#81: Legalizing the Other Weed (transcript)
Quinn: Welcome to Important, Not Important. My name is Quinn Emmett.
Brian: And it's me, Brian Colbert Kennedy.
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Quinn: This week's episode Brian is talking about legalizing the other weed, man. The weed of the sea.
Brian: My God. Our guests are Bren Smith of GreenWave, on the east coast, and Tom Ford of the Bay Foundation out here in LA. These fine clean living gentleman are out there on the water every day trying to change the way that we eat and use the ocean to our benefit and importantly, to the ocean's benefit.
Quinn: That's helpful.
Brian: Yeah, which seems obvious but apparently is not because please see the most recent IPCC report, just to see how bad we fucked up.
Quinn: It's not great.
Brian: It's bad.
Quinn: But Brian I love this turn every time, there's hope.
Brian: I know, I know.
Quinn: And it's cheap and it's easy and let's fucking go.
Brian: Let's go.
Quinn: Let's go. Our guests today are Bren Smith and Tom Ford. And together we're going to talk about kelp. It's what's for dinner. Bren, Tom, welcome.
Bren Smith: Great to be here.
Tom Ford: Thanks for having me.
Quinn: Yeah, for sure.
Brian: We're pumped. Let's get it going by just sort of introducing you guys. Just let us know who you are and what you do. Bren, why don't you start.
Bren Smith: Sure, so I'm a former fisherman born and raised up in Newfoundland, high school dropout, in and out of jail when I was a kid and now I'm a sort of an embarrassed ocean farmer growing disgusting crops called seaweed.
Quinn: Perfect, people are going to be so excited.
Tom Ford: You want me to follow that, man?
Quinn: Yeah please do your best.
Tom Ford: Yeah, so my names Tom Ford, I live in Los Angeles, California, I direct an environmental public-private partnership called The Bay Foundation and ever since I was a kid I've been fascinated by the ocean, I've been chasing things down, under and above the water since my youth, and once I got here in Los Angeles kelp became my thing and I've never walked away from it for more than a day, for 20 years.
Quinn: I got to ask, what dragged you, I mean I feel like we're like two miles down the road from you, what dragged you out to Los Angeles? Why are you here?
Tom Ford: Yeah, my friends are going to love this, I got tired of the freaking North Atlantic. It's brutally cold out there. There's not a whole lot to see underwater, compared to what's going on, on the west coast here. So it was a new ocean, first and foremost, and when everyone in my life learned that I was moving to Los Angeles, that just was the craziest thing they had ever heard. It was the last place I was supposed to end up, but here I am. Wife, kids, and loving life on the west coast.
Brian: That's awesome.
Quinn: Is it?
Brian: Yeah, that's crazy. I left Chicago, too, thinking why the hell would I ever live in this I winter again, ever?
Quinn: Yeah no one should live there.
Brian: Very good.
Quinn: Go ahead.
Brian: Yeah, just we always want to remind everyone and let you guys know, our goal here is to provide some context for what we're talking about today, Quinn will do that pretty well.
Quinn: Not really.
Brian: And then we'll dig into some action oriented questions that get to the core of why we should give a shit about what we're talking about. And what we can all do to help out and support you guys. Sound good?
Tom Ford: Sounds good.
Bren Smith: Right on.
Quinn: Gentlemen, I couldn't be more excited to find out your answers to this because I feel like it might get thrown right back in my face. But we ask everybody this question, so this is to kind of set the tone a little bit. Instead of saying, "Tell us your life story," we like to ask why are you vital to the survival of the species? I think we'll let Tom go first this time. Be bold, be honest, Tom.
Tom Ford: I'll swing at that, and I'd say the answer is that I know we can make a lot more production and potential realized here on this planet and the pressures that people, that we as a population, or as a species, are placing on this planet, you're going to need people who have that toolkit like myself, Bren, others, and with the discomfort of saying that and sounding arrogant, that's, I think it in a nutshell.
Quinn: Sounds pretty good.
Tom Ford: Yeah, Bren?
Bren Smith: So, I just laugh because my wife's pregnant and I keep thinking the hope would stay in the gene pool, I'm bald epileptic, asthmatic, I'm short like I'm a very much an acquired taste.
Tom Ford: Right, like a thousand years ago there's no chance that keeps going.
Bren Smith: So I've just been struggling with the fact that my genes are going to continue, but I mean... as fishermen-turned-farmers we're good at growing stuff, and we need to really cultivate these carbon sinks of the future, it's where we're going and I think I'm representative of sort of the thousands of fisherman and hopefully now ocean farmers that are blue collar innovators in the water every day, just trying to figure out how to turn the ocean from a victim into a solution.
Quinn: I love that.
Quinn: What is Dr. Johnson's quote, "Use the ocean without using it up?"
Brian: Yeah, yeah.
Quinn: Something like that? Which in light of the fucking report that came out yesterday, it feels pretty appropriate.
Brian: Pretty appropriate.
Quinn: Awesome, all right so just a little quick context for folks, because I have a feeling some people are like, "What the fuck is kelp?" Turns out kelp is that slimy shit your kids find on the beach, and then they bring it to you. The question is where is it before it washes up and they stuff it into your beer cooler to keep it for later?
Kelp comes out of the ocean. There's entire forests of the stuff right of the coast, they love to be right off the coast. Maybe the fastest growing plant on the planet, from what I understand, and among one of the most nutritious foods.
Eats sunlight, doesn't require any outside food, and aside from edible purposes, kelp forests provide shelter for a huge variety of fish, other marine organisms, and what we're trying to do is figure out how to make it more delicious and find a thousand ways we can cook it and provide it and get it into American diets. So, why would kelp be on a show that's about the most pressing questions facing humanity, today, thanks for asking, nobody.
There's a few reasons and the first is we have to feed a metric fuck-ton of people now and in the future, and two we're doing a terrible job of that, and three the terrible mostly includes cows and soy, and corn and third all of those things are unsustainable, and also unhealthy. So we need this sort of just transition into a new food economy that's healthier and more sustainable and gets more people...fishermen that can't fish anymore, because we fucked that up too, and middle class people who want to figure out how to become a farmer but won't be able to do it on land because it turns out we need that land back to build this new food economy and develop a shit-ton of jobs, and turns out kelp might just be the tip of the sword.
So that's what we're focusing on today, and I know kelp has all these other things it brings to the table, blue carbon and things like that. I want to try to focus on the food part today if we can? I know it has a whole host of other benefits, but sort of like when people are like, "Talk about agriculture," we can't go down every fucking rabbit hole in an hour. So for today lets try to knock this one out? Brian you want to kick this off?
Brian: Let's do it. So Tom, let's start with the west coast. I can't believe I'm saying this but, let me check my notes here, yep LA is leading the way in reviving kelp forests, under siege from climate change. Los Angeles, that's incredible. Is that true?
Tom Ford: Yes man that is true. And I think that... I appreciate that incredulity in your voice. What do you mean? Los Angeles can't solve anything environmental-
Quinn: Well we still have like 3,000 fucking oil wells in the county, but you're growing kelp forests, I guess.
Tom Ford: Yeah, exactly.
Quinn: Yeah, how is that going down?
Tom Ford: Yeah, it was surprising news to everybody up and down the coast because if you talk, "Oh hey, you know it's the west coast, it's the ocean." You think Monterey Bay and you go to Monterey Bay Aquarium, and there's your experience. So we had to convince professionals and the general public that we had a treasure off our coast that had gotten destroyed through a near-century of neglect and abuse and we've been able to flip it around quite successfully and we're putting the fishermen back to work to rebuild the forest in a system that they can harvest from, that was a no-mans land to them for the past decades and for some of them their entire lives.
