What do a high school sophomore, a direct marketer, and a sternman have in common? Seaweed and shellfish aquaculture, of course! They're all members of our Aquaculture Business Development (ABD) program, who spent a clear, cold December day touring farms and learning from industry partners at our latest Industry Day in Portland.
The goal was to connect up-and-coming aquaculturists with each other and with well-established growers in the state. The day also provided opportunities to tour and learn from farms and processing facilities, including Bangs Island Mussels, Ocean Approved, and Upstream Trucking.
This year's group of aspiring aquaculturists is a particularly diverse group. We have participants from Eastport to Portland that range in age from a high school sophomore to quite a bit older. Some participants already have their operations in the water, while others are still deciding between mussels, oysters, or kelp. Despite these differences, the group was united by a shared love for the water and an enthusiasm to learn – in an effort to diversify their income while continuing to live and work off of the water. ABD training is full of opportunities for learning, and this Industry Day was all about making connections.
As I was reflecting on the day, I realized how much I learned and how many new questions I now have. However, what struck me the most was the overall generosity of everyone involved in putting the day together. The ABD participants and industry partners we met with are busy, hardworking people, yet they were all willing to take the day (or a large portion of it) off to spend with our group, sharing their insights and listening to others. Whether providing "ferry" service to our group around Casco Bay, giving a tour of their farm and processing plant, sharing experiences as a grower in our roundtable discussion, or demonstrating how to properly shuck an oyster, everyone went above and beyond in their generosity.
It doesn't stop there. The peer-to-peer learning, sharing of connections, and thoughtful questioning continued throughout the day. Whether on the boat, over lunch, or on the short walk from the harbor to the processing plant, the networking was positive and constant, in a way that I wasn't expecting. Participants celebrated each other's successes, questioned gear choices, and asked for advice.
The excitement to share and to learn was evident, and participants left with new ideas, energized for the winter ahead. I'm looking forward to seeing where this takes them and anticipate that many of our ABD participants will be back in future years, sharing their insights with other new growers.
Feeling inspired yet? You’re in luck. The application to join our ABD 2018 group is live and due on March 16, 2018!