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Getting to Know West Robins Oyster Company

February 12, 2021
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In 2017, the Trust began administering a cost-share grant program on behalf of New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets (NYSDAM). The program supports farmers through capital improvement grants to comply with the State’s food safety requirements in the New York State Grown & Certified Program.

Over 14 farm operations were awarded funding for this food safety cost-share program on Long Island – including West Robins Oyster Co. operating out of the Peconic Bay. West Robins received at least $36,000 in funding through the program and used the funds to help improve their cold chain system. Will Peckham of West Robins said that working with the Trust and Josh Halsey, Program Coordinator, has been a fantastic opportunity for the guidance provided throughout the grant process. He added that, “the Trust understands the grower’s perspective.”

What is a cold chain system? For shellfish growers it means keeping their products cold once they are removed from the water. The purchase of two large scale coolers enabled West Robins to phase out the ten Igloo coolers they used to store and move the oysters. This also consolidated their cooler footprint on and off the boat, allowing for them to be more efficient in moving and storing the oysters.

One innovative item West Robins created through the grant was the construction of a walk-in cold storage on the boat. This allows the oysters to stay cool and shaded without the need of multiple bags of ice being purchased every harvest day. This is important with the farm site about 25 minutes away from the dock and no conventional working waterfront on the Peconic.

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Individuals L-R: Will Peckham, Vinny Policastro, Sascha Rosin are standing in front of the cold storage room built using grant funds.

On a good summer day, West Robins can harvest up to 10,000 oysters. The grant has made the work more efficient from the new conveyor belt used for bulk washing and the mass cold storage. Although they don’t harvest every day, when they do, harvesting typically takes 4 to 5 hours out of a 10-hour work day. With the new equipment they can harvest twice as fast as before. This allows for more time to perform other tasks like the maintenance required on the oyster cages. These improvements have also decreased the physical burden of the work allowing for wider staff hiring opportunities. Instead of being expected to lift 100lbs it has now been halved to 40 or 50lbs.

The Grown & Certified food safety cost-share grant provides farmers with funding for capital improvements to meet or maintain food safety requirements of the New York State Grown & Certified Program. Grant funds cover 90% of project costs, with producers matching 10%. The Trust administers this grant program on Long Island, working together with our agricultural partners to incorporate their shared expertise in the process. To learn more, visit the Trust’s Grown & Certified Grant Program webpage.

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