By JAMIE CREAMER
A 32-foot raw bar boasting 5,000 premium farm-raised oysters drew hundreds of oyster lovers to Ag Heritage Park earlier this year for the 2018 Alabama Oyster Social. In addition to emptying all 5,000 half shells, attendees also raised $45,000 to support Auburn University’s Shellfish Lab at Dauphin Island and, in turn, Alabama oyster farmers.
Above, chef Rob McDaniel, front row, left, of SpringHouse in Alexander City and chef and owner David Bancroft, first row, right, of Acre in Auburn, formally presented the gift to College of Agriculture associate professor and extension specialist Bill Walton and wife Beth on the steps of Comer Hall July 30.
The social was the brainchild of Bancroft and his restaurant team and is hosted by top chefs from across Alabama and beyond. Walton, known as "Dr. Oyster" among producers, has been the mover and shaker behind Alabama's oyster-farming industry, which has grown from zero in 2008 to 17 today.
Others on hand for the gift presentation were, second row, from left, Blake Field, Acre general manager; Alabama Cooperative Extension System Director Gary Lemme; School of Fisheries, Aquaculture and Aquatic Sciences Director Joe Tomasso; and College of Agriculture Dean Paul Patterson.
The 2018 social was the fifth annual and brought the grand total raised at the five events to $120,000, all to fund AU Shellfish Lab research programs and training efforts.
Although this year’s social had been billed as the fifth and final, the popular event will return in 2019, courtesy of the Opelika-Auburn Tourism Bureau, Walton said.