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harvesting sea veggies

A Story of Kayaks, Steep Cliffs, and Very Early Mornings

We’re often asked how we actually collect our sea vegetables. We do it entirely by hand, on coastal rocks, and without machinery. But that doesn’t give you much of a picture, does it? Here’s what we’re really doing out there in the frigid Pacific waters along the Mendocino Coast

A harvest day begins before dawn, during the lowest tides of spring and summer. Three of us squeeze into wetsuits, pile ourselves and our gear into the Rising Tide pickup truck and set out for the coast.

Dawn over Mendocino Bay

Rising Tide’s owner Larry Knowles has been monitoring our sites both from the cliffs and by kayak for weeks, and has chosen a seaweed bed that’s in prime condition for harvest. (We return to the same harvest sites year after year and keep records of the seaweed growth on each rock so that we can see for ourselves that we’re harvesting sustainably and not depleting the seaweed beds.)

We park as close as we can to a trail to the water, since we’ve got a bunch of stuff to haul down the cliffs. Each seaweed species grows differently and each requires unique equipment, but if we’re harvesting Kombu, we’ll unload wheelbarrows, a kayak, a kayak trundle, backpacks, knives, buckets, and large recycled bags. We wheelbarrow all this along trails, sometimes for a quarter of a mile, to get to the bluff overlooking the harvest location. Someone paddles the kayak out and anchors it. And then we grab our 30-gallon cork bags, and wade or swim out 100 yards or so to the Kombu bed.

Carrying a large load of sea vegetable down a path

In waist-deep water, we take out our special seaweed cutting knives and start harvesting the Kombu. On each plant, we cut only a portion of the blades, leaving a full-length section intact. Cutting this way allows the plant to reproduce and keep growing, and also leaves a very small visual footprint. Leave no trace!

Larry in the water cutting kombu

We load up the kayak with our full bags of seaweed and ferry them back to the beach, where we deposit them on a sheet to keep them well out of sand and gravel. Then we load up the wheelbarrows with the seaweed and push them — 200 lbs each! — sometimes across sand (groan), then up the trails and back to the truck.

A kayak loaded down with bags of seaweed

Amazingly, everything fits in the truck, even with 700 lbs of seaweed. We definitely notice weight difference driving back.

Back in the warm, sunny drying yard, that same morning, we spread out our vibrant, freshly harvested sea vegetables, covering 2,000 square feet of prepared drying surface. We get the last bit of seaweed laid out in the sun by 1:30. By 5:30, it’s almost dry, and we pull it into our drying room, where solar heat, fans and dehumidifiers finish the process. Rarely do we need to turn on heaters, but if we do, we’re sure to keep the temperature at 90 degrees.

Kombu laid out on outdoor drying racks

Next morning, what was 700 lbs of seaweed is now about 100 lbs. We bag it up into large, food-grade bags that will go into the cool darkness of our dedicated storage room at Chubby’s Shared Use Kitchen, then packaged to send directly to you.

Dried seaweed being bagged into food-grade bags

Voila! The finest seaweed products you can buy.

The reward for all this work — besides the satisfaction of offering some of the highest quality sea vegetables in the world — is the joy and privilege of spending time in these spectacularly beautiful, complex, and amazingly productive intertidal areas. What we harvest from this magical place is truly deserving of seaweed’s ancient renown as a food fit for the gods.

Chad showing off a package of wakame

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