Concord woman takes on Cuttyhunk Island shellfish business.
Charmaine Gahan said the first time she captained a boat and crossed Buzzards Bay herself, she had a sense of trepidation. But she got to where she needed to be.
“I knew I had to follow my compass,” she said.
That wasn’t the only time Gahan, 45, listened to her inner compass. On Oct. 1, she became owner of Cuttyhunk Shellfish Farm, a staple business on Cuttyhunk Island, part of the tiny town of Gosnold. She acquired it from Seth Garfield, who founded the business in 1981 and is something of a legend on Cuttyhunk, a place with a population of five to 10 in the wintertime and where people take on multiple roles to keep the community going. In addition to running the farm, Garfield was a teacher, EMT, and the community fire chief, along with holding many other roles.
According to Gahan, when Garfield started thinking about passing along the farm to a successor, he thought of her.
“He started saying to me, ‘You know, you should buy me out,’” she said.
It made sense.
“I’ve been going to Cuttyhunk my whole life,” she said.
And she’d known Garfield a long time.
“When I was a teenager, I worked on the oyster farm. It was a formative experience in my life,” she said, and the 1995 Concord-Carlisle High School graduate ended up writing her college admissions essay on the experience.
She remained drawn to the farm and had considered a career working with the oceans, but she got “distracted” and “thought I should live in the city, work in business.” She did a few things here and there, but she ended up staying at home to raise her two daughters she has with her husband, Pat, 55.
During the initial stages of the COVID-19 pandemic, she realized she could take the opportunity to see if she could run the farm. So she did, and she realized she could.
“I’ve gone back to what I originally wanted — to have a life on the water,” she said, later pointing out that her grandfather was a commercial fisherman, so an ocean-based career was “in [her] blood.”
But it’s not an easy thing to do, especially since she has to head from Concord to Cuttyhunk two to three times per week outside of the summer period, which runs from Memorial Day to Labor Day. When her daughters will have graduated from high school, she’ll spend more time on the farm, she said.
She said she’s grateful to have received so much support from her family. Pat, her husband, described how inspiring it’s been to see her take on this work.
“She’s really passionate” about this career, he said. “It’s liberating to watch her drive.”
Her work includes “growing” oysters, which means planting oyster “seeds,” or juvenile oysters, in March and April and developing them and also delivering fresh oysters to area restaurants and caterers, including Woods Hill Table, located in Concord, and Saltbox Kitchen and Saltbox Catering, located in the West Concord section of town.
“They’re beautiful [oysters]. I love their crisp brininess,” said Ben Elliott, owner of Saltbox. “Cuttyhunk grows some beautiful oysters.”
He added that it “means a lot” to have a relationship with a local business.
Since taking over the business — though Garfield is still there, helping out — Gahan has tried to modernize operations: she’s added a social media presence and has begun offering farm tours.
But she’s also maintained the community presence the people of Cuttyhunk have known. Like Garfield, she has taken on multiple roles. In addition to running the farm, she has worked as a teacher and EMT on the island, and also like Garfield, she makes it a point to hire young people.
“I try to remember his example,” she said of Garfield, emphasizing his devotion to the community.
She said she hopes she can “inspire and motivate the next generation of farmers,” whether that’s through hiring young people at the farm or by giving talks and presentations on aquaculture at schools.
“You just never know who’s going to be turned onto [aquaculture],” she said, adding she’s “eager” to get kids exposed to the profession.
Gahan said that you “really do have to pour your heart and soul into [the work],” but she and her employees also “try to honestly have a lot of fun.”
“I’m proud to be doing what I’m doing,” she said.
For more information on the farm, visit Cuttyhunk Shellfish Farms.