Bretton Hills is a force, hoping to move mountains in terms of bringing oysters to the center of the plate. Facing a future of sitting in an office as a food security consultant in Alberta she instead chose a risky and challenging lifestyle on the wild west coast as an oyster farmer.
Ondine Oceanfarm was established in 2020 on the Sunshine Coast. Understanding that shellfish and seaweed aquaculture are two of the most sustainable food sources Bretton began to focus on the intersection of some of her values; social justice, food security, environmental sustainability. From her website, “… regenerative ocean farming began with a passion for the ocean, food security and a desire to make the world a more equitable place. I deeply believe that people should be able to have simple, dignified work that pays well and nourishes their community.”
Ondine Farms prioritizes making shelf-stable products through flash freezing and canning, although they do cater to a fresh market as well. Flash-freezing increases shelf-life, provides distribution flexibility and reduces waste. It also allows for quick and efficient shucking with the goal of making oysters more accessible to families who would otherwise choose less sustainable proteins due to convenience. “I would love to see oyster go from wild west, fringe, to a staple food,” she explains.
Bretton saw an opportunity with the Seafood Business Accelerator (SBA) offered by the Centre for Seafood Innovation at Vancouver Island University for resources and support. She is absorbing all the information the program offers through experts in market research, business planning, processing, food safety, product development, packaging, online marketing, grant writing and more. Everything Bretton is learning through the SBA helps as she works towards building a shared use processing facility for small scale farmers along the Sunshine Coast, many of whom are aging and are in need of a financially secure way of exiting from the industry. The prohibitive costs of factory space and machinery would be shared, amortized over time and there is already demonstrated interest.
Agricultural farming has seen a revolution of young agrarians, small-scale farming, biodynamic farming and she would love to see that happening on the water. But currently, “Only crazy people are willing to put up with the seemingly insurmountable challenges, there is just so much risk,” she tells me. “We’re cracking and despite the opportunities, without support, the books don’t reflect success.” Bretton intends to do everything she can to support small scale ocean harvesters and has recently joined the BC Shellfish Growers Association board. Ondine
Oceanfarm is located in Blind Bay on the unceded territory of the Tla’amin and Sechelt Nations. Bretton believes regenerative ocean farming is an opportunity to rebuild sustainable coastal habitats and utilize symbiotic relationships in nature to promote biodiversity. From the land acknowledgement on her website, “We intend this farm to be a force for reconciliation.”
This article was written by Josephine Olivier and published in the Seafood Business Accelerator Celebrating Spring 2023 Graduates Booklet.
Island Coastal Economic Trust is honoured to have been working in close partnership with the Centre for Seafood Innovation project on the Seafood Business Accelerator program valued at over $186,000. The Trust contributed $60,000 to the overall budget.