Pilot program takes community-supported agriculture out to sea

Gef Flimlin, an extension agent with the Rutgers Cooperative Extension in Toms River, chats with Jackie Sullivan about how to cook scallops.
Gef Flimlin, an extension agent with the Rutgers Cooperative Extension in Toms River, chats with Jackie Sullivan about how to cook scallops.
Posted: July 29, 2012

EGG HARBOR CITY, N.J. - Frank Thomas could handle the squid. The mussels. The steamers. But cooking oysters was the biggest challenge.

"Two weeks ago, I lost my oyster-shucking virginity; I'd never shucked an oyster before," said Thomas, 62, a tax and investment professor at Richard Stockton College. He used Internet videos to figure out how to pry open the reluctant bivalves.

"At this point, I've done so many I could go pro," he said.

This week, Thomas was picking up four pounds of fresh scallops by way of a new pilot program of Rutgers University, the New Jersey Sea Grant Consortium, and New Jersey fishermen. The community-supported fishery is a cooperative of about 10 fishing groups, from lobstermen to clam farmers.

Each picks a week over the 11-week program to deliver a portion of the catch to customers who have signed up. Right now, it's a small trial, with about 30 members who show up every other week with coolers and ice packs to collect their share.

The goal, said Gef Flimlin, an extension agent in commercial fisheries and aquaculture at the Rutgers Cooperative Extension in Toms River, is to get the word out that New Jersey is a good local source of fish as well as fruit and vegetables.

So far, members say, it seems to be working.

"One of the nice things about this program is that we're trying things we've never tried before," said Thomas, who is also a member of the farm share program.

This is the first fish cooperative in New Jersey, Flimlin said. Most community-supported agriculture programs (CSAs) are based on farms. In a typical program, people pay for a share of the farm's bounty, receiving a weekly box from spring to fall. The contents change with the season and harvest.

Companies in the program get the word out about their products as well as a financial deal. Fishermen generally sell directly to stores and restaurants, which charge customers a large markup. The community program cuts out the middleman.

"The fishermen, in some cases, will make more money, because we split the cost between the dock price and the retail price," Flimlin said. "For example, with clams, they will typically get 16 or 17 cents per clam for a littleneck clam, but through the CSA, they are getting 25 cents per clam."

The extra earnings aren't huge with 30 customers, he said, but if the program expands, it could make a big difference financially for the fishermen.

The customers came from the Sea Salt CSA, a three-year-old program with 75 members based out of B & B Farms in Galloway, Atlantic County. Flimlin approached Jennifer Lamonaca, who started the Sea Salt program after working on the farm owned by her husband's uncle, Art Brown, a former New Jersey agriculture secretary. Lamonaca, who spent a decade as a marine biologist before switching to farming, said that when she heard Flimlin was looking to incorporate a fish share, it sounded like a good fit.

"We notified our CSA members back in February, and we started small with 30 seafood members," Lamonaca said. "But I could have sold more."

George Mathis, owner of the Mathis Clam Farm in Egg Harbor City, said he liked the concept of marketing directly to local consumers.

"The whole shellfish business in Jersey is infested by out-of-state imports that come in at a lower price but aren't as fresh," Mathis said. "The clams these customers are getting are six hours out of the water."

Taking part in the program is easy, Mathis said. When he knows his week is coming up, he portions out a share of that morning's catch for members. Flimlin picks it up and delivers it, along with materials about the catch and cooking suggestions.

Mathis said he would like to see the program expanded to a year-round venture, because his company harvests clams all 52 weeks. Two community programs in New Hampshire and Maine deliver through the winter, Flimlin said.

That would be fine with Jackie Sullivan, 26, of Galloway Township. She and her husband, Mark, both marine science professors at Stockton, love seafood. Last Saturday, she bought extra scallops, paying $25 for two pounds, with 10 to 12 buttery blobs per pound. She lightly sautéed them in olive oil and lime juice and served them with a tropical salsa of pineapple, mango, and mandarin oranges.

So far, Sullivan said, she has had a good time coming up with ways to cook the various offerings.

"We did oysters Rockefeller . . . lots of butter, lots of garlic," she said. "We first sautéed them in beer to pop them open and then put lots of cheese and spinach on it, and it was delicious."


A pilot community-supported fishery tries to get out the word about N.J. seafood: www.philly.com/fishcoop


Contact Dawn Fallik at dfallik@gmail.com.

This article and its accompanying video were produced as part of the "View From the Beach" series, partly funded by the University of Delaware.

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