The idea came to Colleen Francke at one year sober: an oyster farm run by women in early recovery. Not just any farm though. “I wanted 10 acres and I wanted them in my backyard,” says Francke, who lives in Falmouth.
A native of Massachusetts, Francke had worked for a mussel farm shortly after moving to Maine over a decade ago. She had loved everything about it. “It wasn’t an office job,” recalls Francke, 33. “It was outdoors. It allowed me to be in nature. It allowed me to be by the sea.”
Those were all perks she knows would be extremely helpful to women in early recovery. “Many women in the sober houses are not professionals, and when the time comes to reintegrate, they end up in restaurants or behind bars surrounded by alcohol,” Francke say. “I’m thinking the opposite sort of environment.”
She has a vision... hire women in early recovery to harvest kelp, oysters and mussels at her own farm. And she will call them Salt Sisters.
In early 2017, Francke started Summit Point Seafood. She applied for the permit to drop oyster and mussel lines across a 10-acre tract just east of Sturdivant Island in
Casco Bay. The application from Maine’s Department of Marine Resources was easy enough to obtain, it was a straight download from the website. Completing it, however, proved an altogether different matter. Francke soon found herself wrestling with a 50-page document. “They want to see how far you are from an eagle’s nest,” she says, and that’s just for starters. “Then they call town meetings and give people the opportunity to object.”
Colleen Francke And her
By Lara Santoro
She has a vision...hire women in early recovery...she will call them Salt Sisters"
Luckily, at her last meeting, only one person, showed and had nothing to say.
Not that Francke would be stumped for answers. As a lobsterwoman, she spends at least half her life off the Portland coast working with her husband. The couple met while they were both drinking and endured four years of chaos before drifting resentfully apart. On Valentine’s Day of 2016, Francke cold-called him and found to her surprise that he had put together some time without a drink. He offered help and she took it that same day. They married this past summer on Monhegan Island after three years of living sober together.
The next step for her professionally is for the state to inspect the farm. “They’re sending scuba divers,” says Francke. The state will check the density of lobster and crab in the area and look for eelgrass and other protected species that might suffer from even minimal encroachment. Once the inspection is done, and a few other minor obstacles cleared, Francke will install the moorings for the oysters.
Meanwhile, by September 2019, she will employ eight Salt Sisters part time to harvest kelp.
And four years later, she says, Salt Sisters will bring help bring Francke’s first oysters to market.
For more information on Summit Point Seafood and Salt Sisters, go to summitpointseafood.com.
Lara Santoro is a freelance writer in Portland.