The eastern oyster was designated as Connecticut’s state shellfish in 1989. This valued food source is explored in the Fairfield Museum’s new exhibition, “From the Ground Up: Fairfield’s Foods,” on display through Jan. 5, 2020.

Clams, eels, and oysters have always been important foods that lived and grew in the shallow shoreline here in Fairfield. In fact, eels were once a food staple in the East, sustaining Native peoples as well as early English settlers. These foods, and the shellfish in particular, were so popular that overfishing became a problem. It began in colonial times and eventually depleted these precious resources.

That said, oyster farming has made a partial comeback in the area, as oysters are more adaptable than other shellfish and can thrive in warmer water. Because they filter a large amount of water for food, they also help clean excess plankton out of Long Island Sound. As a resource, oysters are now again an important part of Connecticut’s aquaculture, with active beds in Bridgeport, Norwalk and New Haven.

Today, Fairfield’s Shellfish Commission works to protect, increase, and manage recreational shellfish beds in town waters to ensure they remain a viable industry for professional growers and a fruitful activity for residents. The accompanying photo shows Joe Krygier clamming in Southport in the mud flats at low tide circa 1976.

“From the Ground Up” contains imagery, information and objects related to shellfish and its importance to the Fairfield coast. Visitors will see a fish kettle, oyster forks, clam & oyster shells, and other items related to this vital part of Fairfield’s history. The exhibition is open daily from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at 370 Beach Road.

For a “behind the scenes” look at the exhibition, Curator of Exhibitions Laurie Pasteryak will lead curator tours this Saturday, Oct. 19, at 1 p.m. and 2 p.m. They are free with Museum admission.

The Fairfield Museum & History Center and Museum Shop, located at 370 Beach Road, is open seven days a week, 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Members of the Museum and children under 5 are admitted free. For more information, call 203-259-1598 or visit Fairfieldhistory.org.