So it's tremendously rewarding, I can't believe what we've realized out there and for the folks that are texting and driving and the experience that I've had, that the people I work with have had, is that you can actually transform this planet. And when that soaks in, it changes your life.
Quinn: That's pretty wild. So can you just take a step back first and paint a little picture of what your organization does and what you're working on day-to-day, and I guess what does it mean to say there's kelp forests off the coast of Los Angeles and California, I think that's probably hard for most people in fucking Brentwood to wrap their head around.
Brian: Yeah, yeah. And you know what's a 3D farming method, talk to me like I'm a kid.
Quinn: He is.
Tom Ford: Okay man so-
Quinn: I am, I am.
Tom Ford: So, the easiest way to help explain this to folks is that if you look at the mountains that proceed down to the coast, those mountains don't stop when they hit the water and those rocks continue down to, in some cases, very impressive depths. But at about 80 feet or so the light is really starting to get weak in the ocean, at about that depth we don't see much more kelp growing beyond that.
But in the rocks from the surf-zone down to 80 feet you've this beautiful, brown algae that's able to harvest the sunlight like you said, and grow. So we had extensive forests off of our coastline, we knew this from surveys back when they wanted to convert those forests into fertilizer for land-based agriculture, and through of course of the development of the Los Angeles basin, largely post World War 2. We messed up how the water moves around. We messed up how the sand and sediment moves around, we polluted the shit out of it and so everybody just turned their back and walked away and went to go find a new frontier. And at this point in time, that frontier is right here off of our coasts.
So you asked what do we do to do this, and we work with everybody. That's the simple truth, we work with everybody and it's what you do in your house, or it is what your city or county is doing to deal with these variety of issues. And then perhaps most specifically what we do is we go out and we smash sea urchins by the millions to clear the reefs so that the kelp can come back.
Quinn: Is that something people can fucking sign up to do? Can Brian come out and smash sea urchins?
Tom Ford: I have no idea if Brian, being the child that he is, is capable of handling that.
Quinn: That's fair.
Brian: Yeah, there's child labor laws, Quinn.
Quinn: To be clear he's going to need an escort of some sort.
Tom Ford: Yeah, the boats 28 feet long, I assume we can get a couple people on board.
Quinn: This is very exciting.
Brian: I'm a full grown man.
Quinn: Yeah, so actually you just mentioned that there were all those crazy headlines but could you illustrate a little for... and Bren I don't think it's the same problem in the east coast, apparently these sea urchins have turned into a fucking disaster on the west coast, is that right?
Tom Ford: Yeah, so this is a classic example of an ecosystem shifting out of balance. And it is not just a problem in Los Angeles this is a global issue. I'm on the phone all the time with folks up in British Columbia. Brenn can speak to what happened up in the Canadian maritime area and what's going on in New England better than I, but I got folks on the phone from japan, Tasmania, we're all looking at the same thing.
Once you take all the predators out of the system an organism that's evolved to try to stand up to that rate of predation by reproducing wildly when things are going its way, then you end up with a shit pile of urchins out there.
Quinn: And they just fucking eat kelp, that's their thing?
Tom Ford: They're like tribbles, man from Star Trek, right? So one of the amazing things about them is that their biology is so different than ours. No muscles, no blood. They're essentially a digestive tract, reproductive organs covered with spines. So if things go bad for them for a couple decades, no big deal. They can hunker down and survive stuff, man, they're like a spiny zombie on the ocean floor.
Brian: Little weird aliens.
Bren Smith: They're like the white nationalists of the oceans. They're ugly, they're adaptive, they're basically evil.
Quinn: They fucking won't go away, and also Brian wants to smash them.
Brian: I will definitely smash them.
Tom Ford: Yeah, it's amazing though, people come after me and they're like, "Dude you're vilifying the urchins, it's not their fault," or
Quinn: Ah, Jesus.
Tom Ford: "Can an organism be a bad guy, in this case?" And I'm like yeah an organism can be a bad guy and it's us, the ones walking around with thumbs.
Tom Ford: That messed this all up.
Tom Ford: So, that's really the point of the story in the long run but if we don't get them out of the way then the kelp forests can't come back, and all those other benefits can't come back, and the system doesn't function, it doesn't pull down the carbon, it doesn't make other kelp, it doesn't make other fish, it doesn't make this. So, it's been an awesome opportunity to do that work and other folks are now taking our model and applying it elsewhere around the globe and that feels awesome.
Quinn: Wow, that's wild. So Bren, switching to the east coast, first of all you mentioned in your book I have one skill and it's I can work for a long time, but you're also like kind of a fucking poet?
I mean it felt a little bit like reading Melville? I really enjoyed it a hell of a lot and you pioneered so much of this movement with your bare hands, but you've also been brutally honest about...like you were before we started, about the kelp, the product, the business, what you've learned, what you continue to learn, so I'm super curious about this crazy little issue that... and please correct me, maybe we're starting to deal with this in some way, but is the shelf life for kelp actually half an hour?
Bren Smith: Yeah. So what happens we bring it out of the water and it just hates the oxygen, so it begins to shrivel and we need to shut that oxygen off really quickly, and that's one of the challenges that means we need...
We can grow this stuff really fast, really effectively, but it just means we need infrastructure and infrastructure is expensive, so that's just been a challenge we've been facing. In many ways the market's surging forward, the farming is surging forward but that sort of center piece is something that really needs development.
Quinn: So I mean what does that look like does that literally... and again treat us like fucking kindergartners here, does that look like small processing? I know you don't want... obviously no one wants these huge agricultural industrial giants getting in the way of this shit, but does that look like processing plants on the dock? Can you pull this shit up do you freeze it and then bring it to the dock? How does the process work right now, and how would work optimally?
Bren Smith: Yeah so we think of a reef model, we call it GreenWave reef, which is in 25-50 small scale farms in an area-
Quinn: How big is a farm?
Bren Smith: It depends where, but say 25 acres as an average, and to able to make a living and that allows for networked production, enough volume to hit the docks and it kind of spreads risk, right? That trouble with the ocean is that my farm some years I get 15-20 feet blades of kelp, other years three foot. We can't control our soil, essentially, my soil turns over 1,000 times a day. So we just need to deal with that volatility, and we do that through networks of farms. But then when you hit land on the reefs you got a processing plant, and the thing I like about kelp, I know you want to concentrate on food but, it really is the soy of the sea but not evil. Right? We can make it good delicious food, but we can also turn it into an ingredient and weave it into all sorts of other industries, as bioplastics, fertilizer, feeds, stuff like that.
And so the processing plants need to be able to stabilize that kelp and turn it into an ingredient. Right now we freeze it we blanche it we turn it into noodles bullion cubes, things like that and we get it fresh too, we bag it and it's got basically a 3 or 4 day shelf life in the fridge, if it's bagged.
That's what we're doing now but I think the challenge... like we're in Alaska working with some of the indigenous folks there and that shipping is going to be really challenging to get it down to the lower 48.
Bren Smith: So the processing technology is going to be key.
Quinn: So what exists of the processing infrastructure and technology that we're looking for, have there been any wins, are we building these things, who's building them. What needs to happen?
Bren Smith: Yeah, in California there's Blue Evolution it's a great company they're working up in Alaska they've got some great processing capability. There's Lenox Sea Farms in Maine, they're doing amazing fermented products and things like that, but the bullion cubes, crazily enough, need to get partially processed in the Faroe islands and finished in Germany, and then come back.
Bren Smith: And the reason is it's just so expensive to build this stuff and we can't build it before people are eating it and buying it, right? So we're working with one company they're going to work out a series of bullion cubes but they have to see if people are going to eat it and it'll catch on before you put in, you know, four or five million dollars into a processing plant.
