Logo

    467. Is the Future of Farming in the Ocean?

    Climate change is creating new opportunities for seaweed cultivation as a sustainable source of food and fuel. Collaborative efforts and government regulation are crucial for small-scale farmers to succeed and prevent large corporations from dominating the industry.

    en-usJune 24, 2021

    About this Episode

    Bren Smith, who grew up fishing and fighting, is now part of a movement that seeks to feed the planet while putting less environmental stress on it. He makes his argument in a book called Eat Like a Fish; his secret ingredient: kelp. But don’t worry, you won’t have to eat it (not much, at least). An installment of The Freakonomics Radio Book Club.

    🔑 Key Takeaways

    • Growing kelp, oysters, clams, and mussels in the ocean can provide sustainable food options without using land resources. Urban areas with waterfront access have the potential to become thriving centers for ocean agriculture.
    • Seaweed farming is a sustainable and effective way to combat climate change, while also creating new habitats for marine life. It requires no inputs and has the potential to sequester vast amounts of carbon, making it a valuable tool in the fight against climate change.
    • Hard work, determination, and a sense of direction can help anyone overcome challenges and find success. Being resourceful and constantly perfecting skills can also lead to abundant opportunities.
    • Overfishing and industrialized fishing practices can devastate local economies and ecosystems. Sustainable fishing practices and supporting local fishing communities can help preserve ocean health and livelihoods.
    • The aquaculture industry must prioritize growing fish suitable to the environment, not just demand, to avoid mislabeling and negative environmental impacts. Bren Smith's story emphasizes the importance of sustainable fish farming and the difficulties of pursuing higher education outside of one's comfort zone.
    • With ancient Indigenous techniques and modern technology, Bren Smith's regenerative ocean farming produces diverse, healthy marine species while combating climate change through carbon sequestration.
    • Kelp farming is an efficient and nutritious alternative to traditional fishing practices, but processing and marketing remain obstacles. Educating consumers about the health benefits of seaweed can help increase demand for this sustainable food source.
    • Bren Smith is innovating an ocean farming technique to combat climate change, provide food, and stimulate job growth.
    • Kelp is versatile and sustainable, but not yet widely used in grocery stores due to the need for drying. Kelp and other sea greens have potential as a sustainable alternative to soy.
    • Seaweed farming offers opportunities for income through fertilizer, bioplastics, and carbon credits, while also aiding in pollution remediation and rebuilding reef systems. It can also contribute to reducing carbon output from other industries and storing carbon long-term.
    • Seaweed grown in urban farms can be utilized for various purposes and the ocean has great potential as a solution to mitigate climate change. Senator Elizabeth Warren's Blue New Deal proposes solutions to promote sustainable living and protect oceans.
    • Climate change is creating new opportunities for seaweed cultivation as a sustainable source of food and fuel. Collaborative efforts and government regulation are crucial for small-scale farmers to succeed and prevent large corporations from dominating the industry.
    • Ocean farming is an affordable and accessible investment that offers new opportunities for engineers, community college workers, and small-scale farmers while prioritizing sustainability. Embracing environmentally conscious industries like ocean farming can also benefit individuals struggling with self-destructive behavior.
    • Jobs in traditional industries like fishing and farming provide a deeper sense of purpose and connection to society, while jobs in technology and robotics often lack this emotional connection. Respect for all types of jobs may change this perception.

    📝 Podcast Summary

    The Potential of Ocean Farming for Sustainable Food

    Bren Smith, an ocean farmer and former teenage misfit, highlights the unique potential of the ocean as an agricultural space. By growing things that don't swim, such as kelp, oysters, clams, and mussels, ocean farming can provide sustainable food options without the need for feeding or land resources. Smith's 10-acre plot off the Thimble Islands in Connecticut utilizes understated esthetics and permits to avoid pushback from those who view the ocean solely as a recreational space. Urban areas with waterfront access have the potential to become thriving centers for ocean agriculture.

