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August 29, 2013
Founded in 1983 with a five-acre lease, a $500 stake and the motto “strong backs and weak minds,” Hog Island Oyster Co. has grown to 160 acres in Tomales Bay producing over 3 million oysters annually, plus Manila clams and mussels, to satisfy the cravings of Bay Area bivalve lovers.
Sustainability has always been a central part of the operation. “Farming oysters, in terms of growing animal protein, is about as sustainable as you can get,” says co-founder John Finger. “It’s always in our mind to have a light footprint because our environment is everything to us—the bay has to stay clean.”
Growth brings serious sustainability thinking
Hog Island became “more intentional about sustainability,” however, after expanding beyond the farm and opening its first restaurant in San Francisco’s Ferry Building. (The company has since opened a second oyster bar in Napa.) “Part of it was moving more toward a retail model and then doubling in revenue and number of employees,” Finger says. “We had to think more about, what is sustainability to us?”
That’s where New Resource came in. “Other banks we had dealt with got the agricultural side of what we were involved in,” Finger says. “But they didn’t seem to really get why we were so excited about doing oyster bars as well. New Resource got that right away. And then they have the sustainability approach. They’ve helped us green our 401K, for instance, and switch our credit card processor to Dharma, which is solar powered—I hadn’t realized all the energy servers use.”
New Resource gets the vision
Hog Island, which has loans and lines of credit with New Resource, continues to check in with the bank on its strategic plan and vision, says Finger. He recently tapped the bank’s green building network for contractors to assist with installing solar panels on Hog Island’s buildings in Marshall, California. The panels will completely power operations there.
Now Hog Island is planning a new farm in Humboldt County, again with support from New Resource. The farm will join Hog Island’s Tomales Bay farm in supporting a research effort to deal with the growing scarcity of oyster seed, a problem caused in part by climate change–driven ocean acidification. Hog Island has partnered with the UC Davis Bodega Marine Laboratory to monitor ocean pH levels and their effects on young bivalves. The data will help scientists and hatcheries develop adaptive management strategies.
Meanwhile, Hog Island is helping to revive Tomales Bay’s Olympia oyster population, which has been diminished by human activities. The company is planting Olympias at its farm and restoring their habitat—brightening an otherwise murky future for the area’s filter feeders.