Jeff Warrin processing salt at Hog Island Saltworks

Sun, Wind, & Salt

Jeff Warrin Of Hog Island Saltworks,
Puts Our Workwear To The Test

This is not a museum. Nor is it a suburb. From the beginning, people around the world have lived in small communities, close to nature, producing food, making art and music.

BOSS DUCK — Hog Island Oyster Co.

Bathed in golden California sun, Tomales Bay receives millions of gallons of mineral rich ocean water per day, funneling it between the mountainous Point Reyes Peninsula and the bucolic, rolling hills of West Marin. Closer to the shore, Pacific winds set coastal grasses into perpetual dance, carrying the scent of salt. That combination of salt, sun, and wind is what first attracted local artist Jeff Warrin to the bay; what he did when he got there is what eventually drew us.

For nearly forty years, Hog Island Oyster Co. has been culturing their world class Mollusks in the Tomales Bay, utilizing the water’s unique mineral profile to achieve a distinctive flavor that has kept them at the top of wish-lists for restaurants and community grocers year after year. Through all those seasons of success, though, the idea of harvesting salt from the bay remained in the back of co-founder John Finger’s mind. The proverbial stars aligned when he met local artist/salt enthusiast Jeff Warrin.

Jeff had been experimenting with traditional, sustainable methods of salt-making for years, leveraging the sun and wind (so abundant in that region) to extract that mineral-rich resource from the sea. Shortly thereafter, Hog Island Saltworks was born.

Hog Island Oyster Co. buildingJeff Warrin loading up his truckHog Island oysters

Hearing about what Jeff was up to up in Northern California excited us. After all, using old-world methods to develop sustainable ways of doing things—even if it means extra work—is something we’re constantly iterating on in our own practices. Case in point; our Boss Duck Workwear. Our revolutionary Boss Duck blend calls on carbon negative hemp, recycled materials, and organic cotton, culminating in a tough-as-nails canvas that’s as Responsible as they come. Not to mention the 100% organic cotton selvage denim that rounds out our workwear lineup.

So we headed up to Hog Island Saltworks in Tomales Bay to pay Jeff a visit and hand off a stack of workwear for him to pit against his rigorous daily labors for a good old fashioned field test. While we were there, (when we weren’t staring slack jawed at the views) we got the chance to sit down with Jeff and pick his brain on salt, art, and environmental sustainability. Here’s what he had to say:

Jeff Warrin on the evaporation tower at Hog Island SaltworksClose up of fire being stokedJeff Warrin stoking a fire

You’re both an artist and a salt specialist. Do you find there are any similarities between your creative process and that of drawing salt from the sea? Do they ever inform each other?

Much of my early work as an artist and filmmaker explored the nature of the film material itself and I would do all kinds of experiments with chemistry and other natural elements. For example, wrapping seaweed into a reel of film and burying it in the ground to see what kind of images nature itself would make. I’m no chemist, I’m more of a wannabe alchemist, and I’ve always been interested in visual transformations in nature. Seawater crystallizing into salt before your eyes is one of the more beautiful examples. Later, I began building large kinetic installations that activated the projected images. The evaporation tower at Hog Island Saltworks feels like one of these art installations to me often. It’s simple and mesmerizing; the sound of water as it glides down the sails with the sun glinting off of its sheer surface–it’s beautiful. Even though salt is a commodity, it’s so elemental and pure that it has a real aesthetic quality. You don’t have to be an artist to appreciate that.

What initially drew you to the traditional practices of salt making?

I’ve always been inspired by older technologies. I think it’s a response to the inaccessibility of most modern mechanization. I mean, I have no idea what’s going on inside my computer. I started researching salt making after a friend who lives across from Hog Island Oyster Co. suggested the idea. It was deep in the pandemic and there was a lot of time to let your imagination wander. I became fascinated with the myriad ways different cultures had come up with to make salt. No matter where people lived on the planet, they had to figure out a way. It was a creative problem that has produced some ingenious solutions throughout the ages.