The other thing I'd say, this is about the ocean but the key... There's going to be all this land based infrastructure that's needed. So our hatcheries, for example, and my small processing plants is in one of the poorest neighborhoods here in Connecticut, and so we get this opportunity, to not only farm, but plan and place our land based infrastructure to make sure that communities benefit here at the local level.
Quinn: That's super Interesting.
Brian: I wonder if the guys at Apeel Sciences could help out?
Quinn: No, that's really interesting.
Brian: We talked to these guys that have this company that... they use food to make this product to coat fruits and vegetables in that keeps oxygen out.
Bren Smith: Oh, amazing.
Quinn: Yeah, it's called Apeel. A-P-E-E-L. It's run by this guy James Rogers who, typical of like... we've talked to so many fucking infinitely smart humans and he was like, "I was watching solar paint dry one day that I had made by hand and it occurred to me that I could use this all-natural fucking..." Like at NASA he was watching solar paint dry at NASA I was like, "All right, all right, all right." He's like, "I've figured out I can use this all-natural like coating, basically, on any fruit and it doubles the fucking shelf life," and they've proved it and now his avocados are in Kroger's and shit, and they last twice as long. It could change food waste, period.
Brian: Spray that shit on some kelp.
Bren Smith: Yeah.
Quinn: That's really interesting.
Bren Smith: The weird thing is... So there's this chance to innovate forward, but then when I was doing the book we just found this whole lost western culinary history of seaweeds, right? It used to be a bar snack in Scottish and Irish bars. McDonald's actually made a seaweed burger in the '90s.
Bren Smith: It became the national, official burger of the National Basketball Association.
Bren Smith: No, in San Diego alone, over on your coast, there were 1500 workers in the early 1900s creating 52 different kelp products-
Bren Smith: Now including weapons, like only we could weaponize something like kelp.
Tom Ford: For world war one.
Bren Smith: But...
Quinn: So I do want to mention because you put it so succinctly before we started recording, Bren, that kelp is disgusting, I believe, is the word you used? So what do we...I guess considering, like you said, the farms are taking off and I know the regulatory stuff has been a nightmare to get through and you guys are pioneering that stuff, but what are the things that are working, that we're doing to actually make this fucking taste good, to make people want it besides giving it to fancy chefs.
What do you guys see as, I guess starting with food, and I'm happy to take a fucking left turn into everything else, but where do we see the easiest wins, basically, for this?
Bren Smith: I mean... I get the gas stations most nights, I fish from McDonald's, I got no interest in food. I can grow stuff, but the interesting thing with the chefs is they specialize in making disgusting things delicious. So you take Brooks Headley out at Superiority Burger, used to be a pastry chef, was a punk rock drummer and he makes vegetables unhealthy, is what he does. And so he took our kelp and right away made barbecue kelp noodles with parsnips and breadcrumbs. And that's brilliant because you get the heat of the barbecue sauce, that crunch of the bread crumbs and the sort of roundness of parsnips.
And immediately, it de-sushi-fies it, right? It just turns it into some every day drunk food, late at night in Manhattan, and I think that's... the mistake I made, originally, is I worked with seafood chefs. And seafood chefs, traditionally, have been amazingly un-inventive. But land-based chefs, they've gotten so creative. The seafood chefs would just wrap it around fish, create a seaweed salad, stuff like that.
The other thing I'd say, if a chef can't make what I grow delicious, they should quit their jobs. I'm growing a climate-ready crop and they have to make it delicious and beautiful. That's why they've been put on earth, otherwise they should hit the unemployment line.
Quinn: Well, they have to or else we're dead. You got to make it delicious.
Bren Smith: The other thing is-
Tom Ford: I've had that same conversation with engineers, they're like, "Oh we can't fix this!" I'm like, "What the fuck are you talking about, it's what you guys do, go do it!"
Brian: Do the thing.
Quinn: This is the thing I talk about when my wife... I'll make her watch football and the wide receiver drops the ball and I get very angry and she's like, "Well it happens." No no no no no, they got one job. It's to catch a football that's it. You don't get to just oh maybe next time, it's like no motherfucker that's your job.
Bren Smith: The other thing I'd say is what we've found is, as we're growing in different places, there are just different flavors. I like kelp because when you cook it, it turns bright green, the aesthetics are really good and it doesn't taste like much. It's a great gateway drug for the American palate, because it has such a mild flavor. And then as we begin growing in different places, because we're growing in Alaska, we're growing up in Canada, in New England, California, places like that, and each crop tastes different. A different level of sort of mouthfeel, and saltiness, and sweetness and once we dive into those flavors, which we've never done, I think that's how we shift taste.
And the other thing is, you know there are ten thousand plants in the ocean. Thousands of them are edible. So as a chef this is the beginning of a new sort of adventure, of what are the kales, the arugalas, the tomatoes, the corns of the future.
Bren Smith: So suddenly...it doesn't have to be eating bugs, it could be eating a whole new set of delicious, beautiful plants.
Quinn: Interesting. So, I'm curious for both of you guys. Where are you as you're sort of working to keep big industry out of this shit, where is the money coming from for the farms, and the processing stuff that does exist, and these new food companies, where do you see that coming from, if it's not coming from Cargill and shit like that?
Bren Smith: I mean the challenge for us on the farming side is that the sharks have arrived, right?
The tridents the huge processing companies, the huge hedge funds, all these folks are coming... essentially we de-risk the industry as farmers. We've gone out in the forests, figured out how to farm, and now they're all coming because it can be profitable and it's definitely sort of scary to us that their vertical integration, privatization of seed, privatization of the ocean, all those sort of things.
That said, one of the keys for us is how do we create the nail salon models of the sea? How do keep capital costs really low, skill requirements really low. If overhead's low, then a lot of us can get in the industry, there can be thousands of farmers producing, and so you don't have to take out loans from the banks and you don't need investors, I think that's going to be the key there.
I mean, there are good... I got to section of the book called swimming with sharks and I had a failed company and I just got really burned along the way with this sort of mythic, false climate denying thing called an "impact investor", and who were coming into industries, they get attracted because they want to address climate change and other environment issues, but they still want to brag to their mistresses that they're making 15% return in five to six years. And that's just never going to happen we need really patient capital that's more like, dialed back to 3-4% return over nine years and that's how we get there, as we build something new.
Tom Ford: And I would say the other side of the coin, from a lot of the places where I'm working, is we're looking at carbon trading and carbon taxes amassing huge sums of money, and then in this case looking at this saying we can invest into ocean farming as a working landscape that has all those benefits that we need. Getting the carbon out of the atmosphere, et cetera, by putting local folks to work.
Right now the trick for us to break open that piggy bank is we need some more science. We got to come down with a real, hard number, and a quantifiable pathway to how many tons of carbon moves into where in this system, and then once we can prove that out we've got that rubric and then we can turn around to the state of California and say, "Hey we'd like to see a billion bucks rolling into this type of stuff, up and down the coast."
Tom Ford: And I'm right there with Bren, I'd love to see it still be these local mom-and-pop shops, that's the community we try to focus on for sure.
Bren Smith: I mean the exciting thing about this space is that we can build a system from the bottom up, right? We can take all the lessons of land-based industrial ag, industrial aquaculture not make the same mistakes and I think we're seeing folks from all different walks of life come into the sector because, God, we might be able to do food right this time, do ag the right way. But it's just going to be all hands on deck, we need a new research, we need good investment, we got a waiting list of 4,000 farmers at GreenWave at our training program right now, and so we need an army of farmers that can train other farmers all over the country, and there isn't much time to address the climate issue as everybody knows, so it has to happen really fast.
