February 2, 2021
Wine & Dine

Three minutes with Ken and Amanda Rowe of the Oyster Farm Shop

Amanda and Ken Rowe left the IT world and took a brave dive into the world of aquaculture. Today, their 10-year-old businesses The Oyster Farm Shop and Kangaroo Island Shellfish are must-do attractions at American River.

Amanda and Ken Rowe of the Oyster Farm Shop at American River, Kangaroo Island. Photo: Lenny Robinson.

What spurred you to move to Kangaroo Island?

We were working in corporate IT when we decided to start a family and we realised that inner-city living was not going to allow us to give our children the freedom that we had when we were growing up. Kangaroo Island allowed us to “free-range” our kids. In Penneshaw, it’s often said that the village raises the children, which is a wonderful way to grow up. It has instilled in them a strong sense of community. I admit that I did worry I’d be bored living in the country but, the reality is, that couldn’t be further from the truth.

Why oyster farming?

After 20 years of working together in IT, we wanted to do something that had more of a connection and gave back to the world. Ken had an interest in aquaculture and was originally looking at marron farming, but there were a couple of oyster farms on the market at the time. Oyster farming is unfed positive impact aquaculture, meaning it provides benefits to the ecosystem such as carbon sequestration and water filtering, so it felt right.

What challenges has the industry faced in recent times?

On the back of a two-year state-wide spat shortage, oyster farms across SA were filling their farms with baby oysters again and were poised for 2020 to be the recovery year. Then the bushfires happened. Ken and our crew were fighting fires, helping mates on their properties and pitching in wherever we could. We ramped up ready for the bounce back in April, then came COVID and our oyster industry took another massive hit. With exports and interstate markets hit, SA oyster farms pivoted to consumer-direct sales through online shops and delivery. In response, we started “Dial a Dozen” on the island and in our Fleurieu region. Thankfully for us, visitation to the island during winter has been steady.

What can consumers expect in coming weeks?

The good news is there are oysters aplenty and the prices have dropped now that the spat shortage is over. So put SA oysters on your menu, enjoy a delicious local product and support your state’s oyster industry.

We hear you’re renovating the Oyster Farm Shop?

We’ve received approval to build onto the front of our farm shop, which will increase our seating capacity with all-weather dining, in keeping with our authentic farmgate vibe. We also have a few new on-farm experiences being added to our tour offerings.

How has your community recovered from the December 2019 bushfires?

I wouldn’t like to speak for those in our community directly affected by the bushfires, but for us, our town where the oyster farm is located, American River, had a reliance on international visitors and was left reeling after bushfires and covid. We have seen an increase in visitation last year and it has remained steady. It has forced many businesses to look outside the square and think of new ways to survive and thrive.

You’re lucky to call American River home. What do you think is special about it?

American River was the birthplace of tourism on Kangaroo Island. It’s a pretty seaside town with a maritime history steeped in shipbuilding and maritime industry based around our working wharf. Aside from enjoying the best oysters in the world, you can also take part in a land-based oyster farm tour, see shipbuilding, do a beekeeping tour, permaculture tour, enjoy our amazing birdlife including pelicans, black swans and the rare glossy black cockatoo, cast a line off the jetty to catch your tea, or take a stroll along one of our many walking trails. American River also has a range of accommodation to suit all budgets and is well located for touring the island just 30 minutes from Penneshaw, Kingscote and Parndana.

What’s great about working in aquaculture?

Along with farming Pacific oysters, native Angasi oysters and now native mussels, we are involved in a number of research and development projects in aquaculture, the fastest growing food-producing industry in the world. We’ve developed an oyster farm management app, miShell, that is being used across Australia and has interest from overseas. We’re also working with CH4 Global on seaweed farming and The Nature Conservancy on native reef restoration in Kangaroo Island. It’s exciting to get up and go to work in the morning when you’re finding ways to help the planet!

This story first appeared in the November edition of SALIFE Magazine.

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