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.
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.