October 2017

October 26, 2017

Could ocean plants such as kelp become "the new kale?"

Could ocean plants such as kelp become “the new kale?” That’s the dream of many in the burgeoning world of marine aquaculture -- including Dan Marquez in Goleta.

In the same way that kale, an all but unknown vegetable twenty-five years ago, became a common food for the health-minded -- “the national food of Ojai,” some joke -- the hope is that kelp, the most elemental of all seaweeds, could be grown for consumption. At the same time this initiative could help foster clean and healthy oceans along the California coast, which have been badly hurt by acidification, pollution, and the near-extinction of the California sea otter.

At an Oceans in Peril event co-sponsored at the Ojai Retreat by the Green Coalition earlier this month, attendees heard sea farmer Dan Marquez of Goleta explain the benefits of kelp, the challenges of growing it off the coast in Goleta, and the opportunities kelp offers as a food and as an ingredient in cosmetics.

“Kelp is the filtration system for the oceans, and the largest sequesterer of carbon on the planet,” said Marquez. “Kelp sequesters more carbon than land-based plants or trees. One study found that if we could farm 9 percent of the ocean, we could feed the ocean, reduce our need for fossil fuels, and stop the acidification process.”

Marquez, who has worked closely with leading kelp farmer Bren Smith on the East Coast to learn aquaculture, and explore the possibility of his farm becoming a floating classroom, said that the California coast once had vast undersea forests of kelp. Kelp is a keystone species, he explained, comparable to the coast redwood in its ability to foster the growth and activity of countless other species.

“The kelp forests along the coasts of Southern California are considered to be some of the most productive and diverse ecosystems on the planet,” according to a UC Davis study. A report from the National Marine Sanctuaries cites that over the last 100 years they have been set back by coastal pollution, harvesting for use in fertilizer, grazing by fish and sea urchins, warming waters, and storms,.

“My main goal is to help the ocean get healthy again,” Marquez said. “It needs our help; we’ve done some really bad things to it. That’s my focus, but it’s really crazy how beneficial kelp is to us. Every other breath we take comes from the ocean.”

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Marquez in his boat, photo courtesy of Pharmersea.com

Beyond Plastics: Greater Goods and Green Coalition partner in community effort

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The Coalition will join with Greater Goods and California Solar Electric to launch the first of a monthly gathering series called “Little Footprints.” Beginning at 1pm on Sunday, October 29, the focus will be on ways in which we as a community can more gently impact our environment. Hosting the event will be Greater Goods, the collaborative non-profit space located at 145 W. El Roblar in Meiners Oaks.

Greater Goods founder Vaughn Montgomery plans a smorgasbord of attractions, including the showing of a documentary from surfer and musician Jack Johnson called “The Smog of the Sea”, about the microbead plastics polluting our oceans. The film will be followed by a discussion with scientist Marcus Eriksen & activist Anna Cummins, the husband/wife duo who founded 5 Gyres, one of the most impactful organizations in the world in the effort to clean up our oceans &, simultanesously, ourselves. Montgomery also plans a collaborative “group craft” artwork using plastics gathered at a beach & river clean-up over the weekend. A workshop on how to make some of your own household items will be offered, too.

“We’ll bring bags of trash to Greater Goods on Sunday and string together a big fish to hang in the window for the month,” Montgomery said. “This month we’re going to focus on working to get rid of single-use products. We want to partner with different organizations to give people a sense of what they’re doing in the community.”

Montgomery opened Greater Goods in March of this year with his sister Laurie Cornell. They’ve hosted talks, documentary showings, workshops, music shows, poetry readings, and a wide array of other offerings.

“We’re trying to keep a dynamic sense of programming, as well as a little more of a retail presence, helping artists sell their work,” Montgomery said. “We want it to be interactive and multi-use, like a cafe with poetry and theater and music. We think our culture is pretty fractured and we need a ritual place for gathering where people can talk about what is under-acknowledged, alternative, or even taboo in our world today.“

Montgomery said he knows that eliminating plastics from the ocean could take thousands of years, but -- inspired in part by Jack Johnson’s efforts -- he’s determined to do what he can to make a start, in collaboration with other groups in Ojai.

“I thought to start, let’s have a potluck, and let’s make it plastic-free, with as much local and organic food as possible,” he said. “Maybe we can launch a tradition of plastics-free potlucks and that will just ripple out into the community and start something here in Ojai.”

Little Footprints will continue to be held on the last Sunday of each month at Greater Goods, featuring a variety of new environmental ideas and proposals, presented by local groups and leaders.

You can RSVP or share the event on Facebook here: https://www.facebook.com/events/148513765883853/