GIG HARBOR, Wash. — Oysters - an iconic Pacific Northwest product.
Minterbrook Oyster Company has been growing them on the Key Peninsula since 1932. Kent Kingman is the current owner, and he clearly loves his job: “I love shellfish, I love people that love to eat, I love where the office is, I love coming to work,” he laughed.
Decades of oyster harvesting leaves mountains of shells behind on this property, and when Mark Soboil saw the mounds, he didn’t see old shells.
“I see an opportunity - I see an opportunity to process this material into something that people can begin to use.”
Pre-pandemic, Soboil, a Bainbridge Island marine scientist, traveled the world helping the seafood industry meet environmental standards. COVID put an end to that. His pivot? Selling seashells by the seashore.
"The Pacific Northwest is one of the largest oyster growing regions in the US, I just think it's never really been used for landscaping,” he said.
Inspired by landscaping he saw on the East Coast utilizing clam shells, and tales of oldtimers here who used shells for driveways, he's partnering with Kingman and the rest of the family owner/operators at Minterbrook and re-harvesting, then crushing shells that would otherwise go to waste. Then he’s transforming local landscapes with them. His company is called Shellscapes.
“You know we're making a tiny little contribution here, we're starting to recycle this material back into the environment.” Soboil said.
Oyster shell driveways are also good for the environment: They drain far better than concrete or gravel, and don't get potholes because of this unique property – ground down oysters make ‘flour’ which is a natural binding agent.
Linda Alexander – who’s been in both construction management and real estate, had this to say to Soboil when she found out what he was doing:
"Congratulations on being the first person we've met who actually has the right idea about why driveways should not be pavement."
Shellscapes built the recycled shell driveway at her south sound waterfront home, along with a shell pathway, a shell patio, even a shell bocce court. Turns out crushed shells are a perfect playing surface for the game. The new landscape blends the line between home and beach, naturally.
“It's something that is iconic to the Pacific Northwest. It's not something that is foreign, and that is what I love about it. It's a local product. You’re utilizing a product that comes literally from your doorstep,” said Soboil.