Leilani Clark, PRESS DEMOCRAT
The phrase “Save Our Drakes Bay Oyster Farm” was all over west Marin County in 2013. Hundreds of hand-painted signs were posted in shop and residential windows, along roads, on bulletin boards, and in and around Point Reyes, a rural coastal enclave 30 miles north of San Francisco. Spearheaded by west Marin’s Alliance for Local Sustainable Agriculture, the “Save Our Oyster Farm” campaign gave voice to neighbors and local organizations who wanted the family-owned farm in Drake’s Estero to remain open, at its historic location inside the boundaries of the Point Reyes National Seashore.
Back then, the farm accounted for nearly 40 percent of California’s oyster production, and operated the last oyster cannery in the state. Notwithstanding legal proceedings litigated by a Koch Brothers-backed attorney, and support from Michael Pollan, Alice Waters, and Sen. Dianne Feinstein, the National Park Service did not extend the farm’s 40-year lease, and Drakes Bay Oyster Company closed in late 2014.
Journalist Summer Brennan stumbled onto the Drakes Bay Oyster Company fracas after being hired as a staff writer for the Point Reyes Light, a nearby local paper, in 2012. In short order, Brennan, a Point Reyes native who now lives in New York, was embroiled in the controversy, working late nights to discern fact from fiction, and clumsy science from sound policy.
“I found myself wedged between the National Park Service, wilderness advocates, and their defenders on one hand, and the Drakes Bay Oyster Company, the local agriculture, community and their supporters on the other . . .” she writes in her new book “The Oyster War: The True Story of a Small Farm, Big Politics, and the Future of Wilderness in America.”
Written in a style reminiscent of Rebecca Solnit — the San Francisco environmental writer with a keen ability for melding the poetic and the political — “The Oyster War” makes for a fast-paced and dramatic read about a messy situation with no clear-cut “bad guy.”