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Your waitress sets down a metal tray of oysters on ice complete with horseradish, hot sauce, and lemon slices. Stop – before you indulge, have you ever thought about how those oysters got to the table, or the environmental impact they had along the way? Turns out that savory, saltwater-soaked flavor goes way beyond the kitchen.

Many marine ecosystems rely on oysters for their incredible filtration benefits. But there’s a real problem attached to this. Similar to the way a wine’s flavor is based upon the region it’s grown in and the earth it comes from, oysters are a reflection of the waters they’re cultivated in. Anything from water temperature, quality, salinity, and purity all impact an oyster’s flavor – and if they’re given polluted, warmer waters, they’re not going to produce that delicious flavor (almost) everyone loves.

Monti Smith, sustainable oyster farmer, sees this as the world’s wake up call. That’s why he’s dedicated his career to revamping this 100-year-old American industry.

After years of diving for Abalone in Northern California with his family, Smith was amazed by what he saw. “It was always so memorizing being underwater like that and seeing the sea life —it was a whole new world I always wanted to be a part of.” Today, Smith and his partners run an oyster farm with the goal of leaving the smallest environmental footprint as humanly possible.

“Oysters are like the canaries of the ocean” Smith explains. “What you give them, is what you get." Over the years, Smith and his partners have tried several different farming methods to ensure their water source and environment are as healthy as possible for the oysters, as well as surrounding plant and wildlife.

A typical day on Smith’s oyster farm is anything but typical. For most oyster farmers, the biggest challenges are the weather, tides, or predators. While these issues exist for Smith, his greatest challenges all result from his hypersensitivity to the environment around him.

While other farms depend on outside resources and labs, Smith’s farm has created their own laboratory. They’ve become an in-house location to monitor their farming process from start to finish. Smith’s team is always looking for ways to reduce their environmental footprint, and they are never 100% satisfied with it.

Smith’s partners are also widely acclaimed for their skills in preserving biodiversity. They’ve been sent all over the world to ensure indigenous species are not being taken over by non-indigenous species in various regions. The ultimate goal is to downgrade the impact of non-indigenous species so native plants and wildlife can thrive.

This is something they’ve taken all the way back to their farm. Oysters feed on phytoplankton and algae, which is how they filter water. But, as we all know, too much of a good thing, isn’t always a good thing. While excess oysters may result in pristine waters, the lack of plankton can be detrimental to the ecosystem’s food chain. This is why Smith and his partners do everything in their power to ensure the oysters are having a positive impact on the environment around them, even if it means cutting back on the number of oysters they’re farming.

The best part about their innovative, sustainable farming techniques is so much more than the preservation of the environment – it’s also about the preservation of their unique flavor. Because an oyster assumes its taste and texture from the waters it’s grown in, they’re all a bit different depending on the farm they’re from.

Smith’s oysters have a metallic, salty flavor he loves. “Some pair their oysters with wine. I pair mine with Mexican beer. Drop a lime in my oyster, and a lime in my beer and I’m good to go.” From SF, to NYC, to LA, every oyster is unique, and Smith is hoping to keep it that way.


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