If you call Wellfleet your hometown, you are deemed a "Fleetian". Andrew Cummings, originally from Andover, was given a different name when he arrived to the historic Cape Cod town almost twenty years ago. When he started his oyster farm in Wellfeet, some disapproving Fleetians made it known to him that he was considered a "Wash-A-Shore" (considered to be a derogatory term for someone that is not a native/doesn't belong). Embracing his new title, Cummings named the business Wash-A-Shore Oyster Ranch. Wash-A-Shore’s famous Wellfleet oysters are now demanded by high end restaurants all over the country with large orders constantly heading into Boston and NYC. We spent an afternoon with Wash-A-Shore to learn about him, his business, and the oysters.
“I don’t even own a boat anymore..”
It wasn’t always about the oysters. At one point Cumming’s cultivating oysters while being a highly sought after angling and tackle consultant. (guided to nine International Game Fish Association (IGFA) records!). In the end though, ICummings clearly showed a preference for the bivalves over tunas,
"I always had the farm. The farm at the time, going back nine years and longer, was always supplemental. I worked it alone. Grew 100,000 a year, which is small amount, and I loved it. And then when I decided that I would much rather do this than fish anymore, no one could believe it...I don't miss [consulting] it at all. I don't even own a boat anymore...At one point I was running three."
Now, all of his efforts are focused on his oysters. While hand picking which deep cupped Wash-A-shore oysters would be flying to the Food and Wine Festival in Aspen, Colorado, Andrew explained why petite oysters should be available to the oyster lovers in Massachusetts. * Since this article was first published in 2015, Massachusetts has amended their regulations and petite oysters are now available for sale, often called "cocktail" oysters
“...if I was working alone, I would get nothing done.”
Wellfleet oysters are considered to be some of the best in the world. It's not just the nutrient rich water that flows through Wellfleet that makes Wash-A-Shore oysters some of the best around. Andrew could not say enough about the two full time and two part time crew members who help maintain and manage the oysters. If it weren't for them, Wash-A-Shore would not be what it is today, "I get to be outdoors with really great people that I like all the time, my crew. They're awesome...if I was working this alone, I would get nothing done." When several farms hire foreign help and pay minimum wages, Wash-A-Shore provides jobs to the community, solid wages, paid time off, and bonuses. While chasing big fish was thrilling, when it comes to being an employer "It's more fulfilling...When I was charter boat fishing I wasn't feeding families, I wasn't contributing to the environment, and that's what we are doing."
“...we are way ahead of the game.”
Wash-A-Shore has a practice that is uncommon among growers. While it is unconventional, it's better for the business and for the consumer in the long run, " We don't allow anything older than 18 months. And that's because at 18 months they start showing signs of cumulative disease...If we get rid of stuff that could be a potential risk to the farm, we are way ahead of the game."
These highly demanded Wellfleets can be found through the Wellfleet Shellfish Company in Eastham. When not picking out oysters for the swanky people of NYC and Aspen, Andrew can be found distributing produce from his garden to nearby restaurants and photographing life on the Cape.