This week the Maine Seaweed Exchange (MSE) has announced the creation of the Kelp Collaborative. This innovative new program is designed to encourage the development of an organic network of seaweed farmers and processors to scale the industry with a sustainable community-based model. By providing training, support, and market opportunities to seaweed farmers and processors, we seek to develop a high quality, high-value seaweed aquaculture industry based on shared values, collaboration, and passion for our work.
The driver behind launching this initiative is that the farmed seaweed industry is at risk before it has even gotten off the ground.
Some quick facts:
The total value of farmed seaweed in the United States is estimated at under $1 million. In context, the average McDonalds franchise does over $2.7 million in sales. The farmed seaweed industry has little if any economic relevance despite all the press the industry receives.
Millions of dollars have been invested in approaches to growing seaweed and developing uses for farmed seaweed. Little money or resources has been invested in processing and distribution.
There are no generally accepted standards for farmed seaweed.
There is no uniform regulation of seaweed as food with real concerns about heavy metals and food safety.
With no established markets for domestic farmed seaweed, many new seaweed farmers are entering into supply agreements that make them captive to well-funded food companies creating a similar relationship to how poultry farmers have been treated and ultimately exploited.
With no existing processing capacity or distribution channels, seaweed farmers are often leaving the business after growing for only one or two years.
These facts underlie our efforts to support seaweed farmers and create processing capacity. The more options seaweed farmers have to process and sell their crop the greater economic value and potential to transform what is essentially a niche industry to a relevant economic driver for our coastal communities.
To this end, the Kelp Collaborative is creating training and market opportunities for farmers and processors.
How it works:
An example is the upcoming alaria growing and processing initiative. In an effort to encourage folks to grow and process alaria esculenta (American Wakame), the MSE and Kelp Collaborative are offering an intensive alaria course in January 2020. After course completion, participants are eligible to join the Kelp Collaborative and participate in the alaria offerings, including:
Kelp Collaborative seaweed farmers can earn $1 per pound of wet seaweed.
Kelp Collaborative processing members can earn $5 per pound dry weight to dry seaweed-- seaweed is provided wet from another member’s farm and the member just has to dry it!
Integrated farm and drying facilities can earn $15 per pound for dry seaweed-- the member grows and dries the seaweed.
This program assures that all participants are qualified by providing comprehensive training. It also provides a ready market for both farmers and processors. Both essential elements of a vibrant new seaweed farming industry.
Exciting stuff! Feel free to reach out to learn more.