Seaweed king: harvesting a gift from the ocean

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The old people are a lot smarter than we give them credit for,” says Joe Dorgan of Seacow Pond, who plans to create a thriving business from storm-tossed seaweed. Photo by Steve Sharratt

By Steve Sharratt

FOR THE SOU’WESTER

Transcontinental Media

 

Sure, he’d love to get rich one day, but the man from the edge of the sea has much better motives.

Like bringing prosperity back to his end of Prince Edward Island, employing hundreds of neighbours, and reviving a heritage industry. And if his new business takes off as fast as an Alberta oil well, Joe Dorgan could be a guy who helps revitalize his West Prince home.

“I’ve not made five cents from it yet,” he says leaning against a truck on a sunny March day. “But in five years time, I can see it being a $3-to-$5 million a year business employing 200 people . . . and that’s not dreaming.”

He doesn’t advertise and he doesn’t have a website, but Dorgan is getting lots of calls these days from continental Europe, Ireland, Texas and other parts of the United States. Even Mennonites from Pennsylvania are driving up to personally inspect the buoyancy of his product at North Atlantic Organics.

The naturally buoyant Dorgan talks, eats, and sleeps seaweed, and his gestured speech is peppered with rural vernacular and hard-scrabble passion.

“We’re selling storm-tossed seaweed,” blurts out the North Caper as confidently as a gourmet chef offering up a recipe. “It has over 50 natural minerals and nutrients and people want it because it’s a completely natural product.”

Islanders have always gone to the shore to gather free seaweed for their farm fields and gardens, but decades ago the straggly beach litter got a cold shoulder and was replaced with chemical fertilizers as a more advanced alternative to agriculture production – not unlike lobster, once thrown out the window if guests arrived because it was considered  “poor” food.

North Atlantic Organics hopes to change that attitude and Dorgan, a former diary farmer who recently sold his herd, hasn’t spent a cent on fertilizer for the past seven years.

“I grew up with the moss all around me and the old people hauling it home and spreading it on their fields. Now it’s sitting around rotting on the beaches. You have to respect the old people because they are a lot smarter than we give them credit for and I said to myself let’s go back to what they used.”

The science of his company business plan has been confirmed by the Nova Scotia Agriculture College, he’s sought out private and government funding through the ADAPT council, and now he’s jumping the hoops to get approval from the Canadian Food and Inspection Agency to export.

“There’s a major food supplier wanting to purchase Joe’s product once he gets approval,” says Phil Ferraro at the ADAPT centre that assists new resource-based businesses across the province.

 

Organizations: Nova Scotia Agriculture College, ADAPT council, Canadian Food and Inspection Agency

Geographic location: Prince Edward Island, Alberta, Europe Ireland Texas United States Pennsylvania North Caper

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