July 24, 2023
Love Point Oysters
Cameron Barner has spent much of his life feeling an immense connection to the oceans and sea creatures of Maine. He soon found that oyster farming was a potential calling for him and teamed up with Ben Hamilton to run Love Point Oysters located on Casco Bay in Maine. They combine their years of experience and education, along with a deep appreciation for the creatures they farm to create a successful and inspiring enterprise that is a testament to the hard work being put into growing the aquaculture industry in Maine.
Here is Love Point’s story in Cameron’s words:
How Love Point Came to Harvest: Cameron and Love Point’s Backstory
I grew up in Maine. I went to college in Maine at Colby College where I studied biology and environmental science, with a focus in marine science. After school I thought, I was going to go into fisheries management, and I did a little work in that field for just under a year and realized it wasn’t for me. After that I ended up on an oyster farm in Duxbury, Massachusetts, where I totally fell in love with aquaculture and working with my hands, being on the water, using the skills that I learned in school and also getting to be physically active and do all the things I wanted to do for myself. So, I wanted to get a bit more experience and I moved to Miami to go to grad school for aquaculture.
On a break from grad school, I ended up getting connected with my now business partner, Ben Hamilton. He had recently started an oyster farm called Love Point Oysters. It was small, mostly at a hobby scale, but he was looking to grow it and turn it into a real business and needed a partner.
He was very ambitious in learning quickly, but wanted someone who had a little more farming experience at the time. Together we ended up making a really good team. So, I finished school, moved back home, and we started growing his small farm into what Love Point Oysters is today, which was about five or six years ago.
So, I had a very direct route to becoming an oyster farmer. I feel like everything lined up and made sense. Ben had a slightly more circuitous route. He worked on Wall Street for a short stint and then was an English teacher for a long time. I feel like we make a really good team because. I initially came to Love Point with more of those hard farming skill sets, but he had a lot more business acumen and foresight as well as planning. So we were able to build a strong business plan together, but also have a lot of those hard skills in the water. Now we kind of both do everything and we are coming back to the place of defining our roles more clearly, but we’ve both learned a lot from each other, and it works really well.
An Ally in Aquaculture: How Love Point Oysters and CEI came to work together
CEI has always been a part of our circle in terms of conferences as well as getting to know Nick and Hugh through various aquaculture circles. We knew that they were around and we’d also kind of heard from other aquaculture operations that had worked with CEI that they were really positive. So, we had been working on the boat that we’re in now for about four years, and that was our only vessel in the water, and we were really outgrowing it.
We did not have the capital to go buy a new boat outright. So, we first reached out to CEI and our intro was getting the loan for our first work boat beyond this skiff. That relationship was just so positive. We worked with Molly, who was our loan officer, and, after that, we got connected with Peter Piconi with the small Business Development Council. So it just like really helped us kind of kickstart our business into the next phase and start thinking about different opportunities that we could have with access to that capital when necessary. So it’s been really positive, even just for us and our creative thinking of what our next steps are, it helps us with that.
It makes me feel like I can build a business, right? Like with aquaculture, it’s a risky, a risky business, and traditional banks don’t always take you seriously.
Sometimes they have hard lines where they won’t lend. So, knowing that CEI exists and knowing that we can go to them when we need to grow our business and get a loan or get money or anything. It’s also all of the other pieces of CEI helping with business planning or knowing that we have this network that’s associated with CEI that we can reach out to make sure that we’re being responsible.
So, yeah, it allows me to be more creative and opens more doors for our business. So, we’re like, where should we go next because we have this opportunity.
An Appreciation of the Workplace: How Cameron relates to the waterfront he works on
I’m not from a working waterfront family, so it’s really important for me, even though I feel that Maine’s history is my history, to still be conscious of the people that were working on the water before us. As you site places for growing your oyster farm, making sure that you’re not putting it in the most productive lobster area around. The biggest piece is getting to know the women and guys that work at these different working waterfronts that have fished there forever, that are from these long fishing families. Because I think aquaculture is kind of like the new kid on the block, on the water, and I feel that it’s our responsibility to put in that social capital and make sure that we’re respectful of the people that were working here first and do right the same way that they’ve been doing for a long time.
A Word to The Wise: A Piece of Advice from Cameron to Aspiring
Take it slow and really get to know the area of business that you’re getting into, and then make mistakes small and early and learn from them before you jump right in.
Learn more about Love Point Oysters:
- Website: Love Point Oysters
- Instagram: Love Point Oysters (@lovepointoysters) • Instagram photos and videos
Looking to Start or Grow Your Business?
You have big ideas. Our business experts are here to help you succeed. Through workshops, peer groups and one-on-one advising, we help people across the state get the information and support they need to start or grow their Maine business. In addition to providing general assistance to businesses at any stage, CEI has experts in child care and both marine and land-based food harvesting, growing and value-added production businesses, as well as tailored programs for women and immigrants and refugees.