Wellfleet’s OysterFest goes very green
By Barbara Clark / Contributing Writer
Cape Cod Times, Posted Oct 16, 2019 at 6:00 AM
This year’s Wellfleet OysterFest is taking “dramatic steps” to reduce the two-day event’s environmental impact, including a new “no plastics” rule.
This year’s Wellfleet OysterFest is taking what organizers call “dramatic steps” to reduce the two-day event’s impact on the environment. The biggest change: a new “no plastics” rule.
For SPAT (Shellfish Promotion and Tasting, Inc.), the non-profit organization that has sponsored the festival for 19 years, that means banning plastic food and beverage containers, as well as plastic eating utensils, for Saturday and Sunday.
The event has grown to attract 20,000 people to the small Outer Cape downtown, and a big part of OysterFest, is eating. According to its website, there will be 10 raw bar vendors; 10 local restaurants in the food tent, serving oysters, clams, fish and chowders, as well as non-seafood fare; a half-dozen other food vendors serving barbecue, kettle corn, hot dogs and more; plus food vendors in a family fun area.
There are also New England beers and ales served; local wine; and hydration stations.
Six towns on the Cape, including Wellfleet, recently enacted policies to “prohibit the municipal purchase or distribution of single-use plastic containers.” Although the ban doesn’t extend to other organizations using town property, SPAT has taken the initiative to hold the festival in accordance with the new regulations.
Not only will food be served on compostable paper dishes, but returnable metal utensils will largely take the place of plastic forks and knives. Beer and wine will debut in cans this year instead of glass, and several draft beverages — including the special Sam Adams “Wellfleet Oyster Stout” created for the event — will come in a reusable stainless steel cup that will become a souvenir of the weekend.
For water, visitors are encouraged to bring their own refillable, non-glass water bottle to take advantage of free hydration stations. Canned water will be sold by food
Michelle Insley, SPAT’s executive director, is in her ninth year as festival organizer, and says that the emphasis throughout OysterFest “will be on re-use and recycle.” Receptacles at waste stations will be clearly marked for separation, in particular “for foil, paper and food scraps.” Also, says Insley, there will be staff on hand to help with proper disposal.
“We hope the event can be a role model for other festivals,” she says.
OysterFest will continue its longtime practice of recycling the thousands of oyster shells discarded by festival participants, as well as from the centerpiece event of the highly anticipated Oyster Shuck-Off competition (with preliminaries on Saturday and finals on Sunday, 1 to 3 p.m. on the main stage behind Wellfleet Town Hall).
The collected shells spend the winter in containers and are returned in the spring to the ocean, where they act to neutralize the acidity of the water and make for a calcium-rich medium in which new shellfish can develop, Insley says. SPAT “supports shell fishermen, shell propagation and also the health of the harbor.”
Beyond eating and shucking, this year’s OysterFest schedule features an art and craft fair, and live music throughout by local bands, as well as children’s performers in the family area. Activities there will also include crafts, an obstacle course, a “fun run” just for the kids and Wellfleet Public Library’s Spelling Bee.
There will also be talks on such timely subjects as sharks, harbor seals and climate change; a 5k road race; and morning shellfish farm tours (9:15 a.m. Saturday, 10 a.m. Sunday) at chosen grant sites, to see “how it’s done,” says Insley, and “get to meet the shellfishermen.”
For those not able to hit the low tide hour for farm tours, Wellfleet Library will host two “virtual” shellfishing “tours” on Saturday and Sunday. Saturday’s program (11:30 a.m.) will be “Life by the Tides,” led by shellfisherman Jake Puffer and photographer Julia Cumes, whose images will take viewers on what the program calls “a journey into Wellfleet’s unique shellfishing community,” documenting the whole process “in its many stages of growth.”
The virtual tour on Sunday (12:30 p.m.), “First Light: Cape Cod Oystermen,” includes a digital “essay” by photographer Ryan Casson, narrated by Puffer, describing local shellfishermen’s “intimate relationship with the sea.”
New this year will be a 1:30 p.m. Sunday workshop at Wellfleet Preservation Hall on “Diversifying our Seafood Diets,” with Kate Masury and Johnson & Wales chef Rizwan Ahmed, co-authors of the recent cookbook, “Simmering the Sea: Diversifying Cookery to Sustain Our Fisheries.”
According to Insley, OysterFest started in 2001 with only 500 people, and now has grown to 20,000 participants celebrating the region’s shellfishing and aquaculture.
The shellfishing industry, she says, provides both a sustainable food source and is a significant economic driver for the region. About 15 percent of the town’s 3,000 year-round residents make their living this way, she says, generating $6.8 million in seafood landings.
“That’s 25 percent of all of the shellfish landings in the state of Massachusetts. Quite a lot for the quaint fishing village on Cape Cod.”