By Mary Reid Barr0w
I knew what a Lynnhaven oyster was long before I ever ate one.
I grew up in Richmond, but my uncle lived on the Lynnhaven and every holiday—Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s—he and his wife would come to Richmond to stay with my grandfather, always with a bushel of Lynnhavens in the car.
The men sat out on my grandfather’s porch, eating oysters and drinking whiskey neat, while the women rushed about to fix the big dinner to follow. We cousins ran around outside, stopping from time to time to see how the oyster feast was going.
Early on, I saw. my grandfather put a live oyster crab in his mouth and swallow it! I was a grown up before I ever tried an oyster!
When I moved to Virginia Beach, the words, Lynnhaven oyster, were embedded in my brain but I had a lot to learn about the significance of our oyster and growing pollution in the river.
I found out the devotion to our oyster went well beyond my family’s love of the bivalve. It had been known for its delicious sweet- salty flavor up and down the East Coast and in the early days, was even the oyster of choice for royalty.
As Virginia Beach grew and more land around the river was developed, the waters of the Lynnhaven became polluted until there was a time in the early 2000s when only one percent of the river was open for oystering.
I remember telling my children, who horsed around on the river in a little sailboat to make sure they always kept their heads above the water!
I was lucky to know Andy Fine, who with friends, Harry Lester and Bob Stanton, created Lynnhaven River 2007 with the goal of eating oysters from the river by 2007. They did, but the effort didn’t stop then.
Now more than a decade later, we are Lynnhaven River Now, or LRNow, and almost 50 percent of the river is open for oystering and safe swimming and boating.
From the beginning, thanks to Andy Fine, I have been in on this amazing success story and I can truly say I’ve never had a volunteer experience as satisfying for me and as worthwhile for the community.
And now LRNow with its city partners and its many volunteers is expanding to help restore lost habitats, not only oyster reefs, but marshes, buffers, and forests, across the city to reduce pollution in our waterways and to reduce flooding from sea level rise.
This has been quite a journey for me and it all started with holiday seasons on my grandpa’s back porch in Richmond.
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