Kelp, a Wonder Crop for Sustainability and Health

Kelp, a Wonder Crop for Sustainability and Health


Imagine a farm that requires no water or land, is pollution-free, produces healthy food, and increases wildlife habitats. That’s the reality of highly sustainable kelp farms run by Ocean Approved, a company whose president, Paul Dobbins, believes strongly in the future of seaweed agriculture.

Nathanael Johnson writes on Grist:

Paul Dobbins works on a farm that needs no inputs — no fertilizer, no pesticides, no water. Oh, and it doesn’t use any land either. This farm increases wildlife habitat simply by existing. It causes no erosion, cleans up pollution, and it captures more carbon than it releases.

That may sound more sci-fi than vertical-farm skyscrapers, or vat-grown meat, but it’s not. Farms like this are operating profitably around the world, producing tons of highly nutritious food. There’s just one catch: That food is kelp.

Dobbins runs the company Ocean Approved, which has five families growing kelp in farms in the Atlantic Ocean, off the coast of Maine. He thinks kelp could make Americans healthier, while sucking up carbon, building up fish populations, and reviving coastal communities crushed by the collapse of fisheries. But if kelp is going to accomplish all that it’s going to need our help. Seaweed has yet to seduce the American palate. It might just be the most rational food available right now, but humans are deeply irrational when choosing what to eat.

Paul Dobbins

Dobbins isn’t worried about that — at least, he didn’t sound worried when we spoke. He’s a good salesman: not a high-octane pitchman, just a comfortably self-assured voice of reason, noting one piece of evidence after another to suggest that Americans could indeed fall in love with kelp. When I pushed back, he responded not with bluster, but with statistics.

I told Dobbins that, like most North Americans probably, I think of kelp as a marginal food. “Should I be thinking of it as romaine,” I asked. “Should I be thinking of it as wheat?”

“Think of it as kale,” he said. “And it is a staple in many places. Humans have eaten seaweed since the beginning: If there was a group of folks on a cold-water shore 2,000 years ago, they were eating kelp.”

Dobbins told me that Americans have already fallen for kelp — it’s just that we forgot all about it.

“My grandmothers were from Newfoundland and Prince Edward Island, and they remembered their mothers serving them kelp in the winter,” Dobbins said. “The reason was it was back before refrigeration and modern transportation systems. To get your green vegetable nutrition in winter you ate kelp. We lost the tradition in the U.S. with the advent of refrigeration and better transportation systems for our food.”

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