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Seaweed has been long known as a nutritious plant, but there has not been a substantial market to warrant its growth in farming. The sustainability of the plant is what attracted Tollef Olsen to start his first “Sea Farm” and found Ocean’s Balance, an edible seaweed company. Olsen says, “No land, no fresh water, no fertilizer, no pesticides, and it also sequesters carbon.” The growth of the industry is just starting to take off with the USDA grants going to other Maine seaweed producers such as VitaminSea and Maine Fresh Sea Farms.
The Growth of the Edible Seaweed Market
In October of 2017, the Department of Energy awarded the University of New England with $1.3 million to research seaweed farming methods. Other states are following the lead to help entrepreneurs grow the industry and increase the use of seaweed aquaculture.
While seaweed consumption is new to the United States, it has long been a dietary staple in Asia. Wild kelp is disappearing around the world because of the rising ocean temperatures, so the planting more may help us reverse that trend. The sea plant provides us with a nutrient dense, low footprint food that is attractive to health-conscious consumers. Farms have now popped up in California, Mexico, Alaska, and Connecticut, but Maine is going all in to position itself as the sea vegetable state.
The Sustainability of Seaweed Farming
There are a variety of sea vegetable species, but sugar kelp seems to be the perfect fit for Maine’s seaweed farming industry. With over 3,000 miles of coastline, farmers can quickly plant and harvest without impacting homeowner’s views. Farming season in Maine is from October to May which is the exact opposite of lobster season, so Maine’s other most significant seafood business is not impacted. This gives lobstermen an easy way to keep their crews employed through the downtimes.
Organizations like World Bank have endorsed seaweed farming as a way to feed the growing population in the future without impacting the environment. The fact that it requires no land and no fresh water make it a home run for environmental experts. On top of that, it may help in mitigating ocean acidification by absorbing carbon dioxide.
Health Conscious Americans are Hungry for Seaweed Products
It’s taken a long time, but seaweed is finally starting to sneak into American diets. Health conscious consumers are finally embracing the plant after seeing its nutritional benefits and eco-friendly production. Kelp is known to be high in minerals, vitamins, and antioxidants which makes it easy to showcase to consumers. Chefs from around the country are finding it to add significant flavor too.
Ocean’s balance developed its kelp puree after much consideration. It wants consumers to be able to add it to a variety of products. Olsen says, ” I made a chicken stock, but then I kelp-ized it. We want to kelp-ize everything.”
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