Seaweed farming could be the key to climate cooking


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In an area of ​​Long Island Sound called the Thimble Islands, Bren Smith has leased a parcel of water from the Connecticut Department of Agriculture for nearly twenty years. Recreational enthusiasts are welcome to kayak or swim along the surface of Smith’s Water Subdivision; it focuses on what’s going on a bit deeper. Smith is a regenerative ocean farmer, honoring the Thimble Islands’ 200+ years of aquaculture with seaweed farming practices that can help sustain the ecosystem for years to come.

Born and raised in Newfoundland, Canada, Smith grew up in the commercial fishing industry and left school at age 14 to pursue a career as a commercial fisherman. However, by the early 1990s, due to a combination of more efficient fishing technologies and overfishing, once-thriving cod stocks in the region had declined at such a low rate that the government imposed a moratorium on fishing. industry in July 1992with the aim of preserving the remaining cod in the region.

For many, it was the end of a way of life. For Smith, however, it would be the start of a new career as a climate farmer.

Switch to seaweed

After earning a degree in marine biology from the University of Vermont, Smith settled in the Thimble Islands and began working as an oyster farmer.

Unlike commercial fishing, which can harm ocean ecosystems and deplete fish populations through destructive practices, many believe that oyster farming actually helps the ecosystem. Oysters do not require additional water or fertilizer and capture atmospheric carbon dioxide. But Hurricane Irene in 2011 and Super Storm Sandy in 2012 devastated his oyster farm. When he took over farming after Sandy, he added seaweed – a climate-friendly crop – to the mix.

“What started to make sense to me was polyculture, a crop for all seasons. If a culture fails, there is a backup,” Smith explains.

Although Smith did not originally start with the intention of growing algae, it became clear that the plant’s ability to grow quickly and in a small space made it a desirable crop. “Algae have all the ecosystem benefits,” Smith says. “As the climate crisis intensifies, we are able to cultivate a culture that is not only climate friendly, but acts as a tool for mitigation. It affects several things: food, jobs, the health of the oceans and climate change. I consider it the basic culture for creating a new climate cuisine.

Kelp is not the new kale

Seaweed is a common ingredient in foods from many parts of the world, but some diners who are less familiar with eating kelp have a hard time picturing this rippling, aquatic green as quite appetizing.

Smith thought perhaps seaweed needed a rebrand. Play on the “Eat more kalePopular T-shirts in the early 2000s, he tried the slogan “Eat More Kelp.”

“It sounded good, and we started doing all these events in New York with the slogan ‘eat more kelp,'” he recalls. However, he soon realized a flaw in the slogan. Namely, this kelp really isn’t the new kale at all. While kale can be eaten on its own as an alternative to green vegetables like lettuce or spinach, kelp is different. Due to its short post-harvest freshness window – only about eight hours – seaweed needs to be processed quickly to be preserved.

Now, Smith sees seaweed as a supporting ingredient more than the main course, and he’s opted for a different simile: kelp as the new soybean. A product that appears in various places in the food industry. “But less harm,” adds Smith.

grow up for good

Part of the power of algae is that, like soy, they are incredibly versatile. The algae is currently fed to cows in an effort to reduce methane production by herds, used as bioplastic and, of course, as an ingredient in a variety of foods, from mustard to kelp burgers. While growing, algae have the ability to absorb nutrients leached from the soil and into waterways during land-based agricultural practices.

However, Smith’s worst nightmare is that the kelp industry is imitating the soybean industry in other ways, ones he considers “evil”. As industrial soybean production has intensified, it has been criticized for contributing to deforestation, greenhouse gas emissions and the destruction of wildlife habitats. Smith is excited for kelp to grow as an industry because “it’s almost like a blank slate. We can build something beautiful from scratch.

To help scale the kelp industry in a way that treats farmers and the planet the right way, Smith co-founded green wavea non-profit organization that supports a global network of regenerative ocean farmers, in 2016.

In each of its first years, GreenWave trained between eight and 10 farmers a year. But as the organization and its mission have spread, 8,000 aspiring ocean scientists across the United States and more than 100 other countries have enrolled in the organization’s training program. To meet this demand, GreenWave decided to develop its Regenerative Ocean Agriculture Hub in April 2022, which provides farmers with the curriculum and training they need to get started. Since its launch, there have been over 2,400 registered users of the hub.


RELATED: This ‘Vegan Hunt’ Guide Preserves the History of Seaweed Foraging Along the California Coast


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