BOSS DUCK — Hog Island Oyster Co.

Using traditional methods to draw salt from the sea sustainably looks like a ton of work. What do you look for in the gear that gets you through the day?

I beat the hell out of my clothes. Salt is unkind. By the end of the day I’ve usually got a nice patina of dirt, rust and saltwater on me. I love the weight of the Boss Duck line. My body likes that feeling of protection I get from sturdy, well-made, comfortable clothes. The weather can get gnarly out at Hog Island, but I don’t want to dress like a backpacker. I’ve got work to do. When I put on my Chore Pants I’m suited up. Let’s go! They give me a swagger. I like to look good too, even if I’m working alone. The cut and colors of Taylor Stitch work clothes are just perfection. I like the natural white because at the end of the day I can look down at the dirt on my pants and know that I’ve done something real.

It’s no secret that West Marin is some beautiful country. Do you feel a connection to the area that goes deeper than bucolic views?

Absolutely. The views are great. From our ridge-side Saltworks site at Hog Island Oyster Co. in Marshall you can look out at Tomales Bay and Point Reyes National Seashore beyond that. But there’s a lot more to it. The fact that wilderness here coexists with oyster harvesting, fishing and ranching, I think is important. This is not a museum. Nor is it a suburb. From the beginning, people around the world have lived in small communities, close to nature, producing food, making art and music. It’s kind of amazing that we get to practice some version of this tradition so close to the rest of the urban and suburban Bay Area. Of course, I never forget the Miwok people that inhabited this place for so long before us. If you put away your iPhone you can sometimes feel their presence.

Jeff at Hog Island Saltworks.Oysters to go sign at Hog IslandJeff Warrin climbing up the evaporation tower.

Salt itself has such a historically and culturally important legacy. How do you see yourself and Saltworks as it pertains to that global lineage?

Salt making is one of the oldest industries there is. Throughout history people have tried every conceivable method to produce salt. Unfortunately, there’s been a lot of bad ideas that have contributed to the environmental crisis we face today. For example, clear cutting forests across Europe to boil down straight seawater into salt. Concentrating seawater to the saturation point of salt is energy intensive. At Hog Island we have aligned ourselves with traditional practices of sustainability and ingenuity by harnessing the power of sun and wind to do the bulk of the evaporation work under our unique climatic conditions. Hog Island Oyster Co. has been a pioneer in environmentally sustainable practices for over forty years and the Saltworks is just a new iteration of that ethos.

How did you meet John Finger and what about that meeting drew the two of you together to create Hog Island Saltworks?

I had reached out to a friend who was the marine biologist at Hog Island Oyster Co., just to talk about the water in the bay. I had no idea that one of the owners was a salt enthusiast and had been wanting to start a salt making operation for several years. John Finger and Terry Sawyer came down to my place where I had built an early prototype of an evaporation tower based on an eighteenth-century model involving bundled tree branches. I think it was not what they expected, but we all saw the potential of working together and I was stoked to join the Hog Island team. After some planning, we built the Saltworks from the ground up and a year later (last November) we launched our first batch of salt to great success. John still refers to me as “this crazy guy from Bolinas,” which I take as a compliment.

So, should we be eating more salt?

Yes! In particular, Hog Island Saltworks sea salt. There is a lot of new research that shows that the medical industry’s recommendations for a low sodium diet are somewhat misguided. Salt is not only essential for the body, it’s good for your health in many ways, as long as you're not just eating pure sodium chloride. Our salt contains beneficial minerals in higher concentrations than other types, which also accounts for its rich umami flavor.

Jars of Hog Island Saltworks salt.

Thanks again, Jeff. We couldn't have asked for a better guy to put our workwear to the test. We’ll miss the views, but the memories will last us a lifetime, each one tinged with the scent of salt.

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shot of Tomales Bay

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