US (NC): Saltwater farm grows edible sea beans

Charleston is home to the first-ever indoor saltwater hydroponics farm that utilizes ocean water, the world’s most abundant resource, to grow food. 

Micronutrients of seawater that are transferred into the plants are a great source of minerals in our daily diets. Additionally, seawater irrigation allows the company to use less freshwater than any farm in the U.S. Heron Farms’ first crop is sea beans, salicornia europaea, an edible plant that grows in the salt marsh. These types of saltwater-tolerant plants are known as halophytes, which have evolved to tolerate salt across their whole life cycle. 

For every pound of sea beans sold at Heron Farms, the company replants a sq. ft. of salt marsh along coastal South Carolina and Bangladesh using a custom seed-dropping drone. So far, 30,000 sq. ft. have been planted. 

Heron Farms, located at 1783 Harmon St., was established by Sam Norton in 2018. Sam grew up on a barrier island off the coast of South Carolina where his family home flooded more frequently and severely every year due to the sea level rise. The same issue was seen during his trip to Bangladesh, where he witnessed saltwater intrusion into coastal rice paddies upending the lives of many farmers in Asia.

This led to the idea of treating sea level rise as a free resource that could be used for agriculture instead of just an environmental problem. Sam’s concept took shape and won the ACRE Startup Competition from the SC Department of Agriculture and the Charleston-based Harbor Accelerator Startup Competition. Following these achievements, Heron Farms was created and the idea became a reality in June 2018.  

Heron Farms has been invited by Seawater Solutions to present at the 2021 UN Climate Change Conference in Glasgow, Scotland, where the Charleston-based company will build a second saltwater hydroponics farm. 

Source: CHS Today (Katie Smith)



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