Organic certification at the Sorrento farm

Notes from the Field by Shep Erhart, MCSV founder and president

Sarah Redmond and Mary, our MOFGA certification inspector, checking out tiny seaweed "plants" in the nursery. Photo: Shep Erhart

Sarah Redmond and Mary, our MOFGA certification inspector, checking out tiny seaweed “plants” in the nursery.
Photo: Shep Erhart

Last week I was part of another sea change for Maine Coast Sea Vegetables: our first organic certification inspection for the Sorrento sea farm, and the first organic certification of aquacultured seaweed in the United States, to my knowledge. We are fortunate that MOFGA (the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association) pioneered standards for certifying farmed Maine macroalgae, with the blessing of the USDA’s National Organic Program. Organic (land) farmers need their organic seaweed for healthy plants and animals, and so do we want the same for you! But why should you care if your kelp is certified organic?

Tiny kelps growing on twine-wrapped rope at the start of the 2015-2016 farm season… Photo: Sarah Redmond

First, with certified organic seaweed aquaculture, no artificial fertilizer is used at any growth stage. From the nursery–as the spores differentiate into male and female, germinate, and form the minuscule plants (called gametophytes at this stage) that you see in the photo on the right–to the open water.

Sarah Redmond, in charge of the seaweed nursery at the nearby Center for Cooperative Aquaculture Research in Franklin, admits that the tiny kelp gametophytes take longer to mature on the twine, but once they are out on the farm, their holdfasts will grab onto the green rope she is holding in the photo below and grow like gangbusters this winter.

The twine embedded with tiny seaweeds will be attached to the green rope Sarah is holding, for grow-out at the farm. Photo: Shep Erhart

Secondly, you probably didn’t know that in conventional seaweed farming, artificial fertilizers are often used not only in the nursery but also in grow-out areas. They tie little mesh bags of fertilizer pellets to the lines or nets to enrich the water around the plants. Great for growing plants big and fast, but not so great for the delicate seawater balance that affects all other marine life forms. In China I have seen entire bay systems covered with nori nets. Impressive, but how is this monoculture with chemical inputs affecting everything else in that bay?

Although we have a thirty-five-acre site in Sorrento, it’s a very small part of Frenchman Bay, and we share it with a local fisherman who plans to grow mussels alongside our seaweed someday. The two species have complementary nutrient needs and should thrive together. In fact, Mainers and others are already farming a variety of species together, including seaweeds, shellfish, and sometimes finfish, in systems that produce more food, and less waste. This type of growing is also called Integrated Multi-trophic Aquaculture.

Hopefully the new kelp babies will grow up to look this in late winter 2016!

Lastly, we are taking this step of organic certification (as we have for all of our other, wild-harvested products) because it keeps us on our toes, and makes everyone more aware of the consequences of everything we put into the environment and into the food stream. When we harvest, we’ll make sure the containers used to collect and transport the seaweed are clean, using ecologically sound methods (not with Mr. Clean!), the fuel running the outboard motor in the harvesting boats is isolated, the drying system on land is non-polluting and the final packaging is food grade. All the details that add up to making a difference, we trust. Let’s hope those baby plants grow up knowing they are loved!

 

Editor’s note: MCSV has been working for several years on integrating farmed seaweed with the wild-harvested plants that we continue to treasure and rely on. For more on our seaweed aquaculture efforts, see these previous posts:

Planting Seeds for our Future

Exploring Seaweed Aquaculture

With a little kelp from our friends

About mcseaveg

Our mission is twofold: to provide high quality North American sea vegetables as user-friendly foods, supported by reliable information; and to build respectful, long-term relationships with our customers, suppliers, employees and the environment.
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2 Responses to Organic certification at the Sorrento farm

  1. mcseaveg says:

    Dear Michele, Thank you for contacting us with your concerns about the Prop 65 California warning and our products. Yes, the kelp in the 2 oz package comes from Maine (along with many of our other products), and almost all of our products come from the North Atlantic.

    We have a letter that explains more about this complex topic that we’d be happy to send to you (and anyone else). And if you have further questions, please feel free to contact us at questions@seaveg.com and we’ll do our best to answer.

  2. Michele De Ascentis says:

    hi,
    I,am a seaweed lover, but I was very upset to read in your package of organic kelp (2 oz )
    The California warning. I believe that your seaweed comes from Maine?
    Please let me know if your seaweed is safe or not.
    Sincerely,
    Michele De Ascentis

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