Blending Culture & Community: The Halifax Oyster Festival
I was thrilled to speak today to Christine Oreskovich, publisher of The Coast, the award-winning, alt-weekly newspaper for the Halifax, Nova Scotia community... and the heart behind the Halifax Oyster Festival, which is celebrating its third year on September 29th and 30th (yes... next week!).
"Bringing the Underground Above Ground"
The origins behind the festival were simple. How can we bring the community together for a food festival that speaks to the culture and heritage of Halifax? It's a city by the ocean with a strong seafood industry, but seafood has always been export-focused. It's about time Halifax celebrated its own unique resources. In Christine's words, "we wanted to bring the underground above ground." Oysters proved to be the perfect fit. With their skyrocketing appeal and growing boutique farms - not to mention their local history of oyster consumption dating back thousands of years - Nova Scotia's oysters are every part of their economy, community and culture.
Befriending oyster farmers, chefs, and industry enthusiasts really introduced Christine to a new scene of amazing people - from the tenured "salty dogs" to trend-setting "hipsters" entering the industry. Many seasoned farmers she's met are shocked and excited to see the change in culture towards oysters. "They can't grow them fast enough," says Christine on the booming demand from consumers. On the other hand, climate is everything to an oyster farmer, so it's growth is fantastic, but delicate.
A Big Food Celebration: The Festival
Imagine a crisp fall day, with tents full of hungry locals, proud farmers, tasting experts, shuckers and chefs. Hear all the energetic sounds of the clinking and clacking of oyster shells hitting the bins. Smell the salty-sweet aromas of the sea all around you... I'm drooling.
The festival is a three-hour, all-you-can-eat experience, and although other locally featured food is available (e.g., chowder, lobster rolls, the town's best fries), it's all about the oysters. You'll enjoy shucking competitions (featuring a few national champions), shuck-and-learns, oyster tasting lessons and more.
No festival would exist without some amazing partners. Make sure you tip your hat to organizations like the Aquaculture Association of Nova Scotia (AANS) and the many participating local businesses, stay hydrated with Canada Geese mineral water, and VIPearl guests must check out the Barrington Lounge sponsored by The Barrington Steakhouse and Oyster Bar.
And of course, merrior and terrior make a really great couple. In addition to local spirits and craft brews, check out wines from Lightfoot & Wolfville and the "new sparkling star," Benjamin Bridge, both from the Nova Scotia region that are getting top international visibility.
Enjoy the festival, oyster lovers! If you can't make it, send your love to the amazing team putting it together! Make sure to follow them on their site, blog, and Instagram (@hfxoysterfest) for all the updates and inspiration.
P.S. Check out all the fun from 2016 (video by Meghan Tansey Whitton):