[From the introduction by Lisa Holmes, president of the board of CitySeed and member of the board of GreenWave:] By designing a small-scale, affordable, and open-sourced solution to what often feels like an insurmountable challenge, Bren Smith gives us all the precious gift of possibility and hope. The co-founder and executive director of GreenWave, he has pioneered the development of a model of regenerative ocean farming that restores biodiversity and ecosystems, mitigates climate change, and creates blue-green jobs—all the while growing nourishing and delicious food as well as fertilizer, animal feed, and more.
Like so many working to transform the food system, my perception of farming ended at the shoreline, so Bren’s work building the nation’s first multi-species vertical ocean farm in Long Island Sound off of Stony Creek, Connecticut, was a total revelation. It took only one trip to see the demonstration farm off the Thimble Islands and listen to the story that you’re about to hear to realize that this was something—and someone!—revolutionary. The farm’s simple and accessible infrastructure supports sea vegetables and bivalves, humble plants and creatures that we should be grateful for because they have the potential to be our ecological salvation. And Bren’s reverence for the commons and his innovative model of scaling by means of replication are radical, yet have the pragmatic ability to effect real change. Please join me in welcoming Bren Smith.
I’m here as a fisherman who dropped out of high school. I’ve spent many nights in jail over my lifetime; I’m an epileptic; I’m asthmatic; I don’t even know how to swim. So I’m here today, humbled in many ways, and I told my wife, Tamanna, that I don’t feel as though I deserve to be here. But since I’ve snuck in the back door somehow, I’ll tell you my story. It’s a story of ecological redemption.
I was born and raised in Newfoundland, Canada, in a little fishing village with fourteen salt-box houses painted in greens, blues, and reds so that fishermen could find their way home in the fog. At age 14 I left school and headed out to sea. I fished the Georges Banks and the Grand Banks for tuna and lobster, then headed to the Bering Sea, where I fished cod and crab. The trouble was I was working at the height of the industrialization of food. We were tearing up entire ecosystems with our trawls, chasing fish further and further out to sea into illegal waters. I personally have thrown tens of thousands of by-catch back into the sea.
It wasn’t just that we were pillaging. Most of my fish was going to McDonald’s for their fish sandwiches. There I was, still a kid, working one of the most unsustainable forms of food production on the planet, producing some of the most unhealthy food on the planet. But, God, how I loved that job! The humility of being in 40-foot seas, the sense of solidarity that comes with being in the belly of a boat with 13 other people working 30-hour shifts, and a sense of meaning and pride in helping to feed my country. I miss those days so, so much.