Brunswick Boosts Next Generation of Marine Entrepreneurs

Due North Project, Maine Documentary Photography
STUDENT SHELLFISH INITIATIVE IS UNLEASHING SHELLFISH POTENTIAL

October 31, 2018

BY KELLI PARK

This story first appeared in the Island Institute’s The Working Waterfront newspaper, and is reproduced here with permission. Click here

Young marine entrepreneurs in Maine are seeing new opportunities evolve almost as quickly as the changing tides. In Brunswick, the Student Shellfish Initiative is helping some of those young entrepreneurs tap into the potential that lies just beneath the surface of the water—and the mud.

With 66 miles of coastline and eight miles of deep water frontage, the mudflats in Brunswick are arguably the “most valuable real estate in town,” according to the town’s Marine Resource Officer Dan Devereaux. The shellfish industry in Brunswick alone is valued at $4 million, although the ecological value is priceless.

“Trying to relay that importance to the younger generation is really a critical part of keeping our coastline the least gentrified that we can to keep areas working,” explains Devereaux.

The Student Shellfish Initiative is a collaboration among Brunswick High School, the town of Brunswick, and The Tidelands Coalition, a nonprofit organization that promotes marine conservation. Brunswick High School students learn the value of hands-on marine research in the outdoor classroom on the mud flats at Wharton Point on Maquoit Bay, collecting data on shellfish species and seeding the flats with soft-shell clams from the Down East Institute.

The growing popularity of the Brunswick Student Shellfish License Program is attributed to the interactive experience provided by the outdoor classroom within the past two years. Fifteen student licenses were issued this year, with most students actively digging daily during the summer; a few years ago, only ten licenses were issued with two students actively digging.

Devereaux is currently exploring the idea of developing a mentoring program to promote sustainable practices within the industry. He hopes the Student Shellfish Initiative can be used as a model for other coastal towns.

“If we can get a base of educated diggers, we’re going to be able to manage the resource more intricately and more surgically,” he says. “As we start to educate newer groups of harvesters coming in, getting these students involved and interested at a young age is critically important to keeping this industry alive and thriving.”

Devereaux believes that change is necessary. The industry cannot sustain itself with the same boom-and-bust approach that has been in place over the past century. Many students involved in the program are now exploring the possibilities in aquaculture in response to the changing industry.

Max Burtis, Max Friedman, and Samuel Dorval, all graduates of Brunswick High School and current college freshmen, have taken their entrepreneurial spirit to the next level with the creation of Ferda Farms on the New Meadows River. They started by harvesting clams at low tide, and then began to explore ideas for generating supplemental income during high tide. The business partners chose their name as an ode to their love for hockey; players use the slang term “ferda” as a shortened version of “for the boys.”

In July, Ferda Farms started with 50,000 oyster seeds from Muscongus Bay Aquaculture and has since expanded to 100,000 oysters. According to Burtis, everyone in the aquaculture industry has been more than willing to share their knowledge and experience, because, he says, “There’s still so much to be learned.”

Burtis has an entrepreneurial mind and believes the job market is a trap for many people. The young men talk about how most people their age are washing dishes, serving ice cream, or working retail.

“It gets the best of a lot of people. They get caught in a place where they don’t want to be,” says Burtis.

“It’s really cool to feel like you’re actually starting something,” says Friedman. “It says something to have a vision.”

Sisters in Recovery: Colleen Francke

Due North Project, Maine Documentary Photography
Aquaculture For Women Recovering from Addiction is Colleen Francke’s Dream 

This story first appeared in the Island Institute’s The Working Waterfront newspaper, and is reproduced here with permission. Click here

May 21, 2018

By Kelli Park

Planting and maintaining a garden can help those recovering from addiction. The recovering person learns responsibility while cultivating, nurturing, and investing time and effort, during which the individual grows along with the garden.

