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179 Mechanic Street
Stonington, CT, 06379
United States

860-501-6848

Mechanic Street Marina is a veteran owned and operated marina located in Pawcatuck, CT on the Pawcatuck River. Mechanic Street offers 25 slip rentals each season (May-Oct) winter storage,and Kayak/SUP rentals

Stonington Kelp Co

Filtering by Category: Farming

Training: Seeding the Kelp Farm and Occasional Rubber Pants

James Douglas

Jay and I walked down the pier in the thimble islands on a cold December morning. Bren Smith from Greenwave (one of the people who has gone above and beyond to support our farm and one of the pioneers of seaweed aquaculture in this region) looked at me and assured me I was under dressed. He handed me a spare set of rubber overalls.  He also handed me a knife and put me to work cutting lines all in the space of 4 minutes. I tried to hide my excitement of being confused for a fisherman and immediately got to work. 

Jay has been on boats his whole life. He can sail. He can fish. He can tie knots. I have none of these skills. I am a vegetarian who grew up with a mother who gets sea sick in a pool and a father who can't swim. Boating was not a part of my childhood and fishing was pointless for me. At that moment, when I was baptized by fire on Bren's small fishing boat, setting out to seed the kelp farm, I started to understand the reality of this farm. I started to process the physicality of seeding and harvesting this crop. We would need to be on boats that were not destined for the beach. We would be working on the boat, WORKING. We would come back in and have a beer on a cold autumn day and wear rubber pants. The fun stuff- the things that would make me sweat - was within my reach.

So, with a pair of men's rubber overalls on, armed with a knife, and tasked with a job to cut lines, we set off. On board we carried a few non-descript buckets containing spools of line that were braided with very precious kelp seed cultivated under the watchful eye of the scientists at U CONN. All kelp which is used in ocean farming must come from an approved source to assure there are no invasive species introduced.

We reached Bren's ocean farm in the Thimble Islands and with the social graces expected of a fisherman, he barked directions at his patchwork "crew" for the day. This particular seeding trip was a little crowded. We had a film crew from NOAA doing a piece on Bren's farm, the boat's captain, Bren, and three farmers including myself. 

Rubber Pants.jpg

My inexperience on boats was obvious however my expertise at "holding things" was quickly realized and I found myself doing the critical work of an end-table for most of our expedition. These tasks did not dampen my spirits.  I was thrilled to be on the water and learn how this all takes place up-close. Our boat pulled alongside buoys which we clipped onto, spliced in a line, and then drove the boat (with line in tow) to another buoy where we repeated the process. Picture a capital "H": we were essentially adding in the horizontal line of that "H". We made a few "H"s then went on to the second half of the seeding process. This part took place in a small skiff. I am told this was a particularly rough day to be out - but the drama of the waves added to the fun. 

The skiff returned to the horizontal long line we had just set up.  We carefully threaded one of the PVC spools onto that line (here is a pic of Bren with one of the spools on instagram). We then would slowly pull the spool along the line so that the kelp seed unwinds around the long line we just set. When the spool runs out, the line is dropped back into the water and we hope that the sun, nutrients in the water, current, turbidity, temperature, and activity all beget kelp over the next few months. 

The things I learned during the seeding process (other than the steps Bren takes to set the lines) was how sensitive the kelp seed is. We had to treat these spools of kelp with such gentle care and needed to rush them into the water to give them the best chance of growing. We wont know how they are going to fare for a few months. We just have to hope we picked a place where the kelp can thrive. 

There is something very comforting about the process. Experiencing this seeding training helped me see how important the site selection is. It made me realize that the outreach piece - the boring stuff done while sitting on my butt and housing large bags of pretzels - has as big of an impact as the actual physical piece. Having the right place to seed comes with research, community engagement and support. These pieces, while not conducive to wearing rubber pants, were still critical to the success of this farm. Lesson learned - rubber pants are only part of the fun. 

