Is Seaweed The Next Big Trend in Sustainable Food?

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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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Farmers Globally Use Untreated Wastewater to Irrigate Crops

Irrigation is a necessity of farmers. But important news revealed recently that farmers all over the world are using untreated wastewater to irrigate their crops. In a study published in the journal, Environmental Research Letters, found out that 50% of farmers globally use untreated municipal wastewater to grow food.

The Use of Untreated Wastewater in Agriculture

This frightening statistic indicated that around 36 million hectares of croplands in urban areas rely on heavily polluted water for growing crops. In the study, five countries were identified that use 85% downstream wastewater to irrigate their crops, and these include China, India, Mexico, Pakistan, and Iran. This was a far cry from the 2004 study that noted only 20 million hectares of agricultural lands reuse wastewater.

The reuse of wastewater for agricultural purposes is caused by the increasing problem of water pollution as well as the declining availability of fresh water. According to the lead author of the study, Anne Thebo, the problem is very evident in many developing countries where many places lack wastewater treatment facilities.

To make matters worse, poor farmers who cannot afford to get commercial inputs like fertilizers rely on wastewater to provide nutrients to their plants. In a report released by Associated Press, several farmers in Mexico used wastewater as they produce bigger crop yields compared with treated water.  After all, sewage effluence may contain high amounts of human excrements but, while containing high amounts of nitrogen, also carry pathogens that can be transferred to food.

The Dangers of Farmers Using Untreated Wastewater

The use of untreated wastewater does not only pose threats to local farmers but also to the consumers. Consumers who unknowingly eat raw vegetables and fruits that are grown using wastewater may suffer from food poisoning. Food safety is a pressing issue in the food industry, and the use of untreated wastewater puts people at risk to the exposure of roundworms and pathogens like E. coli and Salmonella. In fact, there have been numerous instances when produce coming from Mexico has led to outbreaks.


Vegetables and fruits from Mexico, for example, were found to have been contaminated with Salmonella, hepatitis A, and Cyclospora (an intestinal parasite) include cantaloupes, basil, salad greens, and cilantro.  In 2013, consumption of these products had resulted in hundreds of people all over the United States to experience severe food poisoning while some people died from it.

The Implications of The Study

The published study aims to reveal what is happening in many agricultural lands all over the world. The result of the survey also indicates that considerable strides should be made all over the world regarding improving sanitation in urban areas by investing more in wastewater treatment plants. The thing is that further effort is necessary aside from developing wastewater treatment facilities but also implementing better sanitation policies to address not only the recycling of wastewater in agriculture but also for the protection of surface water and its quality.

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