RTL Today – A leader in American seaweed farming preaches, educates and builds a broader network

Bren Smith and his GreenWave organization are helping lay the foundation for a generation of seaweed farmers in the United States as they work to build a network of producers and buyers.

Seen from a boat, GreenWave’s farm seems unimpressive – little more than lines of white and black buoys a few hundred yards off the Connecticut coast.

But beneath the dark Atlantic waters, suspended by ropes tied between buoys about two meters deep, seaweed ripples in various shades of brown.

GreenWave, which uses no pesticides or herbicides, harvested more than 20 tons of kelp last year at this location and at another location further east.

Although seaweed farming has been practiced in Asia for decades, such aquaculture is a relatively new phenomenon in the US.

– Training others –

Bren Smith, a Canadian, worked in industrial fishing for years before turning to so-called regenerative aquaculture: cultivating marine resources while caring for the ecosystem and even helping it thrive.

Research shows that kelp absorbs more carbon dioxide (CO2) than a terrestrial forest of a comparable area, while providing nutrients and habitat for other living organisms.

Once a crop is harvested, it is mainly used in food products, cosmetics or as a natural fertilizer.

GreenWave also farms mussels and oysters, which help purify the surrounding seawater.

But his ambition extends far beyond the boundaries of his ‘sea farm’, which has been deliberately kept small.

“We are training the next generation of ocean farmers,” says Smith, author of the book “Eat Like a Fish: My Adventure as a Fisherman Turned Ocean Farmer.”

To do this, GreenWave has developed a range of training tools, from brochures to videos. Nearly 8,000 people have benefited from the training.

GreenWave has helped “connect me with other farms and farmers and spread the knowledge our industry is building,” says Ken Sparta, who has been growing seaweed at his Spartan Farms near Portland, Maine since 2019 .

“I’m not sure where our industry would be without them, and it certainly wouldn’t be growing at this rate,” Sparta said.

– ‘Collaborate, not compete’ –

GreenWave also provides seed grants of up to $25,000 per project, thanks to a combination of private donations and government grants.

And it created the Seaweed Source platform, which brings together producers and buyers, now involving more than 65 companies.

Crucially, GreenWave has developed a low-cost technique that can store harvested seaweed for up to ten months, while kelp typically begins to spoil after a few hours.

“We don’t do policy stuff,” Smith said, standing on the bridge of his small boat. “It’s just: What do you have to do to be successful?”

Despite seaweed’s proven ability to capture carbon dioxide, Smith has not yet tried to incorporate carbon credits into its business model.

“It seems the markets are not good at driving carbon emissions,” the 51-year-old told AFP.

Together with Emily Stengel, co-founder of GreenWave, Smith has faced the challenges of a warming climate.

“When Bren started farming, he might be planting at the end of October,” said Toby Sheppard Bloch, director of infrastructure at GreenWave.

“And in 2021, we were planting in late December… We lost two months of growing season” due to the warming waters.

With harvests plummeting, “we realized something had to change if we wanted to continue working these waters,” Bloch said.

GreenWave came up with the idea of ​​setting up a seed bank – where seeds could get an early start before being thrown into the sea – giving farmers two months of growing time.

They used electric wine coolers as a cheaper alternative to a laboratory cold room.

The seed bank is open to any farmer and seeds can be deposited or withdrawn at any time.

“Our belief is that we should actually work together and not compete,” said Smith, who wore his signature green cap.

“Let’s bring together fishermen and all these people affected by climate change and connect them to solutions and breathe life back into the ocean.”