Sustainable America Blog

Oysters For Chickens

Each month, Sustainable America invites a guest blogger to post on a topic related to food and fuel. This September, as summer draws to a close, we ask Justine Wenger from The Market Restaurant to write about sustainability methods used at the seasonal eatery each year. Justine Wenger is a writer who has worked at the restaurant for the past two summers as a labor of love.

Located on Lobster Cove, outside of Gloucester on Massachusetts’s North Shore, The Market is Annisquam’s only restaurant. We open in May and close at the end of September each year. Nico Monday and Amelia O’Reilly are co-chefs and owners. They met cooking at Chez Panisse in Berkeley, CA. This is their third summer on the East Coast cooking and serving dinner in Amelia’s hometown with the help of close friends. Their cooking style reflects what they learned while cooking on the West Coast combined with what’s fresh and available on the East Coast. They share a commitment to honest, simple food and honest, simple food practices. Because it’s summer, and because we’re right on the water, the menu reflects both land and sea.

Every night the menu changes. The menu is small. The dishes are dependent on what’s being delivered or picked up from the farmers each day. Most everything is grown and raised only a handful of miles from the restaurant. Fortunately, summer is a profitable season for New England farm-to-restaurant relationships. And every night there are oysters. They arrive each morning from one of the local fisheries in yellow mesh bags with plastic name tags: Flying Point. Island Creek. Caraquet. Moon Shoals. In the kitchen there’s an oyster sink and oyster station. Before service each night, the oysters need to be scrubbed and rinsed and set with ice, trays, mignonette and lemon.

Photo courtesy Justine Wenger.

A restaurant generates a great deal of food waste. Both from the day’s prepping and any leftover food on plates in the dining room. Every night at the Market we fill at least three large compost bins worth of food. Composting is becoming a more popular practice in many restaurants and another step in helping support local farmers and sustainable agriculture. Food scraps can be recycled and used as fertilizer. Twice a week our full compost bins are collected and emptied by an independent company committed to redistributing restaurant food waste to Cape Ann farmers. Recently I was at a market in Boston, and, alongside a farmstand of carrots and lettuce and berries, someone was selling “new soil.”

Once an oyster is shucked and the meat is gone, the shell remains. Animal bi-products generally cannot be composted. The risk of contamination and disease for farm animals needs to be considered. The oyster shell, however, has its place in the compost cycle. From it’s native waters, an oyster shell doesn’t harm the ecosystem of a farm or land animals. The shells are beneficial because of their vast mineral content, specifically calcium. Last summer we had a request from one of our farmers to start saving the shells for their chickens. Laying hens in particular need an endless amount of calcium to ensure hard, shapely eggshells. Because of their strong beaks and curious pecking abilities, chickens can devour an otherwise inedible, useless shell. On a busy Saturday night at the Market we might sell 20 dozen oysters. Next to the oyster station and oyster sink there is now an oyster bucket for shells. The shells are collected, crushed, and given to one of the farmers each week.

Photo courtesy Justine Wenger.

Running a small restaurant for only five months during the year means relying on the support of a small community. We’re fortunate to have farmers nearby dedicated to sustainable growing practices and the bounty of summer fruits and vegetables and sea life. Saving oyster shells for chickens is a small but important link in the relationship with our food; a way to give back and show our appreciation of the land and its growers. Certainly coastal chickens are lucky as well.

Read more about The Market Restaurant’s summer crew in the Food and Wine article, Swim-Up Dinner Party.

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By the Numbers

Currently 50 million households suffer from food insecurity, meaning that family members cannot always meet their basic food needs.

10 million people a year could be fed through the recovery of just one-fifth of food waste.

Only 2% of food waste is composted or otherwise recycled—62% of paper is recycled.

Consumers throw out about 40% of the fresh and frozen fish they buy.

The U.S. produced 208 pounds of meat per person in 2009—60% more than Europe.

Low income commuters spend a much higher proportion of their wages on gas—8.6% versus 2.1% at $4 per gallon.

Food prices rose 35-40 percentage points between 2002–2008.

Americans consume 25% of the world’s produced oil, but our nation holds less than 3% of the world’s proven oil reserves.

The International Energy Agency says greenhouse gas emissions rose 3.2% last year, with a 9.3% increase in China offsetting declines in the US and EU.


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