Founder of GreenWave
Bren Smith has spent his life on the water. After seeing firsthand the harsh effects of commercial fishing on the climate, he wanted to find a more environmentally friendly way to do what he loved. In 2013, he founded the non-profit GreenWave to teach regenerative ocean farming techniques to fishermen across the world. He gives his Brief But Spectacular take on making a living on a living planet.
Judy Woodruff: Bren Smith has spent his life on the water. After seeing firsthand the harsh effects of commercial fishing on the climate, Smith wanted to find a more environmentally friendly way to do what he loved.
In 2013, he founded the nonprofit GreenWave to teach regenerative ocean farming techniques to fishermen across the world.
Tonight, he gives his Brief But Spectacular take on making a living on a living planet.
Bren Smith, Executive Director and Co-Founder, GreenWave: You know, I grew up in a little town in Newfoundland, Canada, the most eastern point of all North America.
And all I ever wanted to be was a fisherman. Those were my heroes. So, at age 14, I dropped out of high school and headed out to sea. This was the late ’80s on the Bering Sea, and it was the height of industrialized fishing. We were tearing up entire ecosystems with our trawls.
Most of the fish I was catching was going to McDonald’s. So I was, like, right at that peak of one of the most unsustainable forms of food production on the planet, producing some of the most unhealthy food on the planet.
And that’s where I began to realize, if I’m going to make a living on a living planet, if I’m going to die on my boat one day, we need to change our relationship to the ocean.
Regenerative ocean farming has been around for centuries. The first regenerative ocean farmers were indigenous folks in the Pacific Northwest building clam walls. But I think the time has come because the climate economy and the challenge of climate change is demanding that we change the plate, right, that we shift things around.
And instead of being like, oh, what do we want to eat, it needs to shift to, what can we grow? What can the Earth provide at this moment? And the oceans are one of the key answers to that. We really need to trade knowledge in order to build this, because growing food underwater is really hard. I can’t see the crops I grow. I can’t swim. And my soil turns over 1,000 times a day.
The way we’re going to counter that is by thousands of farmers working together, collaborating together around the country and around the world. Regenerative ocean farming is using Mother Nature’s technologies to bring life back to the ocean and grow food.
We’re growing things that can’t swim away, and you don’t have to feed. So, that means you don’t need pens. You don’t need to use antibiotics and pesticides and fish feed to grow these things. You’re just allowing your shellfish and seaweed to soak up what’s in the water, soak up carbon, sunlight, things like that, in order to grow, which makes it zero-input food, making it hands down the most sustainable form of food production on the planet.
When you think of the farm, think of an underwater garden, where you have a rope scaffolding system below the surface held down by anchors. And from there, we can grow all our different crops. We can grow seaweed vertically downwards, next to mussel socks, oyster cages in the bottom, and clams down in the mud.
And it’s all below the surface, right? You come out to the farm and you just see some buoys. And that’s so important. Like, our oceans are these beautiful, pristine places. And we need to keep them that way. There’s a lot of ocean out there, and if you were to take less than 5 percent of U.S. waters and farm with regenerative ocean farming, according to the World Bank, you would create the protein equivalent of three trillion cheeseburgers and 50 million jobs.
I mean, if you want to rebuild the middle class, if you want to address the harms of globalization, bring production home, grow good local food, our waterways are an incredible way to do it. And I think that’s what brings so many people to this space, but also gets me sort of excited when I wake up at 4:00 every morning.
It’s like, oh, I can be part of the piece of the puzzle of addressing the biggest crisis we have ever faced as humanity.
My name is Bren Smith, and this is my Brief But Spectacular take on making a living on a living planet.
Judy Woodruff: And love his enthusiasm.
And you can watch all our Brief But Spectacular episodes at PBS.org/NewsHour/Brief.