Food the Waterford Way: Harty's Oysters

Meet the people who make Food & Drink the Waterford Way – their place, their history, their community, their stories

Ita Harty, Harty’s Oysters

Food the Waterford Way

The Harty family has lived and farmed in Dungarvan Bay since 1835, nurturing the land to such an extent that the beautifully pristine and healthy bay is now a Special Protected Area (SPA) that’s home to fertile lands and over 50 species of birds and other wildlife. Their oyster story doesn’t quite go back that far though, as Ita Harty explains.

“My dad, Jim, was at a meeting one day in the early 80s when the subject of oysters came up,” Ita said. “With five kids to look after and a belief that there was no way that he could put us through college on dairy farming alone, his interest was piqued.”

Despite the general feeling that he’d have his work cut out for him, Jim set about farming Dungarvan Bay for oysters. As luck would have it, a French family holidaying in the area at the time, vindicated Jim’s decision to turn his attention to oysters.

“They walked the whole bay with him told him it was the best bay in the whole of Europe that they had ever seen,” Ita said. “They gave Dad some advice and bought into the company. For 15 years our entire market was supplying oysters to France, and then six years ago, we bought them out and began purifying and boxing our own oysters for sale in Ireland and all over the world.”

The Hartys do absolutely everything themselves, which is of course, the epitome of Food the Waterford Way. They buy 2mm seeds from France, which they grow in their nursery in Dungarvan Bay for a number of weeks. The seeds are tied down and over the course of approximately three years where they are intermittently shaken (by the wonderful Harty family and staff), which helps to produce a perfectly shaped oyster. Like traditional farming, there is a lot of husbandry and nursing involved in the process and as we know by now, the most important ingredients in any produce is time, nurturing and passion.

Right now, you can get Harty’s Oysters in the likes of The Tannery, Cliff House, and other fine restaurants around Waterford and the rest of the country.

What does Food the Waterford Way mean to you?

“It’s great because there are so many magnificent producers in Waterford who we can bounce ideas off, or get advice from,” Ita said. “There’s such a brilliant Food Network in Waterford and when someone comes to visit us we’ll always say ‘have you met this person and their wonderful cheese, or that person with their amazing seaweed or bread, or lamb etc. We have it all down here and it’s great that it’s beginning to get recognised nationally now.”

What motivates you?

“Well it’s our name on the brand so it’s important to us that we have a good product out there that is known and enjoyed by so many,” Ita said. “We’re motivated by the desire to have those people coming back for more!”

What’s next for Harty’s Oysters?

“We’d love to be able to tap into the tourist element of our business and to run some tours of Dungarvan Bay, giving people a little taster of how we do things,” Ita said. “There’s always room to grow our market and if we can do that, whilst showing off the magnificent place that we work, then all the better!”

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