Many of the oysters sold on the half-shell in this country come from the Chesapeake and northward, where more than 90 percent of farmers obtain stock from hatcheries to kick-start cultures. Shucked oysters, on the other hand, often come from Gulf of Mexico, where farmers typically rely initially on wild seed—a more traditional method, according to McMinn. The practice doesn’t necessarily deplete native stocks or damage the environment. Still, consider this: Wild oysters can take up to five years to reach market size, while farmed mollusks need only about one. Like ’em briny? Sample the western Chesapeake Bay’s farm-raised variety. Prefer sweet and buttery? Try a Mobjack Bay aquaculturist’s. “Oysters are like wine,” says Oesterling. “Each area has its own flavor.”—Julie Leibach
He was a businessman working for a computer company. She was a stay-at-home mom. Neither of them had ever separated curd from whey—or even milked a cow—but that didn’t stop Steve and Karen Getz from selling their home in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, in 2003 to buy a bucolic, 243-acre dairy farm in Bridport, Vermont, to make cheese. So began Dancing Cow Farm, named for the roughly two dozen bovines hoofing it in a pasture filled with sweet clover, dandelion, trefoil, and a mix of other grasses, all untouched by pesticide, herbicide, or petroleum-based fertilizer.
Dancing Cow Farm is a pasture-based dairy that emphasizes farming in harmony with the environment. Soil is untilled to sequester carbon. The cows spread seeds naturally with their manure. Hay is harvested late in the season to allow ground-nesting birds time to fledge their young without the threat of being squashed by tractors. And suburban sprawl will never sully these acres because the Getzes sold the farm’s development rights to the Vermont Land Trust. This holistic approach, says Steve, “is good for the livestock, good for the family, good for the environment.”
The proof is in the cheese, which is known for a piquancy that evokes grassy pastures. As Steve does the milking each morning, warm, rich milk flows directly from the cows into the cheese vat, where Karen stands by to begin handcrafting different varieties. “We only make cheese from a single milking,” she says. “Typically a cheese maker will store the milk and make cheese two to three days a week.”
Dancing Cow’s cheeses, which are named for baroque dances, including the bourrée (right) and the minuet, are winning accolades from the American Cheese Society and selling at Whole Foods and specialty stores, such as New York’s Murray’s Cheese Shop.—Rene Ebersole
How Sweet It Is
The aroma of fresh-roasted cacao beans spills out of an early 1900s trolley barn tucked in Seattle’s artsy Fremont neighborhood. Inside, modern-day oompa loompas, wearing blue hairnets, chocolate-brown T-shirts, jeans, and clogs, are hand-mixing flavorful inclusions like coconut curry and hazelnut crunch to stir into vats of velvety chocolate. Welcome to Theo Chocolate’s factory, named for Theobroma, the cacao tree genus. This factory’s golden ticket is making chocolates good for the taste buds as well as the environment and cacao farmers.
Back in the early 1990s Theo founder and owner Joseph Whinney hopped off a sailboat in Punta Gorda, Belize, and ended up working alongside local Mayans harvesting yellow, green, and red football-shaped cacao pods for their valuable beans. “I couldn’t believe that’s where cocoa came from,” says Whinney. He was hooked. In 1994, at age 25, he pioneered an effort to supply organic cacao beans to the United States, and in 2006 he began making his own organic chocolate. Theo prioritizes where, how, and by whom its cacao is grown, paying a premium to farmers who don’t rely on chemicals, child labor, or agricultural practices that destroy forests and biodiversity. “I believe you can make a big impact by having integrity in your supply chain,” Whinney says. The company even created bars whose proceeds support the Jane Goodall Institute, and it is preparing to launch a bar with National Audubon this spring.
Birds and farmers alike can benefit when consumers satisfy their sweet tooth with organic, fair-trade chocolate grown beneath a natural forest canopy. Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center biologist Bob Reitsma says that, relative to other land uses, cacao plantations provide “lots and lots of habitat for forest birds,” including species like the violaceous trogon, the purple-throated fruitcrow, the white-collared manakin, and the Montezuma’s oropendola.—Rene Ebersole
Oldie But Goodie
A splatter of yellow stands out against a dark-green rind on the moon & stars watermelon, a variety named for its night-sky-like appearance. Unlike its commercial cousin, this melon is grown from heirloom seeds, or those taken from a non-hybridized plant pollinated in the open, collected, and planted, year after year, often for centuries. “They’re similar to a piece of jewelry or a piece of furniture that has been passed down from one generation to another,” says Diane Ott Whealy, cofounder of Seed Savers Exchange, a nonprofit that stores and safeguards heirloom seeds.