- The Enterprise
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Patrick Hudson is raising oysters his way on St. Jerome Creek in Ridge, incorporating several methods to bring his oysters, which he calls “Skinny Dippers,” to market size.
Hudson and his partners have secured a $440,000 loan, backed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, to grow his business.
“It’s a really exciting time for us,” he said midday on July 9 during an announcement of the loan.
Hudson, who recently moved from Baltimore to a home in Ridge, said he and other employees had been working since 5 that morning to harvest 3,500 oysters to take to restaurants in Baltimore, Annapolis and Washington, D.C.
“It’s taken a lot of work to get to where we are today, and we’ve got a vision on where we will be tomorrow,” he said.
The aquaculture business has spent money improving the pier, buying equipment and creating a “living shoreline” with sand, riprap and sea grasses.
“I think this is one of the prettiest spots in Maryland,” Kathy Beisner, the acting state director for USDA, said. She said many people associate the USDA with traditional agriculture, but the department helps communities in other ways, including with affordable housing, sustainable agriculture and nontraditional projects like Hudson’s oyster business.
True Chesapeake Oyster Company secured the loan from the Patapsco Bank in Baltimore.
The USDA acts as the loan guarantor and helps support and make the connections between the lender and the business, she said. The loan is given with the expectation that it will help a business retain or add jobs, Beisner said.
Hudson buys spat, or baby oysters, from a hatchery in Virginia and starts them in small tanks with circulating water on his pier. As they grow, they are moved to floats attached to the pier, and then to cages placed on the bottom of the water column along the shoreline.
“What we are trying to do is recreate an ideal environment that’s already out there,” he said. By raising the oysters in floats and cages, they can better predict harvest sizes.
Hudson, a 2008 University of Virginia graduate, and his handful of employees use a tumbler to sort out the sizes quickly.
He said St. Jerome Creek is the perfect place to grow oysters thanks to its not-too-salty waters that have a relatively calm but strong tidal flow from the Chesapeake Bay.
He said the taste of oysters is influenced by absorbing from the elements around them. Water quality, salinity, nearby sea grasses, bottom type (rock, sand, mud) and other factors create unique tastes, he said.
“People really like our oysters,” he said.
True Chesapeake Oyster Company launched in 2010 and served some 11,000 of its Skinny Dipper oysters in May at the 138th Preakness States in Baltimore. Hudson is also selling oysters to high-end restaurants in Baltimore, Annapolis and Washington, D.C.
“There is a great economical opportunity in local and regional food systems,” said Doug O’Brien, USDA rural development acting undersecretary.
He said the department is promoting a “Know your farmer, know your food,” concept to help spur discussions about where food actually comes from.
O’Brien said the agency supports local and regional food systems, which can provide health and environmental benefits as well as help create jobs.