want to add value to the lowly oyster and elevate its place in the "Seafood Chain of Command".
This blog will hopefully be of interest to the casual reader who would like to share our journey and watch as we prove how authentic the struggle is to preserve opportunity in rural America for the sake of the quality of life for all Americans.