Vertical Farming the Ocean

One man’s amazing approach to vertical farming could replace fossil fuels, GMO biofuel crops, create new industry for people who’s livelihood was decimated by big business, and providelocally-grown food produced with extremely sustainable methods. He’s growing native species in an open system farm that uses no soil or growth media, no fertilizers or nutrients, no grow lighting or environmental control, because he isn’t raising of soil-borne crops in a soilless culture. It’s more natural than that. Rather than building a business focused on producing low-mile food with a small footprint – Bren Smith raises local food in the wild that is erasing the footprint.

What’s He Growing?

Scallops, oysters, mussels, clams, and kelp… in their natural setting using a model he calls 3-D ocean farming. But it’s done vertically, in columns. He also hauls in fish along with the ‘crop harvest’, but it’s the ‘least deadliest catch’. And if anyone knows exactly what that phrase means, it’s Smith, who spent almost 20 years of his life in a career in the commercial fish industry. A guy who dropped out of school at the age of 14, and has sailed the world in search of The Catch. Notably, as an employee of several contract fishing companies that fill McDonalds’ demands for the cod that goes into whipping up millions of Fishwiches a year. He’s an eye witness to the devastation the big business leaves in their wake – the total destruction of ecosystems as trawler catch is hauled in. Between 8% and 25% of the kill is tossed back in the ocean, waste that was not on the contract or beneath standards. It was his job to remove thousands of pounds of unwanted catch from the ship every year.

From Point A to Point C

Bren comes from a tiny fishing village in Newfoundland. The sea is in his blood, and he loved life on open waters, but he is part of a new generation of deep sea fishermen. One that sees that the destructive ways the industry goes about doing business has to stop, that there are ways to do what they do with less waste, less disruption. But there’s a great divide between the established and the new kids on the block. Tired of helping McDonalds remove every last cod from any ocean, and butting heads with industry leaders, he switched to learning the ‘sustainable’ fish farming business. That wasn’t any better really. The fish were sickly being raised in an unnatural environment, and pumped full of medications to keep them alive until they reached harvest size.

Finally, he moved to Connecticut an started the Thimble Island Ocean Farm, raising shellfish in the Atlantic. He had a 40-acre farm that was coming on well – until Hurricane Sandy wiped it out, and Hurricane Irene did it again the next year. Obviously, a better ocean farming model was needed. Bren consulted with experts and specialists, gathered a team, and developed at ocean farming model that would not only withstand today’s strong oceanic storms, but allowed him to produce more food in half the acreage, but would also let Nature to restore the ecosystems that industry and fertilizer runoff have destroyed.

Armed with this knowledge and a working model, Bren founded Green Wave, a non-profit organization that is creating blue-green jobs and an entirely new industry that will put out-of-work fishermen back to work and bring new economy to all those small fishing companies in coastal communities that big fishing industry has run out of business by depleting the sea of it’s bounty and the ecosystem that made what once was possible. With a 20-acre ocean space, a boat, and $50,000 – a shellfish and kelp farm can be vertical farming for food and industry within a year, growing species that are or were naturally thriving in the wild off their particular coast. In doing so, each 3-D ocean farm will be repairing the ecosystem in their part of the ocean. They can produce enough kelp to make 2,000 gallons of biofuel a year – per acre – in addition to the native shellfish grown, and the non-destructive catching of fish that goes along with the rest of the model.

He also runs a CSF… community supported fishery program. There are other coastal ocean farms and small fishing operations that do this too. While that might not be news to those not living on the coast, it is for anyone who spends their live in interior regions.

Late last year, Bren recieved the highest nod for all that he’s accomplished in the past few years. He’s the first non-scientist and non-environmentalist to win the prestigious 2015 Fuller Challenge, one of the most important prizes in sustainability, from the Buckminster Fuller Institute. Green Works and Smith, drawing from knowledge collected over 2 decades fishing ocean waters around the world, have made incredible strides in helping the food, fuel, fertilizer, and cosmetics industry become far more sustainable, and brought new industry to life.

But It’s Bigger Than All That



Learn more about Bren Smith, 3-D Vertical Farming,  and Green Waves:


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Tammy Clayton

Contributing Writer at Garden Culture Magazine

Tammy has been immersed in the world of plants and growing since her first job as an assistant weeder at the tender age of 8. Heavily influenced by a former life as a landscape designer and nursery owner, she swears good looking plants follow her home.