I was lucky to spend my teenage years living on Northern Ireland’s North Coast.
The view from my bedroom window looked out over Ballycastle beach and the Atlantic ocean. Not too far out, Rathlin Island would emerge from the morning sea mist like some mythical land.
But, this little island with a population of around 100 people has more to offer than Celtic folklore.
Mother and son Kate Burns and Benji McFaul established the ‘Islander Sea Food Company’ on Rathlin and built a sustainable business farming natural sea kelp. Kelp is edible seaweed and a natural superfood that’s gaining popularity outside its traditional Asian market.
Rathlin has clean, cold waters due to the mix of Irish Sea and Atlantic currents, and is ideal for growing and harvesting of ‘kelp forests’. The waters around the British Isles are particularly suitable because of the Gulf Stream as it means the temperatures are near optimum the year round for kelp.
Kate and Benji are growing thousands of tonnes of kelp on ropes that extend out from the shoreline into the sea around Rathlin. Conditions are perfect for growing the fine species of seaweed used in traditional Japanese miso soup, and the thicker variety used in noodle recipes.
To begin with, they relied on natural spores in the water to spawn the seaweed plants on the ropes. The company now has a laboratory on the shore to germinate its own miniature kelp, before transferring them on to the ropes. Which means the kelp mixtures grow at the same rate and can be harvested at the same time.
Good For The Environment
Kelp grows organically.It’s a completely environmentally sustainable vegetable. The kelp forests create important habitats for sea-life and ocean birds. Farming ensures wild sources of kelp don’t get depleted. It doesn’t use fertilisers or fresh water like land based farms. It works in harmony with the ocean.
The Islander Sea Food Company’s commitment to the environment has run for generations in the family. McFaul’s father and brother won Northern Ireland Organic farmers of the year in 2010, and this ethos is held strong in the new company’s seafood business.
Good For Us
As it grows, the kelp extracts minerals from the sea. It contains healthy levels of calcium, iron and small amounts of potassium, magnesium and sodium. It’s also a natural, safe source of iodine, and is particularly good for those short of iodine and with thyroid problems.
Rathlin’s Islander Seafood Company is environmentally sound farming at its best. It has taken what nature has provided, and found the sustainable and responsible way to use it. Small island, small company, big heart.
To find out more about them and about kelp, visit their website. And if you’ve never cooked seaweed before, they have some great recipes for kelp too.