Opinions

OPINION: Kelp farming helps foster Alaska’s economic independence, food security

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Alaska is home to many remote communities in coastal, arctic and subarctic environments. The difficulty of transporting food to many of these areas means that food insecurity is a huge issue. According to the Food Bank of Alaska, about one in eight Alaskans face hunger.

In Cordova, a coastal community that is off the road system, groceries come to the town by barge or plane. Long transportation times mean that produce is often bruised or wilted when it arrives. Many of the nutrients have been lost, and prices are hugely marked up because of transportation costs. For homes where money is already scarce, fresh and healthy produce is simply not accessible.

To address the issue of food insecurity, the Alaska Food Policy Council recommends that Alaska produce more food in-state to combat this issue. Kelp farms, like Cordova’s own Noble Ocean Farms, are rising up to help build strong local food networks and increase Alaska’s climate resilience.

Kelp is considered a superfood. According to Healthline, kelp contains high amounts of minerals, like magnesium, calcium, iron, potassium, and folate, as well as a whole host of vitamins. It is one of the best natural sources of iodine, which can support thyroid health, leading to better brain function and higher energy levels.

Seafood Nutrition Partnership adds that kelp has a high level of antioxidants. These can protect cardiovascular health and help fight off other diseases. Kelp is also rich in fiber and healthy fats, like Omega-3s. Did you know fish get most of their Omega-3s from eating seaweed?

Interestingly, kelp contains alginates that clump toxins together, which can clean out the lymphatic systems and flush toxins out of the body. Kelp can also help people with diabetes regulate glucose levels in their blood, according to nutrition website Eat This, Not That.

Kelp can be eaten in a variety of fun ways, including making your own fresh seaweed salad. Many use it in soups, and its salty flavor can make broths richer. Kelp can be treated like any green vegetable and tossed into stir fries, sautés, and scrambles for added flavor and health boosting benefits. Kelp can also be used in salsa, bread, pesto, and even desserts.

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In addition to being a nutritious food, kelp is sustainable to grow. Kelp farms are unique in that they require no external additives to grow their product – no land and no fertilizer. In fact, growing kelp creates cleaner water and a more productive environment through nutrient uptake. The process of photosynthesis allows kelp to take in so much carbon dioxide from the surrounding water that it is shown to reduce local effects of ocean acidification, making it a tool to fight against climate change as well.

Underwater farms provide sanctuary for many marine species, including fish, invertebrates and marine mammals. Kelp offers nursery habitat, meaning it is a place for many species of fish to hatch and grow safely, thereby contributing to the robustness of fisheries we depend on. By growing kelp, we can enhance other important food sources at the same time. Kelp seems like an ideal crop for our future.

Rachel Heimke is a University of Alaska Fairbanks student interning at Noble Ocean Farms, a kelp farm in Cordova.

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