The other thing I'd say, is the weird thing about farming is I can't see the crops I grow and I can't swim, personally, so there's no way I'm ever going to see them. And my soil turns over a thousand times a day, so we've gotten deep into the data space because we're going to need that data in order to figure out how to grow, and grow better, and one of the more interesting projects we're working on is that in four states we have farmers getting paid $25,000 a year to harvest data and sell that to a tech company.
So, suddenly you've got a farm that's harvesting food and also harvesting ecosystems services, like Tom said, carbon, nitrogen, and harvesting data and that creates a resilient model of multiple income streams for the small farmer.
Quinn: Fascinating. So I remember in the book you're talking about how we don't need Cargill'ss big fucking robots tearing apart these farms, but underwater sensors and things like that could really change the game because, like you said, your quote unquote organic soil turns over a thousand times a day and you need to know temperatures and salinity and stuff like that.
Bren Smith: Yeah, exactly, and I don't even have a tractor of the sea.
Bren Smith: Like, will someone invent that for me?
Brian: We're on it.
Bren Smith: I mean it's crazy, this is how un-advanced the field is, which makes it exciting but also frustrating like I need a boat that probably looks like a catamaran where I can drive over my farm, be seeding and harvesting with the same vehicle, but I don't have the money or the skills to do it. So, help.
Brian: So, help me.
Tom Ford: And yeah, I think Bren, one of you brought up with the data on this, is a place that's good today for growing kelp might not be a good place tomorrow and you heard about the variability already Bren was talking about, some years it's just rock, and other years it completely fails in a given location.
So, we're trying to figure it out where those kelp forests of tomorrow are because, regardless, the climate is changing. It's not going to stop on the dime, even if we get our act together, so we're trying to figure out not just where can this work now, but where should we be looking and prioritizing for the future.
Quinn: What are ideal water temperatures?
Bren Smith: I like 56-58 degrees to seed, and so we... you know November we go in around here and we pull it out before water temps hit about 65-70. So, cold waters is key. We got... Up in Alaska it's interesting we're working to figure out how to replant and reforest up in the Exxon spill zone, and that's looking like a real sweet spot, but as Tom said, the trouble is this year the waters up there hit 70 degrees for three weeks.
Quinn: God damn.
Bren Smith: And that's just petrifying, we'll just figure out how to grow this stuff, how to sell, it how to eat it, and then the ecosystem will change quickly. So how do we stay ahead of that climate curve as we go forward and I will say we need to get over kelp as sort of the secret weapon. We got to think about polyculture, all these other species replicating the ecosystem of a mix of shellfish and seaweeds as we grow to create resiliency, both on the environmental side, but also on the sort of farm profitability side.
Quinn: Tom, is the 3D farming model bringing in the shell fish and such? Is that part of your guys' work as well or, are you mostly focused on the kelp stuff.
Tom Ford: We are focused more focused on that 3D model, and the way I look at it is I'm trying to be the next generation ocean rancher. I want to get the kelp forests back so that I've got the right number of urchins, and those urchins become fat, juicy, luscious urchins that people want to pay a premium to eat.
That we have low predators of those urchins, in the form of fishes and lobster, and other things that we're also interested in having come across our plates. And then you got to manage every one of those species smartly, nested in a dynamic ecosystem. So the cool part is it ain't is but the cool part is that it's a really fun thing to play with. And thus far because of this disturbance that we're talking about, you know these kelp forests crash, or explode, so dynamically that if you go in there and start tinkering with this stuff, right, you can put a forest back in a matter of months.
Quinn: That's wild.
Tom Ford: And that's the thing that's just flipping people out, every time we sit down and talk to somebody who hasn't been introduced to this because I'm like yeah man it was a parking lot. It was useless.
Tom Ford: And here's the image of it three months later and it's loaded with a diversity of fish and crabs, lobsters, and everything else, multiple forms of algaes so it's been a trip man... I'm a selfish environmentalists man I got friends that are up there planting Sequoias and Redwoods and I'm like, You're going to be fucking dead before that thing is taller than me." [crosstalk 00:33:47]
Quinn: You know that fucking tree takes like 2000 years, right?
Tom Ford: Meanwhile, boom, I'm in business
Brian: Tom, where is private money getting involved out here? And what are they looking to do, what are they looking for on their return investment?
Tom Ford: Yeah, no. At this time the private money that's coming in is trying to figure out how we can take these urchins that, again, are a nuisance in this system with their current balance, and trying to figure out ways that we can actually nourish them up and make them a viable product, and in this case what we're trying to do is couple those efforts with our restoration work. And instead of sitting in a dark corner and hoping that none of your friends find you eating some sushi, that you know is ruining the planet, hey choose this sushi, because it's making the planet better.
So, that's the notion that we're kicking around here in California, and up the west coast. It's already happening in Canada, and in japan, so we're not on the cutting edge of this one but we're definitely going to have to figure out if we can tailor it to our system and our needs
Bren Smith: I mean some of the... just to add to that, there are some great folks doing like in San Diego ports, the port has been investing in sunken seaweed. It's a young couple that's started a farm growing five different types of seaweed, still at the small scale. Again, Blue Evolution, really great at it out of San Francisco and they've been attracting a lot of investment... I think what it's looking like all over the place is hybrid models, a mix of philanthropic money and private capital coming together at the right stage.
It's sort of like not an either or, it's what kind of money, when? We decide to do GreenWave as a nonprofit because we thought there needed to be a trusted network actor that could hold the vision, and not try to make money on the farmers, actually just train, get hatcheries going, things like that. And then let other folks take over the market.
Quinn: So I just had one quick question thinking about some of the things you've mentioned so far, and what we talked about....you said that GreenWave has a backlog of like 4,000 farmers in waiting, is that what you said?
Bren Smith: Yeah, my job is just to disappoint people.
Quinn: Oh, perfect. Welcome to my life, I mean that's what... I think that my wife put in my marriage vows.
So is that because of regulatory hurdles, or is it because of the lack of processing, like is there already too much kelp coming out of the water? What is the backlog, and how does that kind of get solved along the way? What are the obstacles that need to come down?
Bren Smith: Yeah, so it's a whole mix of people coming to a us. Young land-based farmers that can't afford land, and our acreage is 50 bucks an acre to lease. We've got fishermen that were... we got one guy that's an 11th generation fisherman who's in our program.
What's interesting is we looked at who are the majority of folks that are working with us in the hatcheries, and starting new businesses, and on the farms, it's majority women. Which was so shocking, I thought it was going to be old drunk fishermen, like me.
Quinn: Like you two.
Bren Smith: But instead, it's people like Catherine Puckett. Catherine Puckett is out in Block Island, she's got a pink boat, all male crew, she's doing kelp, oysters, and clams and the guys on the boat love it because they can stay on the island all year, they don't have too... it's a tourist place so they don't have to go back, but they fucking hate working on a pink boat, right?
But maybe that's the new blue economy, right?
Bren Smith: Women actually being the architect for that.
Now, regulatory it's funny everybody thinks it's huge permitting problems. Our program, we actually permit and help the farmers permit with our team, we've gotten pretty good at it. I mean there are thousands of acres getting permitted if you look at the whole country. California is its own unique problem I mean they haven't given out a lease in 19 years. There are a couple places where we can farm in California but in New York... so it's happening in a lot of places, but you take New York and there's no legislation to grow kelp. It's actually not legal to grow kelp, so we're growing it in four feet of water, actually we're growing 15 foot blades of kelp in there, but we're not allowed to sell it. So we need a campaign to legalize the other weed in New York.
Quinn: Wait, hold on, I'm not a fucking math major here, but I'm just trying to understand how you're going... what did you say, 15 feet of kelp, in four feet of water? I'm confused...
