Judith Vajk's journey into the world of oyster farming began in France, where she had travelled to work as an au pair. It was there that she met the man who would later become her husband, and her life took an unforeseen path. The career that she stumbled upon, rather than meticulously planned, became her passion and purpose.
Her husband-to-be had just embarked on the endeavour of oyster farming when Judith made the decision to stay with him instead of pursuing a career in nursing as she had originally intended. Together, they cultivated oysters and clams in the picturesque region of Brittany. However, their ambitions grew, and they eventually found themselves on Herm Island in the Channel Islands, where they established their own oyster farm. For a decade, they nurtured their business and welcomed two children into their lives during their time on the island.
But as life often demands change, the couple felt the urge to seek new horizons. Serendipitously, an opportunity arose to purchase an oyster farm in Loch Creran, and they saw it as a sign that their path was leading them to Scotland. In 1995, they made the momentous move, later acquiring a second farm on the loch. Judith, though primarily responsible for caring for their three children - with the third born in Oban, gradually immersed herself in the farming world that had become their livelihood.
The tragic loss of her husband five years ago left Judith reeling. Initially, she found herself unable to tend to the farm, consumed by grief. However, over time she mustered the strength to return to work, propelled by her unyielding determination. She threw herself wholeheartedly into the laborious tasks and challenges that came with oyster farming.
The outdoors became Judith's sanctuary, and watching the oysters grow became her source of joy. The sight of tiny oyster babies transforming into mature oysters filled her with excitement year after year. Operating in rhythm with the tides, Judith's work was intricately intertwined with the lunar cycle. During full and new moons, she and her team would venture out, braving the elements to harvest the mature oysters. The farm demanded constant attention and care, as oysters grow at varying rates. Regular grading and careful bag rotation were essential for optimal shell growth. Mistakes were made along the way with Judith learning that oysters were as fragile as they were remarkable.
Despite the hardships she endured, Judith derived immense satisfaction from the continuation of her farm. While her late husband had been the primary farmer, she found solace in carrying on his legacy. The farming community embraced her, offering support and camaraderie that resembled a close-knit family. When many expected her to relinquish her role after her husband's passing, Judith defied their expectations. Oyster farming had become an integral part of her life, and she couldn't fathom parting with it.
Today, demand for Judith’s oysters surpasses the supply. From initially struggling to sell a dozen oysters at the Perth Farmers Market, she now finds herself as many as a thousand. Her oysters have become a coveted delicacy, appreciated for their unique qualities and the dedication invested in their cultivation.
Judith Vajk's tale is one of unforeseen paths and unwavering determination.
Guided by her love for the outdoors, fascination with oysters, and commitment to the environment, she defied expectations and dedicated herself to farming these exceptional living beings, worthy of greater respect.
Written by Carly Fields
© Emilie Sandy Photography, 2023