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[Editor's note: Click through the arrows above the main photo for more day-in-the-life portraits of an oyster farmer. All photos copyright Hans Peter Meyer.]

I recently spent a day with Greg and Hollie Wood in the heart of Canada's "Oyster Capital," Baynes Sound off Vancouver Island's east coast. They're owners of Hollie Wood Oysters, a small oyster growing and distribution company. They're also, like many in the industry, very concerned about developments along the shores of the Sound that threaten the water quality here.

Environmental integrity of the bays and sounds of this region is very important to shellfish farmers. Oysters thrive -- and taste good! -- when they grow in clean water. Good, healthy oysters fetch a good price in downtown Vancouver, Seattle, New York, and Paris.

Greg and Hollie formed their company 20 years ago because the region's traditional economic mainstays, forestry and fishing, were on the ropes. As they got more involved, they began to see that shellfish farming is part of sustainable economic future for the region. If the growing environments can be kept clean.

Fifteen years ago, an economic analysis suggested that shellfish farming in the Baynes Sound region could be a $1-billion industry -- a large industry made up of independent farmers. Currently it's a fraction of that, and what's here is under threat.

Mollusk menaced

Rapid growth in populations along the Sound, particularly in the Comox Bay region, have removed a significant portion of the Sound from oyster production because of land-based pollution that runs off into the ocean. Seasonally, another threat is large patch logging. As private timber companies have sheared the private coastal lands, siltation during heavy rain seas has become an issue. That's one of the reasons Hollie Wood Oysters stations its deep water oyster rafts off Denman Island, across the Sound from the big Island.

The most recent threat is the proposed Raven Coal Mine. While B.C.'s Environmental Assessment Office recently rejected the mine proponent's application for an environmental assessment certificate, the proponent has the option of reapplying. The Woods have been part of a series of events, including shellfish fundraising dinners, to publicize the negative impact a mine would have on the independent farmers who depend on clean water. On one side, well-paying jobs and infusion of construction dollars associated with the mine have captivated some minds. Others, however, question the value of trading short-term economic benefits for long-term costs to the environment, local health, and a shellfish industry that could be a significant economic driver in the region.

Greg and Hollie Wood are farmers. They seed oysters, tend them, harvest them for quality and taste, and distribute them to chefs and restaurants who value their product. They are part of an independent local food business sector. Like many other small farm operators, they are acutely aware that their livelihood is tied to hard work, a quality-conscious market, and healthy growing conditions.

Growing healthy food could be part of a long-term vision for sustainable economic development on Vancouver Island. That a coal mine should be considered in this context begs the question of where government and corporate dollars are being invested, and why long-term community health and viability aren't considered the bottom line.

My takeaway from a day with Greg and Hollie was this question: How much money is being invested by public and private interests in sustainable food production versus dirty fossil fuel extraction and short-term jobs?  [Tyee]

Read more: Food, Environment

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