Bren Smith: It floats.
Yeah, the shit floats
Quinn: Oh, the shit floats. Got it, right.
Brian: Why is it illegal to sell?
Bren Smith: It's just not legal, it's never been legalized
Bren Smith: So, you can wild harvest but you can't farm it. And I'd say-
Tom Ford: I can go score a dime bag of-
Brian: Yeah, I was just going to say I can get all the weed I want, no problem.
Bren Smith: Exactly, when I started this, it was so freaking embarrassing to grow kelp that I was telling everybody that I was growing underwater hemp, so I wouldn't get beat up on the dock. It's all coming-
Bren Smith: Full circle, but I'd say the challenge here is how do you move supply infrastructure and markets all at the same time? So in some places, we've got too much kelp, not enough infrastructure. Other places, we've got infrastructure or market, and not enough kelp. And so what GreenWave is doing is sort of always trying to move those pieces of the chessboard, regionally, it really needs to be a local-regional strategy, and making sure one doesn't get ahead of the other.
Quinn: Right. It's got to be a hell of a balancing act.
Bren Smith: Yeah, yeah. It sucks.
Brian: Guys, what are some other previous examples of sort of strange new foods being successfully introduced into American diets. Bren, you talked in your book about kale, and all the ways that you got kelp into New York kitchens like you just mentioned, in the white house...
What's the easiest way in these days, and what's having a lot of success, what products?
Bren Smith: I mean when I first started selling my most successful was not going through the seafood supplies like I said, but going through the folks that were selling truffles and mushrooms into chefs into New York and immediately those folks are like oh this is the kale of the sea, it has unique marwar flavor to it, and we can get it locally and they just... you know my farm was really successful early on just because I was able to sell everything into the city.
Now I mean let's not [inaudible 00:40:11] of shifting tastes is hard and slow.
Brian: Oh yeah.
Bren Smith: So, again, that's why we don't want to bank everything on flavor. We're going to do that, were going to move shellfish and seaweeds to the center of the plate, and the climate winds are at our back because anybody who is growing zero-input food without fertilizer without feed without freshwater, it's going to be the most affordable food on the planet as corn prices go up, and soy prices and everything. So that's going to move it to the center of the plate, but we also need to move those other uses into bioplastics, fertilizer, feeds, things like that.
I mean, I'm a huge fan of fertilizers right now because there's a nutrient deficiency on land, right? And all that stuff's leached in the oceans. I have them all. I got all that nitrogen, that carbon, that phosphorus, so I'm gonna soak it up and sell it back to the farmers, the land based farmers. So one of our biggest markets is actually taking all the waste quote unquote waste off the farm, stuff that isn't food grade, and moving that to land-based farms to give them the nutrients they need.
Brian: Oh wow.
Quinn: Super interesting.
Quinn: So, as we're moving towards sort of action and ways people can get involved, and they can get involved in, seemingly, quite a number of ways here and we've got listeners from business leaders to senators and congresspeople to fucking nerds, but I'm curious. There's lots of talk about how there's more US territory underwater than above water, and that's before sea level rise completely fucks us. But talk to me a little more about can these 3D farms go... obviously they can't go anywhere, you already mentioned that there's specific water temperature preferences, what are the other basic requirements like where can't it go?
Tom Ford: Those nutrients, and all that stuff that Bren just identified, much of that is moving off of the landscape, coming of the continents and we see it shoaling up all along the coastlines. Once you get out many miles from land you often encounter waters that are nutrient deficient. Large, large portions of the surface waters of the planet don't have sufficient nutrients in them for you to set up a kelp farm 400 miles off the coast of San Francisco. Not to mention the difficulties in accessing it.
So, I think we are looking at these coastal areas along the continental shelf, as the preferential places for this. It makes sense logistically, it makes sense from a biochemical stand point to help make this stuff move, and that's where our focus is at this point in time. Bren and his army of ingenuity over there might have a different plan. I've seen folks trying to imagine flying planes around and seeding the ocean with iron pellets to try to-
Quinn: Jesus Christ.
Tom Ford: Make this happen. Or sinking pipes down into deeper nutrient-rich waters and bringing them up to the surface to create, basically, an artificial landscape or artificial ocean in which you could cultivate this in places where you can't. I think there's going to be some pretty cool stuff that comes out of this but right now it's coastal.
Bren Smith: Two things. One is as a farmer I think the trouble with the ocean engineers, and a lot of ideas on seeding out there are people are over engineering. The ocean is very unfriendly, you can't be an oak, you got to be a willow. The storms come over our farm, and our whole thing sinks. The buoys actually don't hold the farm afloat, they just pop under the water and then pop back up and it's the capital costs are just key so if it does get destroyed you can just start another farm. As a farmer, these floating platforms, all the technology, I do worry it's folks who are not in the water, and sort of scared of the water like as a fisherman it petrifies...as soon as you lose your fear of the ocean get off, right?
And it's just so powerful. So that's one thing. The other thing is if folks want to get involved I'd say there are a couple ways, one is support a sea trust. Try to build a sea trust in your area. Just like land trusts, we need say California 2,000 acres that are permitted for reforestation, so we're just planting like mad. We're farming sections of it for food and other products, and then there's room for artisanal fisheries, and there's a blue carbon regime over that.
So, the sea trust model I think people locally can do that at a small tiny community garden level, or a massive scale. I think we need structured funds if you're in the business world. Like a kelp fund that's strategically deploys in all the different areas where we need innovation. In the hatchery, in the farm designs, and the processing, product development so that all these pieces move at once.
And then the last thing is the green new deal. Freaking crazy, the green new deal mentions the ocean one time, right? People either don't think of the ocean, their backs are to it, or they think of it as a victim, and instead it can just be this powerful solution to climate change. We did, with Ayana actually, Ayana Johnson, we did a blue new deal policy paper, which really brings together community, wild fisheries with massive restoration of kelp forests and shellfish reefs, along with catalyzing ocean farming. So I think folks on the legislative end need to start pushing for the ocean being a solution base.
Brian: The Blue New Deal, I like that a lot.
Quinn: Yeah, that's insane to imagine what the ocean wants, it's incredibly frustrating. That's super interesting. Do you feel like that was, like you said, people think of it as a victim, or it's foregone, or do you think that just there weren't enough ocean people... there weren't, I mean it's still actively being developed. There aren't enough ocean people like yourself, and Ayana, and others involved in the crafting of it.
Bren Smith: Yeah, I mean I think actually people the conservationists... and I say this with love but criticism, the conservationists sort of own quite a bit of the ocean space. And conservation, as it is, setting aside huge swaths of ocean, or the entire ocean as a marine park, it's still going to die. Conservation as a single strategy is really climate denial at this point.
You need something breathing life back into the ocean and I'd argue it's farming. So, along the policy and narrative about oceans is all about let go, lets set it apart, or what fish should you eat, and its like reds, greens, blues they change every day. So it's just a stressful situation, then people go buy chicken or beef, once they look at their seafood app.
Bren Smith: So there just really needs to be a re-imagining of our season, like Tom's work is a great example of that it just.... reintroducing people and then I would say aquaculture has such a bad brand name in the grocery store, as if its history of growing things that you got to feed and poop and want to swim away and so, all of these things have brought us this moment. But I think there's a huge opportunity to flip that script and get people engaged.
Quinn: So that's kind of a perfect segue to a big question I had I'm hoping you guys can clear this up pretty succinctly for our listeners who are the consumers, just like everybody else, it's just that they mostly and usually give a shit about what they're eating, and what they're buying and the future of food and of the planet so...by the way, I haven't been trying to ignore the shellfish piece of this, which is obviously a big piece, it's just that most people already fucking eat shellfish. Of course it's better if we could eat more of it, I'm trying to help provide context around this third piece and how that comes in.
