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.

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