Video Produced by Vanessa C. Rodriguez
“It’s probably one of the most beautiful places on the planet...” says Adam James, operation manager at Hama Hama Oyster Company, referring to the farm bed located at the mouth of one of the shortest, coldest, and least developed rivers in Washington’s Olympic Peninsula: Hamma Hamma River.
“You could be out there, on a clear winter night, and the Olympics are blanketed in snow and the moon’s out, the stars are out and you almost don’t even need your headlamp...”
Adam and his sister, Lissa James Monberg, both joined the family business about a decade ago as managers. They are part of the fifth generation of family members who decided to help run the sustainable tree and shellfish farm that has been around for over 100 years.
Lissa, who handles the retail and marketing operations, assures that it was never part of a master plan to end up working for Hama Hama Co. (In fact, she never even went to school for marketing.) Some of her best marketing efforts include “walking around the beach with a camera, exploring the micro and megafauna and just getting to dig into the ecology of the beach.”
But if someone would have asked her 12-year-old self, there would have been no hesitation when explaining what kind of job she would be doing at 35.
“I always loved this area, very strongly… In middle school, high school, I just really hated having to go into town. Really wanted to be out here,” Monberg explained.
Adam, whose job entails spending most of his time farming and harvesting oysters on the Hood Canal, enjoys working outside. What gets him up in the morning, however, is his goal to produce “the ultimate expression of the bay, as consistently as possible. And then, scaling that up.”
“Oysters and their flavor are characterized by their salinity, texture, and taste. Being so far from the ocean… oysters are not as salty as some of the saltier oysters, but they do have nice brine,” James said.
Hama Hama Co. has seen some success recently with their Blue Pool Oyster winning best oyster of the year (2015) in a blind tasting at the North American Oyster Showcase in Alabama.
“We were pretty proud of that moment. It was pretty remarkable,” James recalls.
The Blue Pools were initially farmed as an alternative to Kumamoto oysters, which were really difficult to source seeds for.
Currently, James and his crew are looking to grow an older Hama Hama Oyster and looking to start branching out and farm oysters in different areas with colder waters, outside of their headquarters, in order to meet the demands of the chefs they have partnered with.
As a five-generational family-run company, it can be assumed that Hama Hama Co.’s location and the land surrounding it serves as a home/sanctuary for the family, which has over 100 members.
“We are not trying to build this company to sell it, we are building this company to sustain it and that is so much part of our DNA,” Monberg said.
“That lets us take the long view of the dollar, whether it’s dealing with the customer, who we can treat really well because we want them to come back and back again for the next 20 years.”
It is very important to the company to not sacrifice the health of the environment when making business decisions. “Oysters… their health and the health of the people who eat them is very susceptible to pollution… They taste better when they are growing in a pristine environment,” Monberg assures.
One thing she loves about the oyster industry is the fact that “it’s a very green industry because the economic and ecological forces are intrinsically aligned.”
They really have to stay on top of all the latest findings and science, because “If you do something that is bad for the water quality, the product is going to suffer,” Monberg concluded.