So, tell me, why should consumers... and position this if you can on a one-to-one level, not like good for the industry et cetera, et cetera, make it of like a shopper. Why should they buy farmed kelp and shellfish from 3D ocean farms but not farmed fish. What's the difference there?
Bren Smith: I mean I can chime in, Tom why don't you take first shot?
Tom Ford: Yeah, man. So, in this case, what you're eating when you're eating shellfish or you're eating kelp is really low down on the trophic level, meaning these are herbivores or planktivores that are sucking the tiny microscopic plants or the bits of kep that's breaking up and floating around in the sea from the wave action and all of that. So it's as close to that zero-input that Bren was talking about, rather than the farmed salmon, well the need to eat...we used to fed them fish, now we feed them soy. They're just not as capable as turning over their food into something that you're going to eat, there is a loss of that conversion factor there.
So, it's really super efficient to grow kelp and eat kelp, and it's really, comparatively, still very efficient to eat shellfish, and urchin, and those animals that are preying on the kelp.
Bren Smith: So, and the thing is aquaculture has always tried to fix the wild fisheries, right? So you run out of salmon, tuna whatever you do but people like eating salmon and tuna, so you try to grow around existing markets, and I think the mistake was made was people didn't go to the ocean and sort of ask what's unique about it as an agricultural space. What does the ocean want us to grow? And I got tons of friends that farm fish doing amazing stuff, but I see the industry still in its environmental R&D stage.
It kind of went to market too fast, because what it's... you know it's at this stage where it's trying to become sustainable, which is fundamentally about making bad things better just like clothing right?
Bren Smith: We need to make things regenerative, restorative and that's the beautiful thing about these crops, is you can eat them, but they're breathing life back into the ocean. What do I know about anything, except for what I see in the water. And I used to work in the salmon farms and the boiling water of everybody shitting and fucking eating everything and then I go to my quiet little plot and lift up walls of vegetables it just seems to make more sense and it's freaking cheaper because I'm not... no feed, no cages no nothing. It just becomes really a simple sort of model. So, as a small business person it just makes sense.
Quinn: And that's super interesting and this is the type of shit I love to clarify for people. Like you said, we're farming all these different type of fish because this is what people have demanded and what they want and now Americans for 25 have been eating sushi, so we need all that of course 90% of it's fucking mislabeled. But those require tremendous inputs, and like you said we used to feed them fish and now we feed them soy, and shit like that, and that makes us have to more monoculture on land itself, which is also a nightmare but, what you guys are doing with these 3D ocean farms requires virtually no input.
Bren Smith: Yeah. I mean we just eat carbon, the sunlight and the nitrogen and other stuff that there's too much of. It's just so simple once you shift... like, I wish it was more complicated, Tom and I would sound smarter, but it's just like not that simple as soon as you shift your view.
Tom Ford: Yeah, when I talk to people about this they go okay man so you're spending millions of dollars you're clearing out all those urchins, you're telling me the ocean flips over, it's capricious. What's the story on this, how long does it last? And I go we've never had to go back and maintain anything we've ever done, because the ecosystem is back. And it's stabilized and I think that's going to...well have a multi-decadal run with our investment in these systems off the coast of LA, and then well have to go back and give them a tweak in 20-30 years if things keep progressing as they are. And they look at me like I'm a con man at that point. You know I'm sorry, it just works, my apologies.
Quinn: Right, right. Sorry not to fucking disappoint you.
Brian: Sorry not to disappoint you.
Tom Ford: Yeah and disappoint you by actually having this actually function properly.
Quinn: And that's crazy, and of course there's all the additional shit like for the fact that shellfish clean the fucking water around them. They're not fish cages full of shit.
Tom Ford: No.
Quinn: There's a really great book, I don't know if you guys have ever read, or if you guys read, there's a book called The Island at the Center of The World and it's about Manhattan and it's full of a bunch of first hand journals from the Dutch coming over and shit like that and they talked about "Oh the bay is crystal clear and you can see the dolphins and all the oysters are cleaning the water," and you're just like holy fucking fuck what did we do.
Tom Ford: Yep. My grandfather grew up in Manhattan and he's born in 1900 and I would talk to him about it you know going to school stepping over piles of horse shit because there were no cars, and he would go swimming in the East River and just pull crabs off the shore, and bring them home and throw them in the pot.
Tom Ford: Come on!
Tom Ford: That loss of understanding of what our oceans used to look like, what people only a few generations ago experienced is really an exciting concept when you get some time to sit down with somebody and be like man the life that's in the ocean right now is just so depressed compared to what it once was because we're so goddamn effective at taking anything that's slow and tasty, and murdering it and eating it.
Quinn: It's crazy and I'm from Virginia, so I'm a big Chesapeake Bay die-hard and they've suffered in the same way, and folks are working hard to bring it back, and you've got Rappahannock Oysters, and people trying to do things but it is incredible the fucking hole they're digging out of.
Tom Ford: It's mammoth, and I'll tell you that's the thing, you've got the Chesapeake Bay, we could fix it. A bunch of stuff we're talking about, we'll fix it. But it's going to be a big effort to get it over the hump and then once it's there, man, it's downhill run after that. So it just really takes some willingness on everybody's front. I love that idea of the sea trust, it's a freaking excellent suggestion, Bren.
Quinn: Can you guys actually expand on that a little bit. What does that mean, what does that look like?
Bren Smith: I mean so it's from the land trust model right-
Bren Smith: Which is non privatized space and then you can figure out what's a good use for it within a community context and it's not owned by the government, it's sort of some intermediary. And so I mean the first land trust was started, if I remember right, at a reconstruction of black farmers in a co-op was the first land trust, and they had thousands and thousands of acres. So the idea is to go out and not privatize it, pre-permit it, so the farmers don't have to go through the permits, and just plan. I mean in this country we're just absolutely allergic to any kind of industrial planning, to planning of any kind.
So, we can say okay were going to take this area Tom's going to reforest this and get rid of the urchins, I'm going to go there and be farming form the surface down below, we're going to have fishers in there that are fishing because now we have an entire reef system and all of us are collecting credits on blue carbon. That planning just allows for incredible opportunity it just drives me nuts, how it's just... we leave that sort of randomized free market stuff is always going to find the correct path, and it just doesn't.
Quinn: Yeah it's like newsflash, it didn't fucking work.
Bren Smith: Yeah, yeah.
Quinn: All of those things didn't work and now we're fucked.
Brian: And now we're fucked.
Guys, we like to start to wrap our episodes up with some specific action steps that our listeners can take to support your mission with their voice, their vote, and their dollar. So we'll get into that a little bit and let's start with their voice. What are big actionable questions, specific, actionable questions that we can be asking of our representatives to help support you guys?
Tom Ford: You know, I work on the local, state, federal levels, we've sponsored legislation to help move things in the right direction. If democracy was practiced by the many rather than the few, I think oftentimes we would be in much better shape. It's hard to make the time, find the time to pay attention to these things, get involved with people and push forward an agenda and legislation that makes those changes in policy and planning that we've been talking about.
So, in a way I think it's folks putting their ear to the ground, finding that spot or that space that's important to them, what pisses them off, turning that anger into positive movement, and get out there and get involved. Maybe that's trite, but it's definitely one of the ways I look at it. Put your time your treasure, and your talent to work. Find those like minded people, and those un-like minded people, and lean on them and get moving forward.
Bren Smith: Absolutely, and I mean I do real specific... lets get 100,000 young people in a civilian conservation core to plant 5% of US waters in ten regions around the country. We know how to do, it's just a matter of resources, permitting, and I think its... with that green new deal is something we can really push for at the local level. If it doesn't work nationally, then let's do it at the state level in New York and California. Let's take 1,000 acres and replant them.
