Q&A with Ocean Farmer, Catherine Puckett

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Here, we talk with Catherine Puckett, lifelong mariner and seasoned shellfish farmer. Puckett employs the innovative technique of 3D Ocean Farming and is enrolled in GreenWave’s two-year Farmer-in-Training (FIT) program.


What is 3D Ocean Farming?

3D Ocean Farming is a polyculture vertical farming system that grows a mix of seaweed and shellfish. These restorative species require zero inputs—no freshwater, feed or fertilizer—making it the most sustainable form of food production on the planet, while sequestering carbon and rebuilding reef ecosystems. These ocean farms sit below the surface and leverage the entire water column, producing high yields with a small footprint. Crops are used as food, fertilizer, animal feed and more.


Who is GreenWave?

GreenWave is a nonprofit organization founded in 2014 to replicate their 3D Ocean Farming model. They’re dedicated to climate resilience and equity, and they work in two areas: farm replication and market innovation. Through the Farm Replication Program, GreenWave trains and supports new farmers, develops the necessary policy to encourage sustainable and equitable industry growth and researches and deploys appropriate technology on farms to help maximize yields. While Farm Replication works to increase the supply of restorative ocean crops, their Market Innovation Program scales demand for farmers’ crops by incubating early stage product development, mobilizing investment and opening new market opportunities for farmers.

GreenWave’s goal is a blue-green economy—built and led by restorative ocean farmers—that feeds local communities while protecting the planet. To date, GreenWave has trained and supported over 50 farmers and entrepreneurs throughout southern New England, California, New York, the Pacific Northwest, Alaska and beyond. GreenWave hosts a two-year Farmer-in-Training (FIT) program, which provides ocean farmers with hands-on training and education, support with permitting, access to reliable low-cost seed, and connections to purchasers. Farmer-in-Training, Catherine Puckett, is a lifelong mariner and a seasoned shellfish farmer who is now incorporating seaweed on her ocean farm on Block Island, Rhode Island. Originally starting with quahog clams, Catherine has now introduced scallops, oysters, and most recently, sugar kelp, to her crop list. GreenWave’s FIT program helped Catherine conceptualize the 3D Ocean Farming model for her site and integrate new ideas into her existing farm design. Last April marked Catherine’s first kelp harvest: she hauled approximately 3,500 pounds of kelp off her farm for food and fertilizer! Being the first on Block Island to incorporate kelp in her operation, she hopes to inspire other local ocean farmers to follow her lead. As the only independently, woman-run ocean farm on the island, Catherine uses her gear to make a statement, painting her boat bright shades of pink and teal to normalize women on the water.


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Q&A with Ocean Farmer, Catherine Puckett

Q: Did you ever think you were going to be a 3D Ocean Farmer?

A: Yes! When I was little, I wanted to be a marine biologist. At 18, I started working for a shellfish farm and absolutely loved it. I bought that same farm years later and it’s been a dream to wake up every day to grow all different types of shellfish: clams, scallops and oysters, and now, seaweed!


Q: What does one year in the life on your 3D ocean farm look like?

A: Every season is a busy season growing both shellfish and seaweed. In the late fall, kelp is seeded on the farm. As the kelp grows through the winter, I visit the farm to do maintenance and record data on kelp growth and water quality. Kelp is harvested in spring and I move my shellfish from the shallow water lease to deeper waters. Oysters take a few years to mature from seed, so during the summer I harvest ready oysters, upkeep (brine, drip and sort) growing oysters, and put new oyster seed into the nursery area. Mussels spawn immediately after I harvest kelp; I hope to grow mussels on the empty kelp lines in the future!


Q: What drew you to the GreenWave Farmer-in-Training Program?

A: The first farm I worked on was two acres, and when I bought it, the lease was divided in two. One acre for me and the other became New Shoreham Oyster Company, owned by Perry Phillips. I distinctly remember a conversation I had a few years back with Perry. We were at the Mohegan Bluffs looking out at the wind turbines and I told him I wanted to grow seaweed off of them. That’s when Perry pointed me in the direction of GreenWave and their Farming-in-Training (FIT) Program. I wanted to grow seaweed for so long, but I struggled with finding a hatchery who could provide kelp seed. GreenWave bridged that gap. As a Farmer-in-Training, I received hands-on support from seeding all the way through harvest and I was provided with free seed grown in the GreenWave hatchery. I had the motivation—all I needed was someone to help me do it! I can’t emphasize enough how thrilled I am to be a Farmer-in-Training. I started researching seaweed aquaculture when my eldest, Pearl, was just 6 months old. Now, five years later, I have a kelp farm—thanks to GreenWave’s assistance!

Q: As the first farmer on Block Island, what challenges did you face to incorporate kelp into your operations? Was the community supportive? Have others followed your lead?

A: It’s always a challenge trailblazing into the unknown. Luckily, the community was intrigued and super supportive from the beginning. My application to grow kelp on my shellfish farm sailed through the whole process with no resistance. Commercial lobsterman, John Grant came out on the boat and helped me harvest kelp this year. Now, he’s applying for GreenWave’s FIT program and put in an application for, at least twice the size of mine, to grow kelp!


Q: You mentioned the hope to empower other women to take on leadership roles in the new restorative ocean farming industry. Has this happened? Is there currently a strong network of women ocean farmers?

A: I do this to empower my daughters. When I was younger, I wanted to pursue Vo-Tech school and was told it wasn’t for people “like me.” I want my daughters to see that they can do any job with the right tools and should never be turned away from “men’s work.” I think we’re on the right track: just the other day my 5-year-old daughter and I changed the oil on the outboard motor together! (I actually have to keep the screwdrivers hidden because she’s been known to remove the deck hardware off the boat...lol.)

Because I’m isolated on Block Island, I haven’t met many women in this industry in person, but I know there’s a strong network of women growing in many fields within ocean farming! Outside of GreenWave’s women-run FIT program, I’ve been able to connect with Suzie Flores, a fellow Farmer-in-Training program graduate growing kelp in Connecticut. We join forces and coordinate the harvesting and selling of our kelp to Atlantic Sea Farms, a large scale processor and distributor based in Maine. Cindy West, oyster farmer at Moonstone Oysters, and Sarah Schumann, URI Extension Agent and founder of Eating with the Ecosystem, have also been important local allies.


Q: Do you have any advice for someone thinking about pursuing restorative ocean farming?

A: DO IT! This work has so many benefits for the environment and the communities surrounding the ocean farms. I encourage anyone with the necessary infrastructure to get out and do it!

Q: Why is restorative ocean farming important to you?

A: I take pride in being able to feed my community high-quality food grown right in their backyard, while helping the environment, and I value the species diversity the 3D Ocean Farming model emphasizes.

Q: Are there any misconceptions about ocean farming that you’ve encountered?

A: In the beginning, a lot of people were unaware of the different kinds of aquaculture that existed. They tended to lump restorative ocean farming together with large-scale, commercial aquaculture that typically has negative impacts on the environment. Over the years, I’ve been able to have conversations about this and teach them how to differentiate between the two.


Q: Is there something you wish everyone knew about 3D ocean farming?

A: I want everyone to know where to get products grown by restorative ocean farmers, so they can support food that’s healthy for their families and the environment. I want people to know that we can broaden our palates and learn to cook and eat things like shellfish, kelp, scup and conch!

For more information, visit www.greenwave.org.


 
Katherine Williams