Sustainability, community, and good meals are a few of the things Charleston’s “oyster queen” Caitlyn Mayer holds close to her heart.
Caitlyn + her husband, Peter, opened Charleston Oyster Farm in 2016. Today, Caitlyn + Peter run the farm with Peter’s brother, Tom. With HQ located just over the bridge on Stono River the trio work hard to provide local, delicious oysters to restaurants across the peninsula, all while minimizing food miles as much as possible.
Caitlyn explains “by being as close to our consumer population as possible, we can cut down on the amount of gas that we use. We have a really green footprint, we don’t have to use that much ice for freshwater because we can basically take them out and take them to the restaurant.”
Sustainability plays a big role not only in Caitlyn’s job as oyster farmer – also in the courses she teaches as an adjunct geology professor at the College of Charleston. Her inspiration to teach evolved from both her passion for the Lowcountry + her experience attending the College herself.
During her time at the College of Charleston, Caitlyn worked in a number of the Holy City’s food + beverage hotspots including Höm + Edmund’s Oast. From there, she developed an understanding + appreciation for quality culinary experiences. Caitlyn explains that through travel and working in food + bev there is an invaluable opportunity to learn “how all of your food has so much more of a story than you think.”
This passion for wine + food only deepened during the summer she spent on a vineyard in France. She describes how the labor, authenticity, and knowledge that goes into the food in Europe keeps people from taking a meal for granted. “It’s cool,” she says, “to be around a society that’s so passionate about where their food comes from + how they’re growing it + why it has the flavor it does.”
Caitlyn further explains how something as simple as a picnic baguette + charcuterie should be relished. The perspective Caitlyn gained from her time in Charleston restaurants + France inspires her to appreciate her meals and encourage consumers of her oysters to do the same. “It’s all about taking life as is and just enjoying the moment,” Caitlyn says. “That’s something that’s cool about an oyster… the setting you have to be in to eat it is not a fast-paced setting.”
While pairing the salty shellfish with the perfect wine can make for a fabulous evening, many consumers, even locals, forget the cultural and historical context of oysters and local oyster farming. Oyster farming is so much more than a key component of the Holy City food + beverage industry. The process stands as a huge part of Charleston’s historical, cultural and economic foundation. Maintaining the rich history surrounding oyster farming was important to Caitlyn and the Charleston Oyster Farm. “That’s how Charleston was founded. Major cities were founded because oysters existed there. So it’s just a really cool part of our history,” Caitlyn says.
Consumers can see Caitlyn’s and the Charleston Oyster Farm’s devotion to respecting the culture and history of this business in everything they do. From the historic location of the farm near the old Bachman’s facility on the Stono River to the names of the oysters they harvest. The “Perky Sea Cups,” are a cheeky reference the salty and refreshing flavor of the oysters, while the “Mosquito Fleet Petites” pay homage to the Gullah Geechee culture of the region, a culture that kickstarted local oyster harvesting as an industry. “It was really important to us,” Caitlyn explains, “to try and revitalize that part of our history and work in an area that’s always been in a fishing community and stay true to the indigenous peoples and their ways.”
Sharing her passion for oysters and teaching others the nature and sustainability of local oyster farming are just a few reasons Caitlyn enjoys being a part of festivals like Charleston Wine + Food. “We don’t really get to interact with the consumer, we’re just selling to the restaurant,” Caitlyn says. “That’s what’s really cool about getting to participate in events like this because otherwise we don’t know how great it is or how we’re really impacting the public.”