    Meet the Ocean Farmer Leading a Seaweed Revolution to Fight Climate Change

    Bren Smith, an ocean farmer and author of 'Eat Like a Fish,' is leading a seaweed revolution to fight climate change and create new habitats for marine life. While Smith also farms oysters, mussels, and clams, he believes kelp is the key to mitigating the effects of climate change. Seaweed farming requires zero inputs and can sequester carbon equivalent to 20 million cars by utilizing just 5% of US waters. Smith's non-profit, GreenWave, is teaching others to replicate his success with blue-collar innovation to work with nature and create a more beautiful world.

    From Rough Waters to Smooth Sailing: Bren Smith's Story of Overcoming Challenges

    Bren Smith's life was full of challenges, from growing up in a fishing village to moving to the suburbs of Boston. Despite being at risk of going to jail, he found his passion in fishing, which turned his life around, making him successful and prosperous. This experience taught him the importance of work systems, physical labor, and perfecting his skills. Furthermore, he learned to become resourceful and make the most of his surroundings, developing a variety of job skills. Bren's story exemplifies the power of hard work, determination, and having a sense of direction in life.

    The Collapse of Newfoundland's Cod Industry: A Lesson in Overfishing and the Need for Sustainable Practices.

    Overfishing and changing economics led to the collapse of the cod industry, causing the loss of 30,000 jobs and devastating Newfoundland's economy and culture. This shift from community-based to global-industrial fishery highlights how humans can become too good at catching fish, leaving ocean ecosystems imbalanced. The rise of aquaculture as a solution has not been successful, as it relies on monoculture and can lead to rampant disease. Sustainable fishing practices and supporting local fishing communities may be key to preserving ocean health and livelihoods.

    The Need for Sustainable Fish Farming and the Challenges of Higher Education Outside of Comfort Zones

    The aquaculture industry's demand-driven approach to fish farming has resulted in mislabeling and mixed farmed and wild seafood. This has led to a cascade of antibiotics, pesticides, and GMOs. The industry needs to focus on growing fish that are suitable to the environment and not just what the market demands. Bren Smith, a former fisherman turned community organizer, returned to school and struggled at Cornell. He eventually dropped out, bought an Airstream, and parked it in a Walmart parking lot in Connecticut. Smith's story highlights the need for sustainable fish farming and the challenges of seeking higher education outside of one's comfort zone.

    Bren Smith's 3-D Ocean Farming for Marine Ecosystem Restoration and Sustainable Food Production

    Bren Smith, a former fisherman and hunter, turned his life around by becoming an oysterman and seaweed farmer using a method he calls 3-D ocean farming. He learned the craft from studying ancient Indigenous techniques combined with modern machines, and his system creates a diverse, sustainable ecosystem using multiple marine species. Smith discovered the joy and mystery of growing plants and found a new sense of purpose and fulfillment through regenerative ocean farming. His multi-crop farm provides food and jobs to the local community, while also combating climate change by sequestering carbon and restoring marine ecosystems.

    Challenges and Benefits of Kelp Farming

    Kelp farming has become more popular due to its high productivity and ease of growth compared to shellfish farming. However, processing kelp and finding customers remain challenges. Kelp farms cannot control the water that acts as their soil, making it difficult to consistently grow kelp. To combat this, kelp farmers have to find creative solutions such as processing kelp in abandoned tobacco barns. Kelp is highly nutritious, containing more vitamin C, calcium, and protein than commonly consumed foods. Eating seaweed like fish can have numerous health benefits and reduce pressure on fish stocks. Despite this, many Americans still view seaweed as unpleasant.

    Bren Smith's Regenerative Ocean Farming Solution

    Bren Smith, an ocean farmer and founder of GreenWave, is pioneering regenerative ocean farming as a solution to build a new agricultural food system out to sea that fights climate change, feeds the world, and creates blue-green jobs.

    The Potential of Kelp as a Sustainable Food Crop

    Kelp is being touted as the new kale by some, but despite its versatility and potential as a wonder crop, it has not yet taken off as a primary ingredient in grocery stores or farmer's markets. The reason for this is that kelp needs to be dried to be shelf-stable, making it unapproachable for consumers to purchase fresh. However, kelp has broken into other industries such as plant-based burgers and bouillon cube replacements, and its potential as a food ingredient is huge. Kelp is not the only crop with a bad brand image; soy has been associated with negative impacts on the climate due to monoculture and pesticide use. Kelp and other sea greens have the potential to be a sustainable alternative to soy as a crop in the era of climate change.

