Kelp: It’s What’s For Dinner


BREN SMITH: Unlike sort
of salmon aquaculture and other things, there
just isn’t much to see. You just see some
buoys floating. But you can imagine this sort
of this underwater garden. SUZIE FLORES: It’s
farming just like somebody who has a tomato farm or some
sort of vegetable garden. It’s just I do it out on the
water instead of on land. BREN SMITH: It’s one
of the fastest growing plants on Earth. So we can grow an
incredible amount of vegetables in small areas. SUZIE FLORES: And we don’t have
to add any fertilizer at all. We’re just kind of
taking something that’s happening naturally and
trying to organize it into one location
so that we can make the most of what’s growing. My name is Suzie Flores and I am
an executive market development manager at
McGraw-Hill Education. And on the side, I
am a kelp farmer. I had heard about
seaweed farming and I wanted to grow some
just for consumption. The more that I looked into it
and the more I read about it, I realized that it’s
also a fantastic thing to do for the environment. And then once we
saw that there was a possible economic
upside for it, we decided to give it a shot. BREN SMITH: My
name is Bren Smith. I’m a 3D ocean farmer. I came into this as a
commercial fisherman. And I had to be sort
of a nurturing arugula farmer in a way. It was a psychic shift for me. When I first showed up here 15
years ago, my patch of ocean was this barren
water and now it’s this whole thriving ecosystem
with mussels, clams, oysters, kelp. The challenge is imagine
growing in an environment where the soil turns
over 1,000 times a day. I mean, we’re just getting
currents and changeover and nutrients. And that dynamism is what grows
sort of a beautiful vegetable, but it also makes it
difficult for a farmer. The kelp we grow is
called sugar kelp. SUZIE FLORES: Which
is a native seaweed that grows all along
the east coast corridor. BREN SMITH: And what
we do is every fall, we go out and collect
a few pieces of kelp that are reproductive and
bring it back to our hatchery. And the little spores
attach to pieces of string. SUZIE FLORES: And
then we take it back out into the
ocean from whence it came and we outplant it
on our long lines, which are submerged about three
feet underneath the water. The turbidity of the water, the
murkiness of the water impact how much sunlight is actually
getting through to the kelp. Kelp gets everything
from the water. So as the water current
goes through our kelp farm, it’s also bringing with
it all of the nutrition. BREN SMITH: Kelp needs a mix of
phosphorus, carbon, nitrogen, and sunlight. So my job with the kelp
is to find that sweet spot where we capture the nutrients
and also the sunlight. SUZIE FLORES: We harvest the
kelp in the spring season before all of the
other competing species are going to be around. BREN SMITH: All the junk
that grows on the kelp– the epiphytes, the sea squirts,
all these different things that as the water temperatures
increase and the oceans essentially wake up,
they attack the kelp. SUZIE FLORES: And it doesn’t
render it completely useless. You still could use it
for fertilizer and things like that. But it does mean that it’s
not pretty enough for people to consume. BREN SMITH: But this
is a good thing. I mean, we’re creating a
foundation for the ecosystem for everything to come
eat, hide, and thrive. The economics of kelp
farming and ocean farming are in some ways the
most powerful piece. SUZIE FLORES: Land, especially
in this area, is not cheap. But leasing space
in the ocean, it makes much more
economical sense. BREN SMITH: The fact
that overhead is so low when you don’t grow fish
opens up opportunities for regular folks like me
to be out here and starting our own farms. We grow about 10 to 20 tons
per acre in basically a four to five-month time. SUZIE FLORES: It is one
of the few crops that could be used for
food consumption, that could be used for fuel, that
could be used for fertilizer. BREN SMITH: I mean, kelp people
think that disgusting thing on the beach. But what we’re trying to do is
really make kelp the new kale and reimagine the seafood
plate of the future. SUZIE FLORES: There’s no
fish flavor to it at all. It’s very mild and subtle. If you cut it into
noodles and you boil it, it turns a really beautiful
bright green color. And then you can throw
it in any sort of sauce like you would spaghetti. BREN SMITH: Luckily,
in the US, this is one of the great sort of
culinary moments of our history with all these brilliant
chefs all around the country thinking of kelp as not
seafood, but as a vegetable. We need to push beyond
sustainability in our food system and our
agricultural system into restoration, into
regenerative crops. Kelp, for example, captures
five times more carbon than land-based plants. SUZIE FLORES: And
one of the things that it likes to absorb
through the blades is nitrogen. So it can offset
other algaes from blooming. BREN SMITH: As nitrogen
runs into Long Island Sound, for example, it creates
these dead zones. Our kelp can actually
breathe life. It can capture that
nitrogen. This nexus of job creation, economic
opportunity, food justice, and environmentalism,
that’s the sweet spot. What’s exciting for me,
who’s been out here doing this for a long time, is to
see Jay and Suzie Flores. There they’re energetic,
they’re talented, they care about both the
economy and the ecology of this. And they’re just exactly what
the future of ocean farming should be. SUZIE FLORES: I never thought
that I would be a kelp farmer. I hope that I’m at the forefront
of a larger wave of aquaculture and I hope that people continue
to learn more about this sea vegetable and
think about ways it can be infused into our
economy and into our diets. [MUSIC PLAYING]

Description – Please Help Support Our Video Productions!
Meet the farmers who want to make cheap, environmentally friendly kelp America’s next favorite vegetable.

Produced by Luke Groskin
Music by Audio Network
Additional Footage Provided by Kurt Mann /NOAA

Author: dhobson