What is high in calcium, iron, and vitamin K and green all over? If you guessed kelp you’re right!
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For Jay Douglas and Suzie Flores kelp has become a passion they wish to share through their business Stonington Kelp Co.
“We both really like the environmental benefits, kelp is an emerging market,” says Jay. “We really started something and can see the industry evolve around us, as more people learn about it.”
Jay and Suzie, originally from New Jersey, moved to CT in 2014 where he was managing a marina in Lyme and first learned about the kelp business in this area.
With a motivation to dive into the kelp business and have access to the water, they saw an opportunity and became the proud owners of Mechanic Street Marina in Pawcatuck in July of 2016 and spent quite of bit of time fixing up the vacant commercial building from the previous owner.
They tore down the commercial building that had been there, fixed up the docks, put in all new electrical and plumbing, rebuilt the parking lot, and opened up their own bait and tackle store, that offers 25 boat rental slips, kayak rental, as well as 24-hour bait lockers.
“We jumped on it, and its been great,” says Jay. “We are juggling a lot, Suzie works full time from home for McGraw Hill Education. And she does a lot for the kelp company.”
Operating dual businesses as well as raising three young children leaves little downtime but the energetic husband and wife team are excited about what they have created with their dual business venture.
So what is a day out on the water farming kelp like? Jay and Suzie head out on their workboat in November to their 10-acre kelp farm site they lease from the state in Fisher’s Island Sound to “set the gear” which is tightly winding the kelp spores around PVC pipe on thin lines of rope and spooling out the lines in the water between anchors to seed it.
Weather dependent they pick their days to go out on the water and spend a lot of time and maintenance for the next few months managing the lines and watching the kelp harvest. By March, they have thousands of pounds of fresh raw kelp to harvest and spend the spring months selling it locally at different venues in both Westerly and Stonington.
Suzie found a niche this past season at the Stonington Farmers Market, selling their harvested kelp to the general public and educating people on its health benefits. Kelp has been used in Asian cultures for centuries in their food; the sea vegetable is very rich in calcium, iron, vitamin K it also contains antioxidants, and omega 3’s as well as its environmentally beneficially as it removes harmful carbon, nitrogen, and phosphorus from the water.
“I love the connection I get to see between the water and the community,” says Suzie. “I get to grow food for my family and the community using a zero input farming method…and I get to be on boats all winter.”
The technology behind kelp farming really begins in the lab when reproductive plants release their spores and are nurtured in a lab. Once the spores grow bigger, about the size of a pinhead they are able to continue growing on a special string and unraveled into the sea on long lines where it takes approximately five to six months to fully harvest.
GreenWavea nonprofit organization based out of New Haven, provided Jay and Suzie, as new kelp farmers, with the opportunity to start their own kelp farming business. Greenwave provided seed for a year and ways to sell to market as well. It took them about a year to obtain all their permitting and now in their second season things are going well for Stonington Kelp Co. They are providing the raw kelp directly to local restaurants such as Ella’s and Amigo’s in Westerly and selling online through a fresh produce market where people can buy directly from Stonington Kelp Co.
“We are looking to see where we can go with this business and really want to try and generate income over the water,” says Jay. “We feel its the right thing to do for the environment and by selling locally and staying locally sourced.”