The climate crisis is only going to send more saltwater to our doorsteps. Heron Farms, the world’s first indoor vertical saltwater farm, aims to leverage that sea level rise and excess carbon dioxide to produce sea beans, create a sustainable agricultural system, and restore marshland while they do it.
Founded by Isle of Palms native Sam Norton, Heron Farms was launched in 2020. Norton was inspired by the challenge of growing food without fresh water, and knew the sea beans from his childhood. If you’ve never tried a sea bean, Sam describes it as “biting into the ocean.” Sea beans aren’t legumes but succulents, often used as a plant-based salt alternative. To grow these plants, Heron Farms employs predictive software and automated data collection and analysis methods to manage parameters including water salinity, carbon dioxide, growth cycles, and yield.
A key facet of their operations is marshland restoration. For each pound of sea beans sold, they restore a square foot of marshland. They partner with local businesses like Dalai Sofia, Westbrook Brewing, and Charles Towne Fermentory on co-branded products and then restore a square foot of marshland for each product sold. Thus far, they’ve been able to restore an acre of marshland in both Charleston and Bangladesh.
Restoration of salt marshes is a critical climate action. They don’t just act as nurseries for marine organisms and provide habitat for many migratory bird species – they’re also excellent at sequestering carbon dioxide. Salt marshes are decreasing each year as dredging and coastal development threaten these essential ecosystems. Locally, the disposal of dredged material from the Charleston Harbor and surrounding waterways has displaced over 3,000 acres of tidal saltmarsh. Efforts to restore these areas using the traditional greenhouse-to-transplant approach are expensive and ineffective; to combat these challenges, Heron Farms utilizes an unmanned aerial vehicle delivering a seed payload at a lower cost.
As a leader in innovative, sustainable agriculture, Heron Farms inspires us to challenge ourselves with imagining creative solutions to the climate crisis.