 

In 2013, Bren Smith, former industrial fisherman and ocean farmer, starts GreenWave (greenwave.org), an NGO aimed at replicating in open-source a new model of ocean farming that he has put together after years of trial and error. It offers solutions to mitigate our harm with regards to the current food insecurity crisis, and impacts of climate change. In 3-dimentional marine farm model that’s one of the most sustainable ways to feed us, requiring no inputs whatsoever, he grows Kelp (an algae), oysters, clams and mussels. This method restores ecosystems while reducing the pressure on fish stocks, and capturing carbon and nitrogen both from our atmosphere and from the water column. Climate Heroes is a not-for-profit media project that aims to shed the light on those men and women who stand out by their values and actions, and can thus be set up as inspirational models to help us mitigate climate change. It specifically aims to: - Highlight positive actions that bring actual solutions - Offer the public a novel vision on climatic issues, more readily accessible through examples taken from a wide range of stakeholders, be they professional or citizens - Provoke thought, inspire and foster behavioral changes For more information visit: climateheroes.org

The Beginning of the Kelp Farm

James Douglas

The idea that I would be a farmer never crossed my mind. I, after all, am a low level executive manager at a learning science company. I spend time in virtual meetings, talking about ROI , market research and other things that are very boring for most people (myself included) to think about. I am a cog - a doer of spreadsheets - not a farmer. 

It was during a moment of clarity - or utter exhaustion form having a 4 week old baby - that I decided to reach out to Greenwave to talk about what it would take to farm kelp. Greenwave is a non-profit that put kelp farming on the map, locally at least. They are dedicated to restoring ecosystems, mitigating climate change, and building a blue-green economy. I wanted in. 

Jay and I had just purchased a marina and we were planning on moving in after many months of renovations. The marina was the first step in realizing our dream of living a simpler life. We wanted to own a business and work for ourselves. We wanted to be connected with the planet and raise the kids in a way that shows them how cool the world is - specifically the ocean and river that would be a few feet away from our new front door. 

The marina was step one. It provide meaningful work for Jay,  it provided a revenue stream dependent on the water, and most importantly, it let us mess about in boats. It left me, however, with two feet in the corporate world, and this was not acceptable. 

In an attempt to think outside the box and find a venture that I could be passionate about I thought of the sea - specifically kelp - and took to google. After reading a few articles and research papers,  I sent an email to Greenwave to learn  if Jay and I were located in a space that could support kelp. I wanted to see if this was an option. It was less than two days after that email that I got a response from the co-founder of the organization.

Emily called us to share some of the basics of kelp farming. She went over the general rules of thumb for farming: the depth we would need for the farm, the pains of the permitting process, the people with whom we should speak about what it really feels like to go through permitting, the market for kelp, and most important -  the support that Greenwave could offer. She hooked us on the idea so thoroughly that we began the process towards establishing a farm that very day.

It begins with reading and meetings. It was not the dramatic shift I was seeking from my 9-5 corporate job. We met with the state, we met with local authorities, we read through hand books on farming, we read through permitting applications, we presented site locations to the town, the harbor master, and to the local boating community. We had a few fun meetings, including getting to know the people at Greenwave in their New Haven location. Overall, the whole process was not terrible, but it was not fun. If there was an interest in going through some of these resources, many can be found here

After all this, it was time to formally apply. This is where Jay stepped in an took over. I don't know if his experience in the Marine Corp helped him tolerate the bureaucratic jargon and drawn out process but it was his tenacity and (glazed over at times) patience that allowed us to persist through this process. It's not just one permit - there are a few that you need to safely establish a farm. This is what we had to go through in the state of CT:

  1. Pre-Screening for Aquaculture Application: this was where we find the site and get it approved by all the peoples...all of them had to say yes. Kelp sites require specific depth, water flow, sunlight, must be away from eelgrass beds, and more. The site is hard to nail down....and even when you do ger approval, you wont know if the kelp will grow for a year.
  2. Structures Dredging and Fill permit (this is for CT). This includes a public notice portion which allows people to voice any issues with your site location. 
  3. Navigation Buoy Permit from CT DEEP

We started in September 2016 and as of today, we are working on the last permit. The process forces you you to really think about your site and consider how it will impact everything in the area: marine life, recreational boaters, other aqua-farmers, the water quality and other abiotic stuff, and your farm. It was a good process and I am somewhat relieved that there are check points to help people consider these things when setting up a farm. I feel prepared.

Take notice, would-be-farmers, the actual farming will be a ways down the road. The beginning is all about the plan.