Colleen Francke has taken this concept and adapted it to the ocean, planning an aquaculture farm in which women recovering from addiction can heal and grow while cultivating kelp, oysters, and mussels. Francke recently put her plan into motion with the creation of Summit Point Seafood, an aquaculture farm that would operate off Sturdivant Island in Cumberland for women who are in recovery and learning to live without substances. Salt Sisters is the fundraising campaign that supports the project.

Francke is committed to providing women with a safe work environment as they navigate the recovery process and learn about aquaculture.

“I decided in early 2016 to stop using substances to cope with life. During that process, I met a lot of women who helped me through that really difficult transition,” she remembers.

“When I started this process, someone said to me, ‘There are things in your life that alcohol took away from you. What are those things?’ My dream to finish college was one of them, my art was another thing, and going further with aquaculture was another one. So I looked at that and said, ‘I’m going to go for it. I’m going to start taking the steps to do this project and build a farm,’” she says.

Francke, 32, has spent most of her life around the water. Growing up in Eastham on Cape Cod, her first job was cutting fish and cooking lobster at a local fish market. After she moved to Maine, she learned about aquaculture while working on a mussel farm in Casco Bay. These days, she lobsters offshore aboard the Linda Kate out of Portland, while planning the future of Summit Point Seafood and Salt Sisters.

On board the Linda Kate, Francke moves with a quiet confidence, tacking tasks swiftly and gracefully, revealing her comfort on the water. She’s in her element.

When she talks about her vision for the aquaculture operation, there’s an energy and joy that show in her smile.

Inspiration from her surroundings came at an early age, she explains, and her connection to the sea informs her goals.

“There was a landing in the town that I grew up in and there was a woman who used to dig clams there. I remember her coming in every day, carrying her catch in bright orange baskets,” Francke says.

“I’d never really seen a woman like that. She was independent and she was stunningly beautiful. She was strong and she was free. I remember watching her and wanting to be exactly like her someday. She had her little skiff and she was happy.”

Those traits can help in recovery.

“Recovery is self-reflective, basically,” she says. “You’re looking at what you’re doing in the world and how you’re feeling, and affecting relationships.”

But as noble as her goals are, Francke has learned that achieving them means relying on others.

“It felt really selfish and ego-driven to say this project is something that I’ve always wanted, and I’m just going to go for it by myself. It just felt like a really shallow endeavor. I wouldn’t have this opportunity without having these other women guide me into this new life that I’m living now,” she says.

“Once I decided to make it a recovery-based program, that’s when the whole thing opened up and got some life to it,” she continues. “Women who are new to recovery can have this place as an outlet, even if they don’t want to work on the farm. They can come hang out and realize that, if I can do this, even if your dream isn’t aquaculture or fishing, there are means in which you can make it happen. If I can do it, you can do it.”

A friend and fellow “salt sister” gives Francke a hearty endorsement.

“Colleen is a frigging powerhouse,” says Mary Taylor of Chebeague Island. “She’s a hard worker, she knows her sh–, she’s good on deck and she’s got a good vision. She wants to be on the water. I’m proud of her with her sobriety. Her vision is true and pure, and she has good intentions. I’d go anywhere on a boat anytime with her,” Taylor, who also lobsters, said.

Francke is already looking beyond the farm.

“Down the road, the idea is to have this fundraising campaign, Salt Sisters, turn into its own nonprofit. At that point, Summit Point would be running like a flagship farm, and then Salt Sisters, as a nonprofit, can go to Cape Cod and get farms started there for women in recovery, or go to California, where ever there’s a need. That nonprofit will be able to say, we’re going to help these women if they want help with doing the paperwork, lease applications, funding, etc. If these women are in the same position that I’m in now, they’ll keep paying back. It starts a cycle bigger than itself,” she explains.

Francke has submitted an aquaculture lease application to the Department of Marine Resources and has raised $2,000 toward her initial $50,000 goal. For more information , see www.summitpointseafood.com or Summit Point Seafood on Facebook.