Sustaining Seaweed & Memories
Bonnie L. Tobey, SOURCE, Inc.
I, along with my sister Teresa and my brother Greg, grew up on Little Yarmouth Island, which has been in our family since August 5th, 1859. Being a private island there are no ferries, no bridges and no local markets to grab our groceries.
We learned at an early age and by example to take care of our things, not to litter, and to always recycle. If we were riding in the boat and saw something that didn’t belong in the ocean, we would stop and fish it out. If it was trash, it had no purpose being in the water and often we found useful items such as blocks of Styrofoam or logs that we brought back and used later on for something else. My Dad was pretty organized so he had established something of a warehouse with places for everything and everything in its place. He always seemed to be able to come up with something needed down the road from this same warehouse.
My mother grew all our vegetables. She even made butter and soap. She had one of those wonderful big cast iron cook stoves where she baked bread and in the spring time she would boil a large vat of maple syrup. Our power was wind generated (and still is in addition to adding solar panels). We raised chickens, had one cow for milk and tried raising pigs once but when it came time to slaughter them we decided there were drawbacks to being that self sufficient.
Our Parents were and still are excellent examples of how we should care for whatever resources we are given. I have to admit, I never much thought of seaweed as a resource while growing up. I used to like to turn it over at low tide and see the crabs run but beyond than that it just seemed to get in the way of swimming or get caught in the prop of the outboard.
However, little did I know that seaweed would be the future of mine and my brother’s careers! We are both employed by Source Maine, one of the largest seaweed businesses in the state. Source has been in business since 1975 and Seaweed is simply “what we do”. In addition to my brother’s job as the General Manager and mine as the Office Manager, we also do our fair share of actual harvesting whenever needed.
We have two mechanical harvesters which, in my opinion, are pretty “cool”. For someone who knows nothing about them, they look pretty strange and we get a lot of questions when transporting them. Most people are just curious. Some people are concerned that mechanical harvesting is endangering the resource and the creatures that might dwell within. I can understand their concern, especially if they’re unfamiliar with how they operate.
I can attest first-hand that very little besides the occasional periwinkle or half a clam shell get brought in with the seaweed. The harvesters are designed to leave the sustainable lateral branching of the plant well above what’s necessary for the plant to continue growing. Part of my job is photographing and measuring the harvest area before and after each Season. What’s rewarding is seeing how quickly it does grow back and how healthy the new growth is. I’m not much of a gardener like my mother but I do compare it to caring for plants. Proper pruning and harvesting keeps a plant strong and maximizes its nutrients.
I am proud to be part of Maine’s Seaweed Industry. By caring for this resource we ensure that many people benefit from the fruits of our labor while we ensure there are future fruits to harvest.