Illustration of Bren Smith’s 3-D ocean farm. Image from GreenWave.org.
There is a revolving door in global markets for food fads. Coconut water and related products have become a billion-dollar industry. Kale, in the ‘chip’ form alone, made about two hundred million dollars last year. But there is a new contender that is gaining in popularity, sneaking up on a number of different food products and may turn out to be far more than just a fad – seaweed.
I’ve always been fascinated with seaweed, especially since my husband is an ecologist who studies algae, and I’ve worked with him on several studies, as well as in the aquaculture world. So last week’s article by Dana Goodyear in The New Yorker was especially interesting.
The article laid out the future of seaweed on the American plate – “A New Leaf: Seaweed Could be a Miracle Food—If We Can Figure Out How to Make it Taste Good”. In the article, Goodyear explores all the potential roads to success for the ‘sea vegetable’, especially against the backdrop of seaweed as a carbon negative crop; as a conservation measure to restore seaweed habitat and the thousands of marine species that rely on it, and as a way to mitigate impacts of run-off due to the fantastic ability of seaweed to absorb nitrogen and phosphorus.
Goodyear features Bren Smith – a fisherman turned entrepreneurial ocean farmer, who wants to bring sustainable seaweed and shellfish to a table near you. Smith is a lifelong commercial fisherman, who turned to aquaculture as a way to restore jobs for out of work fishermen, and help hedge against climate change, while creating an environmentally-friendly farm that has zero inputs.
Kelp harvest. Image from at Thimble Island Ocean Farm.
Thimble Island Ocean Farm, off Stony Creek, Connecticut is the equivalent of 3-acres of ocean surface and 6 feet in depth. Smith’s approach has been a multi-trophic and integrated ocean farm, which means numbers of different species are raised in the same area. In addition to seaweed, Smith also harvests marine invertebrates including mussels, scallops, and clams. His farm is self-sustaining and he told The New Yorker that, “…The farm is a reef for hundreds of species. This is what you want to see. This is good, restorative ocean farming.”
For an in-depth, 2014 Scuttlefish interview with Smith check out: Life in Salt: A Talk with Bren Smith, Owner of Thimble Island Oysters and Long Island Sound’s First Vertical 3D Ocean Farm.