Every Friday on social media, we post a Farm Feature Friday showcasing one of our dedicated North Carolina farmers. James Frey with Crystal Coast Oysters is one of those farmers. The #FarmFeatureFriday campaign will run through December 2021 on our Facebook, Twitter and Instagram pages. Be sure to tune in each Friday afternoon on social and help show your support for our local farmers!
James Frey, owner of Crystal Coast Oysters in Morehead City, grew up believing he wanted a career in finance, but the ocean called and he couldn’t say no. “In 2013, I got a job building docks and helping grow oysters for restaurants around the area, and it flipped a switch for me,” James said, “when I moved back to Raleigh for college, I couldn’t think of anything I would rather do than grow oysters.” With nothing but his college experience and a dream, he moved back to the coast and started the company with his best friend Matt.
Crystal Coast raises Eastern Oysters, a sterile variety that occurs naturally and is spawned in hatcheries. “Oysters are naturally a keystone species, but many people believe you can only harvest them at certain times throughout the year,” James said, “we raise Eastern Oysters because instead of using their energy in the summer to spawn, like other varieties, they use it to grow, making them harvestable all year long.” Oysters take around 18 months to grow to market size, which according to James depends on the specific needs of each customer. “Oysters grow at different sizes and speeds just like people do,” he said. Depending on time of year, James and Matt harvest anywhere between 2,000 and 4,000 oysters per week.
Each morning, James will ride his boat over to Matt’s house for a morning cup of coffee. After addressing the plans for the day and checking their oyster tracking app, the two of them head out onto the water to start maintenance, cleaning, sorting and harvesting. “Everyday it changes but we have about 450 oyster cages in the water right now so it’s a lot to keep up with,” James says, “once we finish there, we head back to the dock to bag & tag the oysters for orders and place them in the cooler for at least five hours to meet food safety regulations.” Before they are sent to market, the oysters are cleaned and sorted by hand, based on size and appearance, to ensure each customer receives exactly what they need. “It is incredibly labor intensive, especially in the winter when it is prime growing season,” James said, “but it is worth it to be out on the water every day and see many amazing beautiful creatures, from oysters to blue crabs and seahorses.”
Crystal Coast partners with Downeast Seafood to offer oysters across the state. Their oysters can be found at the Blue Ocean Market and the Olde Beaufort Farmers Market. Give them a call today and find out when their next delivery is near your hometown!
In addition to providing oysters direct to consumers, Crystal Coast works with a variety of chefs on the coast, including Full Moon Oyster Bar & Seafood Kitchen, Moonrakers and Tight Lines Pub and Brewing Company. James’ favorite way to eat oysters is on the grill with chipotle butter, garlic, parsley and lime juice.
“I want oysters to become a part of the public’s regular diet,” James said, “when you buy local oysters from farmers like us, you not only know exactly where your food is coming from, but your money also stays exactly where you spent it, helping to support the community.” When they are not on the boat fishing for oysters, James and the boys enjoy cutting up and dancing to Young Turks by Rod Stewart.