Maine seaweed-based businesses are getting ocean greens on the menu
The seeds were planted when Josh Rogers was growing up in Maine, eating Canadian dulse out of a barrel.
"When I was a kid, the only thing I knew about seaweed was that it tasted good," Rogers said at the panel discussion of the Why Seaweed Matters event in Portland, Maine, on Tuesday evening.
Years later and hundreds of miles from the Gulf of Maine, Rogers was working a corporate tech job in New York City when he was struck with the idea for seaweed tea. The next step for the Google content strategist was, naturally, to Google it.
Rogers discovered that there may be a market niche for his idea and got to work developing and testing product on friends and family. When he felt ready to take it to the public, he ran his first trial run in Gardiner, Maine, eager for a wider range of feedback.
"I learned that people did not like it," Rogers confessed. But that didn't keep him from going back to the development phase to try again.
"One-hundred years ago, lobster was something no one wanted to eat. And look at it now."
That was the vibe among the crowd attending the event at Maine Craft Distilling, which included samples of kelp fritters, Rogers' Sea Smoke tea, and a burgeoning enthusiasm for seaweed, a product on the precipice.
"There is all this tremendous good will toward seaweed," Rogers said. "There's something about it that's almost magical. It's a good time to be alive in the world of seaweed."
Rogers owns the brick-and-mortar shop Heritage Seaweed on Portland's East End, which he promotes as a destination for "all things seaweed," including his own Cup of Sea tea.
He's also launching Maine's (and the world's) first Seaweed Week, a celebration of sea vegetables among the bustling food and drink scene across the state and into New Hampshire.
"It's a harvest festival," Rogers added, noting that Maine has more than 100 kelp farm lease sites (roughly 30 of those are actively cultivating seaweed). So far, almost 50 restaurants, bars and bakeries have signed up to participate, plus 15 college campuses through Sodexo's Maine Course.
This seaweed infusion is a key entry point for consumers who are excited about ocean greens but aren't sure how to handle, prepare or incorporate seaweed at home.
Stay tuned here for weekly updates on Maine's seaweed scene and highlights from Seaweed Week, April 26 - May 4.
Why Seaweed Matters is the first of a series of events on the Blue Economy hosted by the New England Ocean Cluster with collaboration from Startup Maine and sponsored by the Maine Center for Graduate and Professional Studies.