It’s late April. Most farmers in North America have just finished planting their crops. Bren Smith is harvesting his near Thimble Island in Long Island Sound. Smith’s farm is unusual. Instead of growing corn or wheat, Smith grows . . . seaweed!

Welcome to the world of ocean farming.

Bren Smith checks how well the seaweed on his farm is growing.

A Hidden Farm

On the water, it’s easy to miss Bren Smith’s farm. You could row right over it. But there are clues.

A series of white floating balls called buoys bob up and down. Follow them with your eyes. Connect them with imaginary lines. They form the edges of an area the size of 30 football fields. That’s the border of the farm.

Look closer. Black buoys dot the water inside the border. They form long lines, marking rows of crops.

But don’t expect to see plants poking above the water. The whole idea of an ocean farm is that everything is under the sea. It’s an idea that Bren Smith has turned into a passion.

These black and white buoys are part of Bren Smith's ocean farm.

A New Kind of Farming

Smith always knew he wanted to earn his living on the ocean. As a teenager, he became a commercial fisher. Catching cod in the North Atlantic or salmon in the Pacific, Smith loved life on the sea. And he loved the idea of providing food for people.

But Smith was troubled. He saw that boats were chugging farther out to sea to find fish. The fish were being taken from the ocean faster than they could be replaced. Fishers were overfishing. 

Meet Bren Smith.

Bren Smith hauls in a basket from his ocean farm.

Not only were fish populations getting smaller, but their homes were also being destroyed. As fishing nets were dragged along the seafloor, they tore up reefs and ecosystems where fish and other sea animals live.

Smith saw all this. He didn’t like being a part of it. He thought there must be a better way to harvest food from the sea. He thought we should be able to use ocean resources in a sustainable way. That means using something without using it up.

Smith sought the advice of a scientist who was an expert on seaweed. Smith knew seaweed was the slimy stuff that washes up on rocks. He knew it looks like a plant but isn’t a plant. It’s a type of algae. But he also knew that it is edible. It’s a common food in Asia.