Sunday, March 16, 2008
For years, I'd look out the train window as we passed the ocean and see strange fields of what looked like poles sticking out of the ocean. "Those are seaweed farms," my mother would always say, ever the voice of experience. A couple of years ago, I had the chance to actually visit one of these farms, and to see how the seaweed is raised, grown, harvested, processed and packaged. Of course I ate some too (and gave a little to Japundit).
According to the farmer I met, there are two basic methods for growing seaweed. The first is a simpler process in which rope "planted" with seeds is set out in the ocean. If the tides are too low, however, the seaweed is not submerged in sea-water and may spend some time out in the open air. The second process--what you see here--is known as ukinori. Seaweed is planted in a net which floats in the water, going up and down as the waterline rises or recedes. Harvesting ukinori is more complicated because the netting provides so many more nooks and crannies, and farmers must go beneath the netting with a boat to even pick their crop. But, insist the farmers, this kind of seaweed always tastes better.
Farmers check their crops by sailing in between the seaweed beds and using a rudimentary hook to pull the net out of the water.
The harvested seaweed is processed into sheets which are sorted and graded.
The very best seaweed--like all delicacies--are the most expensive, the most even looking and the hardest to come by. The rest is sold at a lower grade.