Hama Hama Oysters
A while back I took a trip south, then west, then north, skirting the hood canal until I hit the inlet of the Hamma Hamma river and a little spot full of oysters.
Hama Hama oysters (named after the Hamma Hamma river, minus a couple "m"s), is a family-run long standing business in one of the most remote areas of the hood canal. Started in the 1890s by Daniel Miller, the farm has been family run for five generations and the connection to the water and the woods has only grown stronger with time. Today, they are one of the most respected oyster companies in one of the most respected areas to grow oysters. With a cult following, they supply oysters to Renée Erickson's famous restaurants, including Bar Melusine and The Walrus and The Carpenter, as well as the wildly successful Josh Henderson restaurant Westward, in addition to hosting classes at Book Larder (my favorite cookbook-only bookstore), and being featured in Rowan Jacobson's utterly beautiful book on Oysters. And for good reason.
Try a blue pool or a hama hama oyster and you'll understand why. Briny, delicate and small, their oysters boast bright acidity and a tender muscle. A favorite of oyster fanatics and anyone with an affection for seafood.
I was hired by Hama Hama in the winter of last year to come out to the farm and stay in one of the little farmhouses the family owns across the way. Set against an amber field and a half moon bridge, the property is picturesque. Rising at the crack of dawn we spent the days photographing beard-boasting employees strolling the shore in Hama Hama Sweatshirts and Trucker Hats, wandering the woods snapping shots of the timberland (named Grandfather's Forest), shooting soul-warming menu items from the oyster saloon (and then devouring them), and riding the barge.
Riding the barge, was by far my favorite part. The thing I love most about my job is getting to go to places like this- places where things are tended out of the ground and pulled from the ocean- strapping on a pair of rubber boots and crawling aboard the slippery deck to go out on the water and see the farmers in action. I feel so lucky in those moments to bear witness- my curiosity satisfied. Driving the small barge on a cold, wet day, dropping the hook and pulling up bags and baskets full of young oysters on their way to maturity, I did my best not to whip off the edge or loose my focus to the flock of birds gracing the horizon.
Spending a few days at such a close-knit spot with only 1 joint to eat in a town of 50-something people, you get to know folks a bit. Lissa, Hama Hama's marketing director (who wears many other hats), is the sister of Adam who runs the farm operations, and the whole company has a very family feel. I rarely shoot real portraits- usually someone working in the field or the kitchen- but the cool, white-washed weather and the chill in the air made a silent background for faces to rise to the surface. This shot above of Juan, an employee, has become one of my favorite portraits I've taken for the unmasked honesty in his face.
One of the things that makes the farm such a gem is it's rare marriage of a remote location full of country heart, bathed in natural beauty with of the moment food. An outdoor kitchen serving picnic tables made from local beach-wood surround a central fire-pit covered in oyster shells and make up the Oyster Saloon. Workers hail from as far as Manhattan and Brittany, France and word of mouth draws highly respected farmers and chefs looking for a simpler way of life.
My time at the farm was packed to the brim with shoots, but no matter how fast you're moving, stop and look up for a minute and you'll find yourself covered in a blanket of silence.