May 16, 2023
Saltwater Farming Transforms Arid Regions into Plentiful Farms
Saltwater farming, also known as ocean farming or mariculture, is a revolutionary approach to sustainable agriculture that harnesses the power of the ocean to grow crops and produce seafood. Unlike traditional land-based farming methods, saltwater farming utilizes the vast resources and natural processes of the ocean to create a thriving ecosystem that provides numerous benefits for the environment.
One of the key advantages of saltwater farming is its ability to address the growing global demand for food while minimizing the strain on land and freshwater resources. Since over 70% of the Earth's surface is covered by oceans, saltwater farming presents untapped potential for increasing food production. By using specially designed structures such as floating platforms, nets, and cages, farmers can cultivate a wide range of seafood and plants.
Saltwater farming provides an excellent opportunity to diversify our food supply and promote food security globally. By reducing our reliance on traditional fisheries, saltwater farming helps alleviate overfishing and the depletion of wild fish populations. This method also allows for controlled breeding and cultivation, ensuring a steady supply of seafood without harming natural ecosystems.
So, what types of saltwater farms are out there shaping the future of farming?
Todd Kleperis of Sarasota, FL has been experimenting with saltwater farming along the coast near Siesta Key. Kleperis founded Tekmara, an innovative agricultural startup, in 2022. He grows plants with solar power, used to desalinate the ocean water which then nourishes the crop. The entire apparatus floats in the ocean with a temperature-controlled growing chamber.
Currently, Tekmara sells specialty crops to chefs of high-end restaurants in the Sarasota area. Although his only products at the moment are mushrooms, he hopes to expand to leafy greens and other assorted crops. As a member of the Tampa Bay Innovation Center’s latest Climate Tech cohort, Kleperis is changing the game in farming to create a more sustainable and resilient future.
In northwestern Italy, Nemo’s Garden intends to experiment with underwater farming to make it more economically viable in the long-term. The original goal of Nemo’s Garden was to explore alternative methods of food production that could help people in unfit areas grow crops. Sergio Gamberini came up with the idea to begin Nemo’s Garden while on vacation on the Italian coast, and he officially began experimenting with the biodomes in 2012. His love for gardening sparked his interest in new methods of agricultural production. After wondering if he could grow basil underwater, he called his team at Ocean Reef Group, a diving supply company. Thus, Nemo’s Garden was born.
The garden is made up of 9 hydroponic biospheres that primarily grow herbs. They have also experimented with other crops, including tomatoes, green peas, zucchini, and okra. The domes sit at a relatively shallow depth, around 15 to 35 feet underwater. Condensation accumulates in these pods as the sun shines on them, and this water is then used to water the plants. The important research being done at this facility will hopefully make saltwater farming a viable option for future generations.
In Charleston, South Carolina, Heron Farms grows halophytes with seawater. Halophytes are salt-tolerant crops that grow in or around coastal areas, and Heron Farms has harnessed their power to become the world’s first vertical saltwater farm. They sell these crops as “sea beans,” a small, salty vegetable that is similar to seaweed. They also sell dried sea beans, called samphire, as a salt alternative. Through evapotranspiration, they are also able to recapture freshwater from the sea beans that can then be used for traditional agriculture.
Founder Sam Norton came up with the idea to grow this nutritious and highly flavorful crop in response to the changing climate and the challenges it will bring to farmers globally. Plus, for each pound of food sold, Heron Farms restores one square foot of marshland. Norton and his team are working hard to make saltwater farming feasible and scalable, and, thus, secure a brighter, more food-secure future for us all.
Bren Smith and Emily Stengel founded GreenWave to make regenerative ocean farming scalable. Regenerative ocean farming is a method of agriculture that grows plants using ocean water and no added fertilizer. GreenWave is a network of farmers around the globe who use regenerative practices, and they also offer training and support to these farmers to make their ocean farms as successful and profitable as possible. Greenwave operates a research and development farm and hatchery to experiment with new methods of production. Overall, GreenWave aims to shape a connected group of farmers worldwide so they can distribute information and forge connections between producers, buyers, and sellers.
They hope to support 10,000 farmers in the next 10 years, making climate-resilient agriculture more accessible to a broader range of people. Their services fit into two main categories: training and innovation. They help farmers with research and development, market development, and farmer training, among other services. Their Regenerative Ocean Farming Hub is an online community for farmers that offers a free seed-to-scale training program. Connection is of the utmost importance in the growing industry of ocean farming, and GreenWave’s work is helping to forge a new future.
Over at Seawater Greenhouse, founder Charlie Paton used his expertise as a lighting designer to venture into agricultural lighting. They aim to make farming possible in hot, arid climates through the use of greenhouses and seawater. Paton and his team are able to incorporate seawater into their farming practices through evaporation. When the seawater evaporates, they capture the condensation, which is then usable as freshwater. Plus, the process creates a more humid environment for the plants, which helps them prosper.
Seawater Greenhouse built their first farm in Tenerife, Canary Islands in 1994. Since then, they have built four more farms in Abu Dhabi, Oman, Australia, and Somaliland. They achieved commercial scalability with their Australian project and continue to grow. The main services they provide to clients include consulting, design, and construction.
Saltwater farming is a transformative approach to agriculture that uses the ocean's resources to meet global food demands sustainably. Its benefits range from increasing food production and reducing land and freshwater usage to enhancing water quality and promoting economic growth. As our understanding of saltwater farming continues to advance, it holds immense potential for creating a more sustainable and secure future for both human society and the environment.