Brian: Love it.
Tom Ford: Yeah, so there it is man that's the bill. So Bren just authored it, now we just got to go find somebody to carry it.
Quinn: Fucking do it.
Tom Ford: No shit, this is as simple as it is. Again here we are the two wisest men who are working with shit that grows itself. It's just really not that complicated, once again.
Tom Ford: You just got to find the time and the energy and it takes a bunch of folks to reinforce that will.
Quinn: Right now I think about what you said...why is it not legal to grow kelp in New York is just because it's never been legal and it's like...just fucking fix that. Can we start there?
Bren Smith: Yep, exactly. I mean the path is clear a lot of things are really complicated, because the oceans are a blank slate at this point. It's not a complicated path I suggest people look at the blue new deal we got it on the GreenWave website.
Brian: Yeah we should share that
Bren Smith: Did you see it, it's pretty simple., right?
Brian: Awesome, well share it.
And what about their vote? How can our listeners vote to help support you two?
Bren Smith: You mean politically? Like, election-wise?
Quinn: Yeah. I mean I guess let's think about it on almost like a local and a state level. What kind of folks should they be looking for? It's close to what they're asking... the voice one is more like what are you asking of your current representatives and the voting is more just like what should you be pushing new people to, or if you're involved in this, should you be running type of thing. Does that make sense? Does that make any fucking sense.
Bren Smith: I think to Tom it would.
Brian: It doesn't to me, I'm with you Bren.
Quinn: Yeah, Brian's just like eh...
Tom Ford: Brian just walked out of the room.
Bren Smith: Standard.
Tom Ford: To cite an example, If I'm looking at Los Angeles, where I live now, we built this city, now, 80 years ago-
Quinn: On rock and roll.
Brian: I was just going to say, "On rock and roll?"
Tom Ford: All that infrastructure that we put in the ground, or that infrastructure that's on the ground... roads, bridge, pipes, blah blah blah blah blah, it's now reaching the end of its term and we understand scientifically the liabilities of how we built this town and we need to fix all of the stuff that's broken. We need to address those errors in planning, and Measure W, that the majority of Los Angeles county voters approved, that basically said tax me to put the water back in the ground so we have something to drink from in the future.
Hey wow, that was a great freaking idea. And it is that same sort of simple, common sense thing... this is broken the fix isn't unknown, we know how to fix it. So now we just got to rally up together, get people moving forward, put something out there that's meaningful, and like in this case it was successful.
It ain't easy when you're sitting there asking folks to reach into their pocketbook, but that's what it costs to have the quality of life that you want to have. And improve the quality of life around here. And we can do it again.
Bren Smith: Can I just say, just get out of this politics of "no". I mean does an environmentalist say we want to stop pipelines the Keystone pipelines, methane and oil platforms, things like that, we have to do that we need to stop things but what are we going to build? What's our yes? What are our solutions? And that is such a more creative space, and I think you know the kids out doing the strike the other day, I heard them say something... you know the climate strike, they're like, "We have more ambition than the adults." What a beautiful idea, and as environmentalists, or whatever the hell we are, we need more ambition and just be... these sort of neanderthals aren't going to be able to build, but were going to build something new. And that's exciting.
Tom Ford: Yeah, it is.
Quinn: Yeah, I love that we have more ambition. I liked what Greta said the other day, which is like "You come to us for hope it's like I want you to fucking panic. You should be panicking, we're panicking." That's where the ambition comes from, right?
Its just like we have to do big... there's no middle, like we should find a centrist version of no-
Brian: Right, right, right.
Quinn: That's done, it's out.
Brian: Way past that time.
Quinn: We're hitting the panic button.
Bren Smith: That's political time, all those kids are on climate time.
Tom Ford: Yeah man I look at them and I tell them when I'm talking to younger folks than I these are the carbon kids, man. This is their thing, and it's awesome to see that they're capturing that and moving forward, and I think that's exactly right. You know, it's focusing on a problem, wringing your hands about the problem, worrying about it like oh god, oh god [inaudible 01:02:19]... start doing things that work
Tom Ford: You'd be amazed at how far you can get.
Quinn: I think that's actually, honestly what my vote thing comes down to, it's becoming more of like the ends justifying the means. It's like, dude, either at this point and that's what the big threat these kids are bringing, is like so many are like 16 or 17 it's like maybe not this election but by next election, it's either you do shit or you get the fuck out because it's not going to be pretty.
Tom Ford: Yeah, I was staring here and I'm sorry this is a bit of a tangent, but we're dealing with sea level rise here in Los Angeles, and I've been talking to people about it for decades and finally I think through my frustration and being a nerd and falling back on more technical information, I'll overwhelm these people with facts. Now I just walk into the room and I'm like, "Do you want to live in Los Angeles without a beach?"
Quinn: Yeah sure
Tom Ford: And they go huh? Because that's what we're talking about.
Quinn: One of our first conversations with Molly Perterson is when I kind of realized the San Francisco airport was gong to be underwater in like 50 years and she of course, because she's a genius, did all this investigative reporting and she's like, "Yeah no ones really paying attention." I'm like, "What the fuck?"
Tom Ford: So in this case, the case in point is we went out onto Santa Monica beach, threw four species of seeds in the sand, stopped dragging a tractor over it, and we've grown a half a meter of beach over that 2 acre site in three years. Again, letting the plants do their thing.
Tom Ford: And that's it. So again, I think some of the simple choices are right in front of our faces, we just got to commit.
Quinn: I saw a headline today that some fucking celebrity from the '70s sold their 30 million dollar Malibu house, and they showed a picture of the beach and I was like, "Oh my god, those houses aren't going to be there in like 20 fucking years."
Tom Ford: That's going to be a huge issue, man. I'm very excited about exploring that space with the state of California, all these people, because it's going to be something else man.
Bren Smith: I look at it I'm like oh there's new regions to farm.
Brian: Yeah. Bren's like whatever.
Bren Smith: And it's just rich folks water, but.
Quinn: That's the nice water.
Tom Ford: That's right man, people are like, "Hey should I study marine biology?" and I'm like, "It's a growing business."
Brian: And then what about their dollar? What can our listeners do with their dollar, specific places like GreenWave or Bay Foundation for-profit companies where they can send some dough.
Bren Smith: I mean definitely support bay foundation, just amazing and Tom's been in this space forever. Donate to GreenWave if you want to help us train farmers around the country, and really get these folks to be cultivators or farmers, it's a mix. Our target audience for our farmer training program is fishermen directly affected by climate change, women, and indigenous communities, so if that's folks you care about, GreenWave's here.
Quinn: And if you don't, get the fuck out.
Brian: See ya!
All right guys were getting closer here we kept you on for quite a while, we are sorry and we thank you. We have a bit of a lightning round
Quinn: Not a lightning round
Brian: Not a lightning round, that we just like to finish with.
Quinn: Four questions two of them are touchy feely and the others not. First one, when was the first time in your life when both of you, clearly not together, that would be weird, realized you had the power of change or the power to do something meaningful?
Tom Ford: Whew!
Brian: Whoever comes up with the first answer can go first, that's fine.
Quinn: Whoever makes up the first answer.
Tom Ford: We hired a bunch of...it's not the first time man, but it's a recent one, I figured it fits the role. We hired these two gentlemen who had been making their living harvesting out of the ocean their entire lives. And that kelp forest came back, the first time that they were involved in our work in 2013, and three months later the kelp's at the surface and these two fantastic men are standing on the back of the boat and they're like "Tom, did we do that?" And I was like "Yeah man, that's exactly what you did. You did that." And fuck if they didn't grow two inches in front of my eyes right there, man.
