Eat Good Food, Foodshed, Watershed

Foraging for Sonoma Seaweed

A briny smell wafts from the laundry room sink as I rinse the grit from my fresh harvest of seaweed. Unfurling the fragile nori, I wash out the sand and shells ensconced in the wrinkled clump. After rinsing, I arrange my “catch” on a towel outside. The plants lay like limp fish out of water. Soon the afternoon sun transforms their tendrils from murky green to crispy black.

Drying seaweed is actually the end of the story. It is, however, one of many skills I learned during SHED’s Edible Seaweed Forage with Heidi Herrmann. Once harvested, seaweed should be washed and dried so it can be eaten throughout the year. A local seaweed expert, Heidi Herrmann of Strong Arm Farm, taught us about sustainable harvesting and how to cook with seaweed. It was an invigorating experience to climb over rocks, wade in the ocean, and nibble on the wild plants.

The morning of the forage was bright, clear, and beautiful. As I drove westward, the landscapes changed dramatically.  The neat vineyards turned to forest villages, and finally, the Sonoma coast came into view. The motley crew of fellow foragers met at Shell Beach at 7:30 am. Since seaweed harvesting is dependent on the time of the tides, we arrived early to get a break in the ebb and flow. Consulting her pocket tide book, Heidi gestured toward today’s date and the time of the tides. We had about an hour to get in and get out.

Shell Beach

I breached the parking lot overlook and began my descent towards the sea. Scuttling down the haphazard steps I took in my surroundings. A dramatic canvas of green vegetation swept down the valley. Delicate purple flowers sprouted along the path and massive rocky outcrops jutted up from the water offshore.

Once on the beach, Heidi taught us how to identify different varieties. Then, she instructed how cut the plants in a way that allows regrowth. Equipped with scissors, ziplock bags, and a sharpie, I began bagging samples. At times it felt like a coastal crime scene: I was the investigator and the seaweed was the evidence.

We came across several varieties:

  • sister Sarah, a frilly, crunchy variety that resembles a wreath
  • kombu, a slimy, leathery variety that resembles a belt
  • bladderwrack, a leafy variety with an unfortunate name
  • nori, a smooth, shiny, and paper thin variety the resembles decorative wrapping paper.

As the tide came back, we packed our harvest and turned to Heidi for our final lesson of the day. She asked us each to reflect on our experience with gratitude for each other, the superb day, and the generous ocean. Foraging should not be taken for granted. Only by respecting the seasons, the tides, and the environment can we continue to enjoy edible seaweed.

Foodshed, Watershed

Sustainable Seafood

Sustainable seafood is as important as any other sustainable production. If we’d like more fish, we need to protect our oceans.

As part of SHED’s passion for  sustainability, highlighted all this month as part of Healdsburg’s commitment to protecting and celebrating our environment, we source our seafood from TwoxSea, a San Francisco-based distributor changing the way that seafood is farmed, caught, and handled.


Artisan Producers, Cooking, Watershed

Crab’s Very Short Season

California’s commercial crab season south of Mendocino County commenced on Nov. 15 this year and the harvest is looking great, but Kenny Belov of TwoXSea can’t help but look ahead to its end. Because while California’s dungeness crab season stretches all the way to June, the animals themselves do not.

“The crab has been wonderful and delicious and all of the good things that you want it to be,” says Belov, whose company provides all of SHED’s seafood. “The problem is that, by the end of this month, we’re going to be wondering if we actually have enough crab for Christmas and New Year’s. There will be crab, but it may not be fresh.”

Belov has a boat fishing for crab right now off the coast of Bolinas in Western Marin County and reports that it’s “definitely been a good and strong harvest,” but can’t suppress a slight tone of pessimism. “Unfortunately for people like myself and those at SHED who would like to see a more spread-out season — as opposed to everything coming in all at once and disappearing — what we’ve had this year is a tremendous amount of crab that’s getting vacuumed up quickly.”

Belov calls the start of crab season “D-Day for crabs,” explaining, “The fishermen know exactly where the crabs are and, on the exact same day, they all drop their pots. The crabs just crawl in. The fishermen do this for a few weeks until the ocean floor is more or less cleaned up. The big boats can’t make a living at just five pounds of crab per catch, so they’ll stack their pots up and go home.”

Belov pauses. “That’s the nature of high-volume fishing,” he says. “It’s out there, let’s go get it.”

