Welcome to Pacific Wildcraft Seaweed!


In the following interview, Andrew from Pacific Wildcraft shares the joys and secrets of seaweed harvesting off of California's Mendocino Coast

(Interview posted on Sea Vegetable Scavenger Hunt)

Q. how and why did you get interested in sea vegetables and harvesting?
A. Seaweeds for me represent an opportunity for wildcrafting. Wildcrafting is an opportunity for me to locate myself in the world, to immerse myself in the smells, tastes, and textures of nature. Go into someone’s garden and begin harvesting their food, and they will likely scold you for taking what is theirs, as they see themselves of creators of that garden. When we gather from the wild, we gather from Creator’s garden. And as creator made me and put me in this garden, it is perfectly natural that I explore, learn, utilize, and benefit from it. My first mentor in wildcrafting taught that “wildcrafting is stewardship.” Wildcrafting is being alive.

My years living in Mendocino County, my close proximity to the ocean, and my growing knowledge of the powers of seaweeds inspired me to take the plunge into the frigid Pacific waters and explore the wilds and rhythms of ocean, moon, and tides. I like the seeming simplicity of seaweeds, the single-celled synthesis of ocean and starlight replicating and radiating in the harmonious life-giving impulse of foundational DNA patterning. To my mind, this patterning is what gives seaweeds the power to unravel such harmful and contrary patterns such as viruses and cancers.

Q. how often do you harvest and where?
A. Attunement to the harvest cycle is attunement to the seasons and the moon. As the spring sun becomes stronger and closer to our part of the earth, the seaweeds spring into life, growing rapidly. The cycles of the moon determine the action of the tides.

Low tide in the spring and summer is the best time to harvest. For a fleeting moment, mama ocean draws herself back from shore unveiling the abundant life at the edge of the earth. Piles of brown, red, purple, and green; seaweeds smooth, bumpy, iridescent, sheen, swaying in the calm waters or high and dry now, up on the rocks, cloaked in fog or shimmering in early morning sunlight, greet these human eyes. And that’s just the seaweed. The full moon is sinking into the ocean, or the new moon is rising behind the hills to the east. These are the times to harvest. This is my life on the Mendocino Coast.

Q. does anyone help you with the harvesting?
A. Generally, I have harvested alone. I am open to going with others, though I am somewhat protective of having this space for myself.

Q. how do you reach the sea vegetables? (boats, kayak, etc.?)
A. The seaweeds are right there. Walk up to the edge, roll up your pants. Check them out, pick some. I used to hike to my preferred spots and pack out the harvest, sometimes in three trips and sometimes ½ mile- 1 mile each way. With my kayak, I can put-in just about anywhere, and though I may emerge with the harvest at a short steep trail instead of a long flat walk, I mostly transport the heavy harvest load over water and this is good for my knees and back. Kayaking is a different adventure altogether, taking me to otherwise inaccessible places and sometimes precarious situations. In a kayak, I can sometimes ride the harvest in on a wave. I can also tip over!

Q. where do you dry your sea vegetables and how long does that usually take?
A. The last two seasons I have dried my harvest at a natural building/permaculture intentional community in the hills near Boonville. I hope to continue with this arrangement, as it is much more rewarding and sustainable for me.

Drying the seaweed on a hot sunny day takes only a few hours. When it is dry, I pack it into food grade drums.

Q. what are your concerns about the changing state of the ocean in regards to pollution?
A. The world is becoming more polluted in exponentially increasing rates. Pristine areas that face no significant threats from local pollution can be harmed from effluent originating across the world. In the 10 years I’ve been gathering sea vegetables the world has changed significantly. We receive air pollution from China, a nation working very hard to match the pattern of consumption modeled by my country. How many coal-fired plants have come on-line in China alone in those 10 years? How many more by the time I harvest next season? Where will those heavy metals land? Will we drill oil off the N. CA coast to supplement our way of life? Is the changing of the harvest time relative to seasons that I’ve witnessed over the past few years a result of global warming? How will warmer oceans affect the life of the ocean here in N. CA?

Regarding the safety of the seaweed I harvest, I intend to have samples tested at least once a month, if not bi-monthly, beginning next season. Any science students interested in supporting such research should please contact me (707-357-0375)

In general, I never take for granted or assume in my heart that I will be harvesting again the next season. Who knows?

Q. where and when can people buy your sea vegetables?
A. People can buy or eat seaweed I harvest @ Café Gratitude, Andy’s Produce Stand in Sebastopol, Berkeley Farmers Market/ Tuesday, Judahlicious in SF, among other places, or just call and purchase direct from me.