Quinn: Oh wow.
Tom Ford: Their spines just went straight up and the pride and the understanding that you have that power is something that carries me forward.
Quinn: Bren, you have to match that.
Bren Smith: [crosstalk 01:06:42] I mean when my... I was oystering and it got wiped out... my farm go wiped out two years in a row by Sandy and Irene, and it just was fucking brutal.
Bren Smith: But out of that was a great pivot in my life, back against the wall, just refusing to leave the water. I think that's the only skill I've had is just I'm going to die on my boat somehow, and that was the moment where everything became obvious in terms of what crops to grow and how to do it. So I think... I don't know if it's meaningful change, though that's the point in which I switched, I think, into sort of thinking about the power of solutions
Quinn: Sure, sure I love it. Gentlemen who is someone in your life that's positively impacted your work in the past six months?
Bren Smith: For me, it's Dune Lankard he's a gill netter up in Alaska. Eyak tribe, and he's the one that took on Exxon... he took on Exxon in the spill and became the leader and got 700 million dollar settlement from them. His daughter is part of the young peoples lawsuit to protect the public trust that's been going through the courts.
And I was just out in the water with them for the last couple of weeks, and the amount of sort of granular knowledge vision has just been stunning for me to experience and you know I think Irish background, I come pretty bitter. And he was just like he sees the long view and he's been around...his people have been around for thousands of years and that's the way he's looking at it, and he's looking at climate change the same way. This is about a transition and he's sure that his community is going to make it and that hasn't been my feeling all along.
Quinn: That is rad.
Tom Ford: Yeah, no. In this case this is like the Oscars speech that I got to practice right? I couldn't give you know... I want to thank thank thank.
Quinn: Yeah yeah.
Tom Ford: I'm so fortunate to be surrounded by so many fantastic people, who I also work to death in order to try and prove [inaudible 01:08:50] but it was Yuval Harari's book called Sapiens that did such a beautiful job summarizing who we are as a species, what artifacts of some of our missteps and progress, or lack of progress have been. It kind of refocused and retrained my thinking on what I'm doing when I'm working with humanity, and with human beings and that was one of those, "Oh hey man I got... I'm on a layover here, I might as well grab something to read, I'll grab that book."
Quinn: Yeah it's pretty incredible, not just the content butt the way he tells the stories is pretty awesome.
Tom Ford: Yeah like agriculture was a complete fuck up.
Quinn: Yep, yep.
Tom Ford: It was a complete fuck up, and we've been paying the price ever since right? Pretty wild.
Brian: Guys what do you do when you feel overwhelmed?
Quinn: Besides flagrant cursing.
Brian: That does help a lot.
Tom Ford: Drinking?
Brian: Perfect, excellent.
Tom Ford: There's a decent amount of that that needs to be kept at bay. But yeah man there's no doubt I might sound hopeful or optimistic or try to be painting a picture like that, but there is a lot of frustration that goes into it.
Brian: Of course, yeah.
Tom Ford: And when you see the truth standing two feet in front of you and you can't grab it, it's enough to drive you mad. My bike is also a good refuge, the ocean is an unbelievable place for me to go. It revitalizes me as I am trying to revitalize it. So, that's where my peace comes from is when I'm underwater doing my work.
Brian: That's a good relationship right there.
Quinn: Bren, I imagine you don't have the same answer, being underwater during your work because that would mean you're dead?
Brian: Bren, don't die.
Bren Smith: You know we say don't learn to swim it just prolongs your death. Of course it's the fricken water, but it's like the land disappears, but I think my...don't tell my wife, but I go out in the boat, I drink like a fish and then just try to avoid the coastguard is my main-
Brian: I'm so happy.
Quinn: Feels like a nice little Saturday.
Brian: All right gentlemen, if you could Amazon Prime a book to the President of The United States, what would it be? We got a whole book club on Amazon, we put all the books in there people can actually order them and send them to the White House...
Quinn: Its fun.
Tom Ford: Oh my god, that's a great question. The simple answer is something by Dr. Seuss-
Brian: Oh, we've gotten it.
Tom Ford: Yeah, no because I think he could actually handle all the-
Quinn: Sure, there's pictures.
Tom Ford: And the pictures would be helpful. I've got two kids now, so I'm reading them Dr. Seuss, and rediscovering how goddamn genius Theodore Geisel was...so, it ain't the Lorax, but maybe it is.
Brian: Love it.
Quinn: Hard to beat.
Bren Smith: Now I'm trying to remember what the title of this thing is, it's a fisherman up in Stonington, Connecticut here, and it's his memoir.
Bren Smith: And my favorite thing is he talks about not being able to swim, and no one on his boat being able to swim, and he had this guy Nicky on the boat that he fished with for 20 years, and he fell in in a storm and he's swimming towards the boat and everybody stops, they're like, "Holy fuck, Nicky knows how to swim!" And then Nicky dies but the whole point of this story was like wow this guy knew how to fucking swim.
That's sort of a salty tale is what I... you know everybody reads books that are too clean. They got to go towards things that are dirtier or uglier.
Quinn: Hell yeah.
Brian: If you can think of it later, just let us know what it is, we'll put it on the list.
Quinn: Yeah, yeah you can just send it to us.
Awesome, this has been just tremendous.
Brian: Such a blast.
Quinn: I really appreciate you guys making the time and coordinating the shit show to make it happen. Where can our listeners follow your guys work online, what are your various websites and shit like that?
Brian: Yeah and social shit.
Tom Ford: You can look us up at The Bay Foundation, but there's a few of those so it's Santa Monica Bay dot O R G is our website, and communications is where I think I suffer the most as a leader, so our hashtags and all that are bayfoundation and kelpforest but our website is the place to get started.
Bren Smith: Man just go to GreenWave.org we got all our social media, kids are doing a great job at it, and if you can do one today, try to do a hashtag legalize the other weed, I think that's what-
Quinn: I love it.
Quinn: Bren, is the piece you wrote with Ayana, is that on the GreenWave site?
Bren Smith: No, that was on GRIST, so you'll find it on there.
Quinn: Okay nice, okay yeah we'll do [inaudible 01:14:03]
Awesome, rock and roll.
Gentlemen, can't thank you enough for your time, and everything you're doing out there on the water, hugely appreciative. Yeah, that's it. Please keep it up and let us know how we can help.
Tom Ford: I love the podcast, you guys keep it up as well. These communications I think are those weapons of mass construction
Tom Ford: Which is what Louie called them after he got done shooting The Cove. So getting that word out, doing it in an entertaining manner, and having a little bit of levity while we figure out how we're going to keep this blue ball spinning.
Quinn: For sure man, for sure.
Brian: Thanks guys.
Quinn: Thanks to our incredible guests today, and thanks to all of you for tuning in. We hope this episode has made your commute, or awesome workout, or dish-washing, or fucking dog-walking late at night, that much more pleasant. As a reminder, please subscribe to our free email newsletter at importantnotimportant.com.
Brian: And you can follow us all over the internet, you can find us on twitter at importantnotimp... just so weird.
Also, on Facebook and Instagram at important not important, Pinterest and Tumblr the same thing. So check us out, follow us, share us, like us, you know the deal. And please subscribe to our show wherever you listen to things like this, and if you're really fucking awesome, rate us on apple podcasts. Keep the lights on thanks.
Brian: And you can find the show notes from today right in your little podcast player, and at our website importantnotimportant.com
Quinn: Thanks to the very awesome Tim Blane for our jamming music, to all of you for listening, and finally, most importantly, to our moms for making us. Have a great day.
Brian: Thanks guys!