Rappahannock Oyster Co.
|Address:|| 784 Locklies Creek Rd
Topping, VA 23169
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Please see their on-site restaurant, Merroir, for public visiting hours.
• This family-run oyster farm is located on the Rappahannock River near the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay.
• Foodwaze has visited the farm to learn first-hand about their operation.
• The Croxton family that owns this company has been harvesting oysters in this area since the late 1800s.
• The family has been dedicated to helping revive the oyster industry since the early 2000s.
• The family also runs several restaurants throughout the region where they sell their oysters and support sustainable land agriculture.
• Please read more about them under our Details tab.
Rappahannock River Oyster Co. is a family-run oyster farm that operates in the waters of the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries. Foodwaze made a site visit there in Spring 2015, and was able to learn first-hand of this company’s amazing commitment to sustainable aquaculture. Growing and harvesting oysters the way they do is a business that’s highly encouraged for its revival of a species that was once in severe decline.
Travis and and Ryan Croxton are cousins who devoted themselves in 2001 to resurrecting their grandfather’s oyster company. The family’s history as oystermen in the area dates back to 1899, when a young man named James Croxton laid claim to two acres of river bottom on the Rappahannock River, which feeds into the Chesapeake Bay between the Potomac to the north and the York and James rivers to the south. Over the next hundred years, the Croxton family, and other oystermen in the area, harvested oysters without much of a long-term view on their survival. As a result, by the turn of the 21st Century, it was estimated that Bay populations were barely 1% if their historic levels.
Oysters are naturally rich in many essential vitamins and minerals, particularly protein and zinc, as well as iron, omega 3 fatty acids, vitamin B12, and vitamin C. Oysters are filter feeders, meaning they filter water in and out of their protective shells. They eat plankton and algae. Through their filtering process, they remove bacteria, sediment and other pollutants from surrounding waters, such as nitrogen and phosphates from chemical fertilizer run-off. Thus, their diet and their filter-feeding ability combine to help improve water-quality in their surrounding environment, thereby encouraging seagrass growth and a better overall ecosystem for marine life.
Shellfish farming in general, and oyster farming in particular, is considered a highly effective practice for several reasons. Perhaps the most salient reason is that the oysters in aquacuture systems can feed on their natural diet, without concern for the raiding of fish stocks lower on the food chain, which can be a challenge for fin fish aquaculture.
Indeed SeafoodWatch.org rates farmed oysters as a Best Choice method for human consumption. Of course, it’s important that the oysters are farmed using the highest-quality, most sustainable practices. A visit with Rappahannock chief operating officer Anthony Marchetti leaves no doubt.
A native of Richmond, who spent considerable time as a kid along the waters of the Rappahannock, Marchetti earned a degree from the University of Virginia. He then returned to help the Croxtons build their company in way that protects the future of this nutrient dense food, as well as the environment in and around the Chesapeake Bay.
The process all starts with oyster “seeds” native to Virginia from nearby Oyster Seed Holdings on Gwynn’s Island. Their specialty is large-scale natural production of oyster larvae and small seed.
Once Rappahannock receives the seed at their Locklies Marina facility in Topping, they nurture them in small buckets with an constant flow of water moving through them. Once they grow to a certain size, they are moved to bigger containers in a system called a paddlewheel up-weller, which brings a constant supply of nutrient-rich water past the animals, allowing them to thrive and grow on their natural diet. After they reach about the size of a quarter, they are sorted into groups by dimension, placed in cages and brought out to various sites among the company’s 200 acres around the Rappahannock River and Chesapeake Bay.
The company chooses locations in the river and bay that best support growth. Conditions they look for include a firm bottom, good water flow, and a high density of nutrients. The cages are elevated off the bottom so they can be extracted easily and allow sea grass and sea life to flourish around them. The cages are hauled in and checked about every 6 to 8 weeks, ensuring the health and well-being of the stock.
This system not only allows for the healthy growth of their farmed oysters, but as they reproduce naturally, the larvae are released out into the wild. The end result is an overall increase in the oyster population in the Bay, which is the ultimate testament to sustainability and a tremndous boost to marine life along coatal Virginia.
In addition to producing farmed oysters, Rappahannock Oyster Co. directly operates three restaurants, two of which are Foodwaze verified. One is Rappahannock in Richmond, and the other is Merroir, located right at the company’s dock site on Locklies Creek. Their third restaurant, Rappahannock Oyster Bar in DC's Union Market, we expect to list soon. The company also operates a growing number of affiliated restaurants. None yet are Foodwaze verified but please check back soon.
Rappahannock Oyster Co. products can be found at these Foodwaze verified locations:Charlottesville, VA The Whiskey Jar Miso Sweet Baltimore, MD Woodberry Kitchen Fairfax, VA Brine at Mosaic Washington, DC Zaytinya Roanoke, VA Local Roots Restaurant Richmond, VA Rappahannock Topping, VA Merroir Harrisonburg, VA Local Chop & Grill House Staunton, VA Zynodoa