If humans didn’t excel at exploiting resources, be they buffalo or oil or carrier pigeons or redwood trees, we wouldn’t have enjoyed such species growth. Our approach to seasonal shellfish is nothing if not distinctly human. It’s there, it’s got value . . . let’s go get it. According to Belov, the problem is locally compounded by fishing boats from Oregon and Washington state that carry California licenses. The crab season up north began Dec. 1, so they had two full November weeks to harvest in our waters before returning home to glean their own treasures.

“And these aren’t boats,” Belov stresses, “they’re ships. That’s the nature of this fishery; it’s a sad part of this fishery.”

As it stands, local dungeness is “vacuumed up” by December’s end, cooked, and frozen to be consumed through the rest of the season. As an example, Belov describes a business neighboring his on San Francisco’s Pier 45 that right now is frantically cooking all of the crabs that Whole Foods Markets nationally purvey. All of them.

And in truth, most of California’s catch is exported, not only out of state, but out of the U. S. Too much just comes in all at once. “A small amount of the crab caught in this area is consumed fresh,” he says, “because it’s impossible for us to eat it fast enough.”

Belov, who owns Fish Restaurant in Sausalito with partner Bill Foss and is hugely involved in supporting sustainable, line-caught fishing practices, says that he got into wholesale seafood because he felt that he simply couldn’t ignore the current state of our oceans. “I had to do it,” he says.

He suggests that an answer to extending the crab fishery requires the same kind of thinking that has prompted many consumers to pay the true price for a dozen eggs or eschew tomatoes in January.

“We need to look at ourselves and wonder what the price threshold really should be and what we’re willing to pay [for crab],” Belov says. “The price of crab to the vessel hasn’t changed that much in the last decade and so, the only way you can sustain yourself as a vessel owner is to fish in volume. As consumers, we can argue that we’re willing to pay three times as much as we currently do, but are we? What is the price threshold that we’re willing to hold?”

Educating consumers and nurturing customers who understand the nature of the problem remains key. “It’s people like those at SHED who make my job much easier,” Belov says, “because they’ve already bought into this fight of sourcing renewable products that will shape our future. It’s very easy for me when I source something that’s the right season and the right flavor profile — they’re just ready to take it.”

But for now, the season is on, the pots are dropped, and the ships are still in local waters. The Great Crab Vacuuming continues. “It’s one of our great local products,” Belov says, “and I wish that more of it stayed local and I wish that the season was as long as it is supposed to be but I don’t have a solution other than to try to pay your fishermen as much as you possibly can and try to get customers to embrace the idea of riding the season out with the fishermen.”

Farming, Foodshed, Healdsburg, Nonprofits, Watershed

Giving Thanks

As Thanksgiving nears and we consider the bounty surrounding us, we extend our gratitude to 10 local organizations that provide our community with a variety of ways to connect with fresh food, local farmers, healthy practices, and a love of the earth. Our additional gratitude to Petaluma’s Douglas Gayeton of the Lexicon of Sustainability project for the amazing image.

• Farm to Pantry. A volunteer organization devoted to providing fresh, healthy, and affordable food to all through gleaning surplus produce that might otherwise go to waste from area farms and backyards.

• Russian Riverkeeper. Aiming to advocate, educate, and celebrate the Russian River watershed, Russian Riverkeeper works to inspire us all to protect this important local resource.

• LandPaths. A nonprofit whose goal is to foster a love of the land, helping citizens to learn more about our area so as to better protect and preserve it.

• Healdsburg High School’s Farm to Table Program. Helping the newest generation learn the value and practices of sustainable agriculture.

• Healdsburg Farmers Market. Founded in 1978 and one of the 22 original certified farmers’ markets in California, its last day of the season is this Saturday, Nov. 29, from 9am to noon.

• The Farmers Guild. Originally named the Young Farmers Guild, this group encourages and helps to connect the “newest wave” of agriculturalists.

• Community Garden Network of Sonoma County. Offers training, mentoring, and assistance to those who keep plots in the 90 community gardens we’re proud to have in this county.

• Community Alliance with Family Farmers. A state-wide program that connects farmers with consumers, chefs, and others who value sustainably grown and healthy fresh food.

• Occidental Arts and Ecology Center. A nonprofit agricultural center with an organic demonstration garden placed within the borders of an intentional community.

• The School Garden Network of Sonoma County. Supports nutrition-based learning programs in our schools, connecting kids to the earth in order to better understand their role on the planet and the importance — and pleasures — of healthy eating.

Best wishes for a lovely Thanksgiving from all of us at SHED!