Q. what's your favorite type? what's your favorite recipe to make with sea vegetables?
A. Nori is probably my favorite; is probably the most widely consumed seaweed on earth, by humans. Toast lightly in a hot skillet, in the oven on the lowest temp. setting for just a couple minutes, or put in a dehydrator if you have one, seasoned or plain. It’s delicious and protein and vitamin rich.

Kombu in soup, or wakame marinated, raw or in stirfry/simmery, saucey-type dish is delicious and nutritious.

Q. do you belong to a community of people who also harvest?
A. In a way. It depends how you define community. There are a number of other harvesters on the Mendocino coast, most I rarely even see or talk to but once every couple years. Sometimes we get together and counsel. There are other harvesters I’m not even aware of, but there’s some kind of common bond there. We’re all in it for the same thing really: to sustain ourselves in a good way, in a natural, intrinsically human way, by bringing good food and medicine to people of the world. To be wildcrafters.

Many people ask me if they can come out with me sometime. I haven’t done much of that for a number of reasons: primarily that I’ve never wanted to commit to being somewhere on a given harvest day. What if the water is really calm and I can slip in with my kayak over there!? I more open to taking folks out with me a few days this upcoming season, God willing.

Q. is harvesting a year-long, economically sustainable practice for you?
A. For most harvesters, including myself, it is part of the mosaic of income patching. My business has grown a little more every year. Central to my way of life is keeping my needs and expenses nominal. It’s all relative.

Q. what challenges do you face in your business?
A. Challenges exist, but in general I don’t face them because I don’t cling too tightly to the notion that I’ll always be able to do this, for many reasons. So to really face some of these concerns I think saps my energy as I can find myself confronted with many challenges over which I have no control and which can smash my ability, or our ability, to harvest seaweeds, just like a wave smashing me on the rocks. Some possible or probable issues topping the list are climate change, pollution, both global or local (some control there), overzealous government restrictions stripping people of the right to sustainable harvest (some control). Other just as likely candidates: nuclear war, twisting my knee skiing, straining my shoulder surfing, being smashed by a wave, being inspired to do something else. What if we decide not to drill on the coast and the people of Columbia, Nigeria, Venezuela, Iraq, Russia, and the Artic Caribou decide they don’t want to destroy what’s left of their world to provide oil for us? How am I supposed to get my seaweed then!

Q. why do you think its important that customers buy locally vs. from japan or the east coast?
A. First, I think people will generally get better seaweed from North Coast harvesters than they will from anywhere else in the world. We are micro-harvester/processors up here. A lot of Korean or Japanese seaweeds are farmed, and actually contribute to local pollution in those countries. I think some Maine harvesters have a good quality product to offer.

Supporting local harvesters supports a local culture and supports people who take an interest in this aspect of our landscape. We honor and utilize the offerings of our local world and offer them to people who live here. By supporting local harvesters, people support other members of their greater community who will step up to protect the availability of our local resources to the extent that we are able.

Q. what measures do you take to ensure that you're harvesting sustainably?
A. Very simple. I trim plants so they continue to grow, as a barber trims hair, and I harvest at the same places year after year so I can see the affect of my presence. I get to know and respect a place so that to harvest there is to honor it, and to honor it is to harvest with respect and gratitude. Plants like to be harvested.

To me, how I conduct my operation is important. In the ten years I’ve harvested I’ve travelled almost entirely on biodiesel or veggie oil I’ve gathered as waste oil.

Q. what types of information would you suggest that people be aware of before harvesting on their own?
A. Get a tide chart. Use common sense regarding where you decide to harvest.

Be sure that you can process what you harvest. That’s important, because it enables the harvester to bring completion to the ceremony. The results of an aborted exploit can always be added to the compost, and if the harvesting has been done in a way that allows for regeneration of the plant, then no real harm is done. But what about intention? If the intention is to gather seaweed and make food or medicine, honor yourself and honor the plant and be prepared to see it through.

It’s nice to know what you are harvesting, but a poisonous seaweed is extremely rare and not a concern in our part of the world. Embrace adventure and exploration.

Be aware of the ocean. Harvest facing the ocean. Look down. Harvest. Look up. Turn your back on Big Mama and risk being slapped. She hits hard.

Arrive early. Give yourself time to be blown away.

"A love of wild plants brought us to the ocean at low tide for the seaweed harvest. From land or sea, we bring joy and gratitude to the act of gathering. If you seek medicinal or edible wild plants from the Pacific Northwest or California, we may be able to wildcraft and prepare them for you. We are responsible in our approach to the stands, with a watchful eye to quality."
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