An Organic Standard?

By Larch On July 15th, 2005

Last year I was approached by an organic certifier. “Tell me about your harvest methods,” he said. “We don’t know anything about seaweed harvesting.” I replied with these facts:

  1. My bay is free of boat traffic from October through May when I start the kelp harvest. In the summertime, lobstermen pursue the migration of lobsters into the bay, but then I’m working away from them on the islands.
  2. There are no cities, factories, harbors, or nuclear power plants on my bay. Smithsonian Institute studied my bay and they said that there’s a wide diversity of life forms, indicating low levels of pollution. On a quiet day, I can see down to bottom at a depth of 30 feet.
  3. I build my own boats from wood, and I coat them with vegetable oil. They turn dark with age, like old salad bowls. The tow boat has several bulkheads and is powered by a four cycle outboard that doesn’t mix oil with gas. The separate container boats are rowed away from the tow boat to the harvest sites, then rowed back to the tow boat.
  4. My hand-selected harvest is brought to bone-dry perfection within 48 hours of harvest at temperatures below 100 degrees F. I use solar and wind drying methods the first day, and a solar/fanned drying room with wood back-up heat on the second day. Long plants are hung up on lines like laundry, small plants are dried on untreated white nylon netting stretched on frames at waist level.

“Excellent” the organic certifier replied. “We could write an organic standard, using the information you have just given us, and then we could certify you.” “And what would it cost me to do that?” I asked. “Three percent of your gross sales, plus annual inspection fees and travel expenses for the inspector.” “Go away,” I said. “Three percent of my gross sales is twenty percent of my net profits, and you are simply picking my brain, then selling my words back to me. I already have my integrity, and nothing that you have said to me is going to increase my integrity. I invite customers to visit me and see what I do. I maintain an open door policy with them. I discuss the problems I face quite candidly. That’s a much more powerful inspection than your once-a-year visit, and it doesn’t force me to raise my prices, as your inspection would. Organic certification is the New Age Mafia, ignoring water quality.

When I was a boy, my father and I went fishing on the lakes in Minnesota, and we caught big fish. I have pleasant memories of him. Then he died of cancer when I was 10. When I was 20, I moved to Florida, and there I learned to love the ocean, swimming in it every day. One summer I went up to Maine, and I discovered that Maine looks like Minnesota!..but with an ocean, and I became hooked on the combinations. As I started to work in small boats on my bay, I noticed that my father’s spirit was close to me, so I opened up to his spirit, through prayer and chanting, and I asked him to guide me. In response, he sent many people into my life who all had my mother’s birthday: May 4th. In western astrology, May 4th is “The Day of Nourishing Support.” Dad was saying to me, “Son, you need a megadose of your mother’s nourishing qualities.”

One of the May 4th people who helped me was Jane Teas, a cancer researcher who had been studying the Japanese dietary link to lower incidence of cancer. (Note: the Japanese are eating brown seaweeds: kombu and wakame are cousins of my kelp and alaria. Dulse is classified as a red algae; kelp and alaria have superior healing qualities.) Jane pulled on a wetsuit and went out in the boats with me in order to select a brown seaweed that could be given to post-menopausal breast cancer survivors in a study of their immune systems. She selected alaria. Later she wrote to me to say that alaria had improved the immune systems of the women in the study. “Keep up the good work!”

After Jane studied alaria, my friend Candace, another person with a May 4th birthday, said, “I’m part of a circle of healers who get together regularly. They don’t know you, but I’m going to take the seaweeds you harvest to their gathering, just to see what they might have to say. Some of them are psychics, some are medical intuitives.” When Candace returned from the gathering, I asked her what had happened. She replied, “When the alaria was placed in the center of the circle, one of the women who is psychic asked me, ‘Does Larch have a father who died?’ I replied, ‘Yes.’ Then she said, ‘Well, I feel moved to say that Larch’s father’s spirit is guiding the group tonight, and he would like Larch to know that the alaria he harvests would have helped to heal his cancer.'” When Candace relayed all that to me, I reflected for awhile and then I said, “Well, I guess I’ll stay at the work.”

There, I’ve said it. This brings you up to date. But what does the future hold? Well, it’s not good news. Here on the foggy coast of Maine, the fishermen have a rather realistic way of putting it: “Cheer up, chummy, things will get worse,” Last month, a researcher in Texas called me and asked for samples of all my seaweeds. He was studying iodine so that an iodine supplement could be developed. “Why?” I asked. “Well,” he replied, “there really aren’t good supplements for iodine available to the general public. Your seaweed flier covers the subject pretty well, but now we have the perchlorate problem.” “Yes,” I said, “I’ve heard a little bit about perchlorate. That’s the chemical that’s associated with rocket fuel, and it’s also released in a car when the air bag is activated. It’s associated with explosives, right?” “Right,” he said, “and there’s a lagoon of stale rocket fuel in Nevada, 250 million gallons, that is leaching into the Colorado River. The Colorado River irrigates the southwest U.S. and Mexico. 30% of this country’s produce is grown in that water system. The broad leaf vegetables like lettuce take up perchlorate, and perchlorate blocks transport of iodine to the thyroid. So we have an epidemic of hypothyroidism in this country, people who are overweight with sluggish metabolisms.” I thought for a moment, and then I said. “So that’s why, when the Columbia blew up and was scattered all across eastern Texas and Louisiana, people were told that if they discovered a piece of the rocket, to report it but not to touch it.” “Right,” the researcher replied. “They were afraid of perchlorate contamination of people and water. They had divers in ponds, searching for pieces. It’s nasty stuff.” I said, “In my business, I encourage people to eat 3-5 grams of seaweed each day, to protect their thyroids. 3-5 grams is about the same weight as 3-5 paper clips. That’s one Family Pack per person per year.” The researcher replied, “Keep up the good work.”

Once I sampled seaweed supplements in health food stores to see what was available. I noticed that the illustration on the label didn’t match the description in the ingredients, and the species was seldom given. When I broke open the capsules and tasted what was actually in them, it was low quality and often it didn’t match either the illustration or the ingredients description. In contrast, I often get feedback from my customers like this: “What a wonderful gift you’ve given me! Thank you for sharing your wisdom and your generosity. I was standing in the ‘health food’ store looking at a bottle of powdered kelp, and was wondering what was really in it. Your stuff is the real thing.”