Micah of Atlantic Holdfast Seaweed Co.
Can you share with us a little about your journey?
My name is Micah, I was born in northern Maine and spent much of my childhood overseas, primarily in Greece. I’ve been preoccupied with plants, animals, food, cooking, and the ocean since an early age, and started Holdfast Seaweed shortly after I moved back to Maine in 2011 at the age of 22.
What is your go-to lunch to make at home?
Frozen blueberries in a blender with maple syrup and Irish moss gel! Irish moss is one of the seaweeds we harvest that has magical thickening properties and imparts a lot of texture and nutrition when added to recipes.
What kind of music have you been listening to lately?
I’ve been on a lot of long drives lately, so I try to radically change genres every hour so it feels like I’m on a whole new trip. My favorite song I’ve heard recently was a cover of “Take Me Home Country Roads” performed by the band Mountain Man.
What's up with the plants
Did you plant the seaweed? Do you harvest naturally growing seaweed? Do you save locations on a map or app?
We wild-harvest seaweed that is naturally growing on its own. I’ve been harvesting in my home region of east Penobscot bay since 2010, and have an intimate knowledge of what the seaweeds are up to in an area of about 100 square miles. I keep detailed records of what, where, and when we harvest, and take notes about seasonal variations. A state license is required to harvest any quantity of seaweed for commercial purposes, and we are required to submit “landings” reports to the Department of Marine Resources on a monthly basis.
How do you determine which crops to harvest?
It’s a balancing act of quality, timing, and accessibility. Many of the seaweeds we harvest grow in rough water, have short seasons, and are only accessible at certain tides or when the wind is blowing from a particular direction. It took years of scouting and mapping to develop a baseline understanding of where I need to be at what time of year under what weather conditions in order to harvest a particular seaweed, and I still spend a lot of time just observing what the seaweed is up to in different places. The abundance and quality of any given species can vary from year to year, and I try to contextualize whatever I’m seeing on any given day within my broader experience so I can make decisions about when to harvest, and when to move along and leave the seaweed undisturbed.
Dig deep into ocean and soil health
What is the texture of the oceans floor for the plants you harvest?
Seaweed attaches itself to firm substrates using a root-like structure called a “holdfast”. Some holdfast look like small, exposed tree roots, and some are shaped more like discs or suction cups, but either way they like bold, rocky surfaces the best.
Would there be any reason to test the oceans water before harvest?
Testing the seaweed itself tells us more than testing the ocean water, and we have engaged in periodic testing of our products. We’re fortunate to have very clean water in the Gulf of Maine and minimal industry, and most of the areas where we harvest are 5-10 miles offshore in areas with very little human activity, so we don’t currently engage in routine testing. If we were harvesting in a more developed area then it would be more of a concern.
How are you preparing for unexpected changes in temperature?
I maintain relationships with many different species and varieties in hopes that I’ll be able to continue this work in some capacity as mother nature allows, but a lot of things are going to suffer due to climate change. Some seaweeds will become scarcer, and others might become more abundant. I try to stay nimble and diversified so that I’ll be able to adapt and pivot as needed in the future.
There are tools and techniques we can use to tend to wild beds and tip the balance in favor of certain species that are of greater value for food and habitat for other species, but it’s more difficult than on land because the ocean is so much more dynamic.
Keeping our own appetites and entitlements in check with regard to wild-harvesting is always important, and I think it will become even more important as ecosystems are going through rapid change. When I evaluate the health of a particular seaweed bed and ask myself if it’s doing well enough to allow for harvest, I have to be able to take no for an answer.