    The Benefits of Seaweed Farming for Multiple Income Streams and Environmental Remediation

    Seaweed farming has multiple income streams, including fertilizer, bioplastics, and blue carbon and nitrogen. Kelp forests act as a carbon sink and farmers can sell carbon credits to companies hungry for offsets. Seaweed and shellfish farming can also be used for pollution remediation in urban areas, filtering water and soaking up pollutants while rebuilding reef systems. Carbon can be split between 'avoided carbon' and 'drawdown,' with the former reducing carbon output from other industries and the latter storing carbon for hundreds or thousands of years. Seaweed farming can be woven into existing industries for a positive impact.

    The Potential of Urban Seaweed Farming and a Blue New Deal for Sustainable Living.

    Seaweed grown in urban farms have various uses such as food-grade, fertilizers, feeds, and biofuel. A Blue New Deal is necessary to address the effects of climate change on oyster farms and to ensure a sustainable living on a living planet. Senator Elizabeth Warren's comprehensive plan for a Blue New Deal recognizes the importance of oceans as a climate solution and offers solutions such as training 10,000 people to replant kelp forests and eel grasses, a blue carbon fund to incentivize increased investment in the sector, and more. While the ocean is often overlooked as a space for economic solutions, the history of seaweed farming and innovation show that it has potential for sustainability and progress.

    The Potential of Regenerative Ocean Farming and Seaweed Cultivation

    As climate change continues to cause changes in terrain, regenerative ocean farming and seaweed cultivation present new opportunities for food and fuel production. While the US viewed seaweed as an industrial product, Asia saw it as food, and built a thriving industry around it. Now, organizations like GreenWave are working to recruit and train a new generation of kelp farmers. However, financial sustainability is a major challenge facing these small-scale farmers. Collaboration, including price-fixing in co-ops and government assistance, is important for the success of the industry. Policy development and regulation are also crucial to prevent large corporations from monopolizing the seaweed market.

    Ocean Farming: Sustainable and Scalable Industry with Multiple Job Opportunities

    Ocean farming can be a sustainable industry with additional job opportunities for engineers, policy makers, community college workers, etc. It is an affordable investment with opportunities for scaling up. The industry can benefit from local production of seed and is accessible to small-scale farmers. Bren Smith suggests that those struggling with self-destructive behavior should revolt in a different way and take advantage of new opportunities in environmentally conscious industries like ocean farming.

    The Value of Heart and Soul in Traditional Jobs vs. Technology

    Fishermen, farmers, and steelworkers have soul-filling jobs that directly contribute to society's needs, while jobs in robotics and technology lack such value. Autonomous ocean farming boats and harvesters may represent progress, but fishermen like Bren Smith feel a deep sense of agency and connection to the sea that they don't want to lose. Smith's goal is to die in his boat, not in a remote-controlled vehicle. He values the fundamental principles of heart and soul that these jobs provide and believes that they are often overlooked. When robots and technology workers garner the same level of respect and admiration as farmers and fishermen, Smith may change his stance.

    Recent Episodes from Freakonomics Radio

    589. Why Has the Opioid Crisis Lasted So Long?

    589. Why Has the Opioid Crisis Lasted So Long?

    Most epidemics flare up, do their damage, and fade away. This one has been raging for almost 30 years. To find out why, it’s time to ask some uncomfortable questions. (Part one of a two-part series.)

     

    • SOURCES:
      • David Cutler, professor of economics at Harvard University.
      • Travis Donahoe, professor of health policy and management at the University of Pittsburgh.
      • Keith Humphreys, professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Stanford University.
      • Stephen Loyd, chief medical officer of Cedar Recovery and chair of the Tennessee Opioid Abatement Council.

     

     

    Freakonomics Radio
    en-usMay 23, 2024

    Extra: Car Colors & Storage Units

    Extra: Car Colors & Storage Units

    Presenting two stories from The Economics of Everyday Things: Why does it seem like every car is black, white, or gray these days? And: How self-storage took over America.

