With little effort and pure driven enthusiasm, Sadia Crosby paddles to her moored boat in Robinhood Cove off Georgetown Island and motors back near shore to offer a lift. That lift gave me a front row seat to this spirited young woman’s oyster farming venture and more on a late August evening.
The native of the Atlantic coast area east of Bath is one of nine sea farmers in the local co-op, the youngest at 26, and the only single female in the group. According to the Maine Aquaculture Association, in 2019, the Department of Marine Resources data suggested that 80 percent of LPA (limited purpose license) and license holders in Maine were male. Picking up on this, Sadia calls her business OystHERS. But it’s more than a business.
“There is a caring aspect, a nurturing and I refer to them as my oyster babies,” she shares with compassion in her voice.
About nine years ago Sadia enjoyed another New England coastline while attending college in Rhode Island, where she earned a degree in Environmental Science. During the summers, she worked with a landscaping company. After graduation, there were no jobs that caught her fancy.
“It wasn’t until I was approached by a member of an oyster group to take on a position – I still don’t really know what I was thinking. Sea farming came with a lot of self-education. I read a lot and YouTube was nice because I am a visual learner. So, I just decided it sounded like a new adventure and I grabbed onto it,” says the dynamic woman.
Sadia adds, “Talking with other farmers was the best source of info because the seasoned ones can help pick out your rookie mistakes or give you advice before they become much larger problems. Something as simple as choosing the best knots to tie your lines with can be of massive importance later on.”
After getting her feet wet, so to speak, Sadia was ready to go into business. This opportunity came about courtesy of Georgetown Aquaculture LLC, co-founded by Robert “Pat” Burns, as a direct response to the negative effects of climate change on Georgetown Island’s marine economy.
“Sadia comes from a lobstering family and knows her way around the working waterfront culture here, and she is very ambitious and hard working,” he says.
Sadia took advantage of a low-interest loan to start her own farm. This seasonal business started in the summer of 2018 with seeds the size of a piece of grain secured in bags contained in 20 cages. Now Sadia has over 80 cages floating in Robinhood Cove with some 200,000 oysters growing at various stages. Sadia is quick to show a “market” oyster with a cup meaning more meat.
She adds, “These oysters are a big hit at local eateries managed by amazingly crafty women who have shown me lots of love and support as I get my business off the ground.”
Motoring in her hometown coastal waters, Sadia hooks on to a floating cage holding four bags and pulls the unit out of the water, up a specially made ramp onto the boat to reveal the “boat load” of OystHERS. She estimates these cages could weigh up to 300 pounds but there is no struggle here.
“I enjoy the physical side of things and there is a great spirit being on the water.” She adds with a chuckle, “Dad would never let me lobster with him because he always said he wanted his daughters to use their heads, not their bodies, so this is like my backwards way of being on the water.”
Sadia’s mom, Lisa, has even gotten in on the act.
“I’ve been able to help her a few times on the farm tending the oysters and I love it. We get a chance to connect and care for her oysters. It doesn’t get much better for a mom, even if I do come in all slimy and weatherworn at the end of the day! It’s been a challenge for her because she’s juggling so much, but she puts a lot of herself (and love) into the farm.”
Sadia’s drive for adventure comes as no surprise to her parents.
Lisa offers, “She was always ready to go, it didn’t matter where, she wanted to go with Dad in the truck. Hunting, fishing, ice fishing. Sadia was always curious and always exploring, and checking out things in the natural world.”
Angus, Sadia’s dad, chimes in, “When she was outside, she was always off doing her own thing.”
While embarking on her oyster farming career, Sadia was also working for a tree service business. She grew into the business as a laborer, licensed arborist and as the company’s Plant Health Care Coordinator.
“At the age of 23, I became the youngest master commercial pesticide applicator in the state of Maine,” she said. “After that first bad season of the browntail moth (BTM) for the mid-coast area in 2017 and getting the rash several times myself, I knew we needed to look into treatment options.”
It is this unique knowledge that led Dr. Angela Mech of the University of Maine to offer Sadia an additional job beyond oyster farming and tree and pesticide service.
“She offered me a Research Assistantship through a grant looking at the effectiveness of biopesticides on BTM,” says Sadia, who is also pursuing a Master of Science in Entomology.
Mech calls her assistant an amazing person. “The entrepreneurialism and enthusiasm that she brought to UMaine has easily translated into her research, where her insights and questions have helped shape the focus of our work,” she says.
With the same passion as for raising oysters, Sadia is determined to find solutions to the menacing BTM problem, offering recommendations to the Maine Forest Service based on her knowledge and research thus far.
While grading her oysters, she shares, “The last good research about the moth is about 50 years old, and we still have much to learn about the moth’s behavioral patterns and cycles. Right now, it looks like the cycles are getting shorter.”
With weekdays consumed with studies and BTM research and weekends consumed with 12-to-14-hour days tending to her oysters, Sadia sports a sincere smile of gratitude.
“Everything that has happened and all the opportunities have always been at the right place and right time.”
As the sun approached the horizon and our evening came to a close, Sadia Crosby eagerly shared how she loves tackling multiple careers.
“I take great pride in the work I am doing in both fields and am fortunate to have two very appealing career pursuits that allow me to work in some of the most beautiful landscapes Maine has to offer, our forests and coasts.”
Sadia Crosby and her OystHERS can be found on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/oysthersseafarm/