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Quarantine order in Rhode Island leads to detour of kelp crop into Stonington

Stonington — Stone Acres Farm is temporarily adding sugar kelp to the mix of crops occupying space in its Stonington greenhouse.

About 2,000 pounds of the sea greens were expected to arrive by U-Haul on Saturday, freshly harvested from the Great Salt Pond on Block Island and temporarily diverted to Connecticut because of the COVID-19 quarantine orders in place on Block Island and the rest of Rhode Island.

The kelp’s destination is still Brooklyn, N.Y., but it will remain in Stonington to be blanched, hung and dried before transport by its buyer, Crop Project, a startup company focused on supporting regenerative farming.

It was the collaboration between the Stonington farm co-owner Jane Meiser, the nonprofit GreenWave and The Crop Project that helped Block Island Shellfish Farm and Block Island Kelp owner Catherine Puckett out of a potential jam.

The challenge of getting the kelp to Crop Project without personnel remaining in quarantine on the island for two weeks led to an innovative solution.

Puckett harvested and bagged the kelp, then loaded it onto a ferry bound for Point Judith, R.I., to the awaiting U-Haul. The 400-pound bags were transported to Stone Acres’ greenhouses. After they dry — which will take at least 18 hours — they will be transported by the same U-Haul to Brooklyn. Problem solved.

The nonprofit GreenWave, who among other initiatives supports kelp farmers, helped facilitate the detour into Stonington.

“Crop Project called me and said, ‘We’re in trouble. We can’t get onto Block Island as planned,’” said Samantha Garwin, a market innovation strategist for GreenWave.

Puckett, fondly known as the oyster wench, harvests about 8,000 pounds of seaweed each year and found her operation disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic. She even had to get special permission from the chief of police for the bagging operation.

Garwin said in her search for a nearby landing spot for the earlier-than-usual harvest without being bound by the two-week quarantine obstacle, she found a willing partner in Meiser.

Meiser said it was fortuitous timing, since the farm was transitioning the greenhouse from winter to summer crops with a window of time that it is empty.

“It’s actually a perfect time for us to host 2,000 pounds of kelp,” she said.

The kelp is not for commercial use but could be used for food, fertilizer or even fuel.

Crop Project Founder Casey Emmett said his mission is to break down the bottlenecks that exist in the supply chain for regenerative crops in general, and seaweed in particular, this year. He is the former director of strategic sales at Health Warrior Inc., a nutritional snack company acquired by PepsiCo.

“Farmers often don’t have anyone obvious to sell to,” he said.

If all goes as planned, the seaweed will be ready for sale and distribution in Brooklyn by next week.


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