     

    • SOURCES:
      • Tom Crockett, classic car enthusiast.
      • Zachary Dickens, executive vice president and chief investment officer of Extra Space Storage.
      • Mark Gutjahr, global head of design at BASF.
      • Kara Kolodziej, self-storage unit tenant.
      • Anne Mari DeCoster, self-storage consultant.
      • Nikkie Riedel, carline planning manager at Subaru of America.

     

     

    Freakonomics Radio
    en-usMay 20, 2024

    588. Confessions of a Black Conservative

    588. Confessions of a Black Conservative

    The economist and social critic Glenn Loury has led a remarkably turbulent life, both professionally and personally. In a new memoir, he has chosen to reveal just about everything. Why?

     

    • SOURCE:
      • Glenn Loury, professor of economics at Brown University and host of The Glenn Show.

     

     

    Freakonomics Radio
    en-usMay 16, 2024

    587. Should Companies Be Owned by Their Workers?

    587. Should Companies Be Owned by Their Workers?

    The employee ownership movement is growing, and one of its biggest champions is also a private equity heavyweight. Is this meaningful change, or just window dressing?

     

    • SOURCES:
      • Marjorie Kelly, distinguished senior fellow at The Democracy Collaborative.
      • Corey Rosen, founder and senior staff member of the National Center for Employee Ownership.
      • Pete Stavros, co-head of Global Private Equity at KKR.

     

     

    586. How Does the Lost World of Vienna Still Shape Our Lives?

    586. How Does the Lost World of Vienna Still Shape Our Lives?

    From politics and economics to psychology and the arts, many of the modern ideas we take for granted emerged a century ago from a single European capital. In this episode of the Freakonomics Radio Book Club, the historian Richard Cockett explores all those ideas — and how the arrival of fascism can ruin in a few years what took generations to build.

     

     

     

    Extra: Why Is 23andMe Going Under? (Update)

    Extra: Why Is 23andMe Going Under? (Update)

    Five years ago, we published an episode about the boom in home DNA testing kits, focusing on the high-flying firm 23andMe and its C.E.O. Anne Wojcicki. Their flight has been extremely bumpy since then. This update includes an additional interview with the Wall Street Journal reporter who has been investigating the firm’s collapse.

     

     

     

    585. A Social Activist in Prime Minister’s Clothing

    585. A Social Activist in Prime Minister’s Clothing

    Justin Trudeau, facing record-low approval numbers, is doubling down on his progressive agenda. But he is so upbeat (and Canada-polite) that it’s easy to miss just how radical his vision is. Can he make it work?

     

     

     

    584. How to Pave the Road to Hell

    584. How to Pave the Road to Hell

    So you want to help people? That’s great — but beware the law of unintended consequences. Three stories from the modern workplace. 

     

    • SOURCES:
      • Joshua Angrist, professor of economics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
      • Zoe Cullen, professor of business administration at Harvard Business School.
      • Marina Gertsberg, senior lecturer in finance at the University of Melbourne.

     

    Extra: The Men Who Started a Thinking Revolution (Update)

    Extra: The Men Who Started a Thinking Revolution (Update)

    The psychologist Daniel Kahneman — a Nobel laureate and the author of Thinking, Fast and Slow — recently died at age 90. Along with his collaborator Amos Tversky, he changed how we all think about decision-making. The journalist Michael Lewis told the Kahneman-Tversky story in a 2016 book called The Undoing Project. In this episode, Lewis explains why they had such a profound influence.

     

     

     

    Why Are There So Many Bad Bosses? (Update)

    Why Are There So Many Bad Bosses? (Update)

    People who are good at their jobs routinely get promoted into bigger jobs they’re bad at. We explain why firms keep producing incompetent managers — and why that’s unlikely to change.

     

    • SOURCES:
      • Nick Bloom, professor of economics at Stanford University.
      • Katie Johnson, freelance data and analytics coach.
      • Kelly Shue, professor of finance at the Yale University School of Management.
      • Steve Tadelis, professor of economics at the University of California, Berkeley Haas School of Business.