Issue #196: The Sea Issue

Before diving (pun intended) into the kelp space, Courtney Boyd Myers already had a pretty impressive array of experience under her belt. Having started her career off as a journalist covering primarily startups and digital innovation, Boyd Myers segued from writing about startups to launching a startup in 2012 when she moved to London to help launch General Assembly. Two years after that, Boyd Myers returned to the U.S. to serve as a Global Community Director at Summit, a community and events company that brings together innovators and creatives for beautiful, immersive, and life-changing events.

Long story short: you could say she was busy. Still, that didn’t stop the self-proclaimed seaweed lover from hopping at the opportunity to innovate in the kelp snack space when the idea came to her in 2016. Enter AKUA, Boyd Myers’ concept for expanding general kelp snackage on a wide scale while educating people on the nutritional and environmental payoffs of eating seaweed.

Courtney Boyd Myers, the founder of AKUA Kelp Jerky, eating jerky on the beach.

You have experience in quite a few different areas under your belt. How did you eventually find your way to the food space?

My first experience working with a food company was through my soon-to-be husband who is the founder of Unframed Ice Cream, a Cape Town-based ice cream brand that serves up vegan, dairy, and sorbet offerings. I also consulted with my favorite superfood mushroom brand Four Sigmatic before setting out to launch my baby AKUA this year.

How did the idea to launch AKUA come about?

I visited my first kelp farm near New Haven, Connecticut on a cold morning in April 2016, with the nonprofit GreenWave, which teaches unemployed or underemployed fishermen to be regenerative ocean farmers.

We went out on this kelp farmer’s boat and pulled up one of the farm ropes to reveal a thick array of light brown sugar kelp. I have always loved eating seaweed, so I tugged off a strand of kelp, and thought it was absolutely delicious! Given all the environmental, economic, and health benefits of this emerging new form of food agriculture, I knew I had to get more people excited about eating it, so I set out to create a consumer market with kelp.

How did you go about starting the brand?

After that day on the farm, I started sending out 5lb bags of frozen kelp to all my chef friends across the U.S. We came up with dozens of cool products and hosted tastings in New York, Los Angeles, and San Francisco. When we created kelp jerky, I thought, “Wow, what if we could replace the most unsustainable form of agriculture on the planet –– animal –– with the most sustainable –– kelp?”

Couple eating AKUA Kelp Jerky on the beach, and Kelp washing up onto shore.

What are some of the notable health benefits of kelp? Environmental benefits?

Nutritionally, kelp is full of vitamins and minerals like Vitamin A, Vitamin E, Thiamine (B1), Riboflavin (B2), Iron, Iodine, Calcium, Potassium, Magnesium, and Zinc. It’s also low-calorie and high in fiber.

As for the environment, unlike animal agriculture, which is a major contributor to climate change, kelp requires no fresh land, water, feed, or fertilizer to grow. And the most extraordinary thing about it is that kelp is not just sustainable, but it’s also restorative, as it filters 5x more carbon from the water than land-based plants do from the air helping to reverse ocean acidification while also creating a mini ecosystem for shoreline creatures like shellfish and otters. Many scientists believe that a kelp farm the size of the Amazon rainforest could literally reverse climate change!

Okay, back to AKUA, specifically. What flavors are currently available and why did you choose those to be your first?

Our Kelp Jerky comes in three flavors: Spicy Thai & Spirulina, Rosemary & Maple BBQ, and Sesame & Nori Sea Salt. Our Rosemary & Maple BBQ is meant to be the mainstream crowd pleaser, while Sesame & Nori Sea Salt is aimed at consumers who love those Nori strips from brands like SeaSnax, and finally our Spicy Thai & Spirulina is our wild child –– you either love it or you hate it.

Man and woman with AKUA Kelp Jerky on the beach.

Can you tell me a bit more about the process of harvesting kelp and turning it into jerky?

Unlike most crops, kelp farms are planted in the autumn and harvested in the spring, between April – June. During that 6-month period, kelp typically grows to about six feet long and 7-10 inches wide before it’s ready to be pulled. After the lines of kelp are pulled up, the kelp is sent to a processing facility where it’s blanched, cut, and frozen, and then it’s shipped to our manufacturing facility, which happens to run on solar energy.

Why do you believe that it’s so important for people to keep sustainability in mind when it comes to their diet?

Eating is a political action. Whether you choose to eat from your garden at home or order cheeseburgers wrapped in plastic on UberEats, these two choices have vastly different impacts on our world, most notably from the amount of carbon generated. Climate change is and should be frontpage news every day. Our modern demand for animal meats and wild seafood (like Bluefin Tuna, which are nearly extinct) is completely unsustainable. If we don’t start considering sustainability in regards to our food and beverage choices as well as our transportation choices, our children and our children’s children will never forgive us, and I fear we will be saddled with the deepest sense of unimaginable regret. We can turn this around, but we have to act, en masse, now.