by Dr. Mark Edwards
Algae Practitioner Book – Algae Microfarms
nce in a blue moon, a book appears that has the potential to transform an industry. Algae Microfarms for Home, School, Community and Urban Gardens by Robert Henrikson may be just such a transformative book. Imagine you would like a personal tour of the world to see the incredible innovations people are making to enhance algae production systems, harvesting and creating algae foods and other bioproducts. Algae Microfarms gives you the complete tour with no transportation cost. You do not have to take notes or pictures and yet you have a superb tour picture book.
My algae bookshelf is filled with scientific and academic books, including my own, that fall short on possibly the most critical element in the algae industry. These books fail to answer the question people ask most often: “How can I grow algae now – at home?” Robert provides a path to local algae production that is practical, affordable and, most importantly, doable.
Robert Henrikson envisions a future where algae microfarms become ubiquitous in our gardens, on rooftops, in vertical farms and living buildings. He shows how microfarms can transform our food culture by growing abundant healthy food affordably in a very small area and extending the growing season. He notes that algae are 20 times more productive than conventional food crops and have substantially higher nutrient density. He calls algae nutrition “super foods” with valuable health and medical benefits.Robert sees a new era where microfarms emerge and empower people to grow their own food for improved nutrition and health, food security and self-sufficiency. Microfarms can enable people globally to grow healthy and tasty food locally.
Robert positions algae microfarms as similar to the Second World War Victory Gardens. Microfarms provide families and their communities with food security and healthy nutrition. These highly productive biofactories require a very small footprint and can be constructed at low cost. Robert knows about his topic intimately, since he has built a wide array of microfarms for families and communities locally and globally. Current projects with his company Smart Microfarms include spirulina greenhouse microfarms in the Pacific Northwest. More microfarms are planned this year in California, Oregon and several other states.
Robert Henrikson has the credentials to write a great book for algae practitioners. He has invested nearly 40 years in sustainable development business models for algae, bamboo and natural resources. Robert was a founder of Earthrise Farms and for 20 years, President of Earthrise Company. He developed Earthrise® brand health and nutraceutical products in the USA and 30 countries. He authored one of the best-selling algae books on Amazon.com, Spirulina World Food in 2010. His earlier book, Earth Food Spirulina, was also an algae best seller and has been translated into six international editions, (SpirulinaSource.com). Since 1983, Robert has produced 15 videos on algae production and products from Myanmar, Thailand, Togo, France and the USA.
In 2011, he and I collaborated and launched the International Algae Competition: A Global Challenge to Design Visionary Algae Food and Energy Systems. The International Algae Competition engaged hundreds of people and led to the book Imagine Our Algae Future, 2012, providing colorful images, descriptions and visions of global algae projects present and future. Robert also coauthored Peace Microfarms: A Green Algae Strategy to Prevent War with Mark Edwards, which won the Pinnacle 2013 Best Science Book Award.
Algae Microfarms provides a brief history of algae foods noting that people have harvested micro and macroalgae, seaweeds, for food, feed and biofertilizers near lakes, rivers and estuaries for centuries. Early humans survived on the nutrition found in microalgae and sea vegetables. Sea vegetables most likely provided the food that enabled our ancestors to migrate out of Africa.
Algae have an incredible ability to efficiently transform sunshine, CO2 and water into chemical energy. Algae production systems enable people to build environmentally sound green food machines near their homes or communities. Algae are highly productive and the nutrient-rich biomass can double every two to five days. A species such as spirulina, with 60% protein, provides a productivity breakthrough with yields of over 20 times more protein than soybeans in the same space, 40 times more than corn and 400 times more than beef. Other microalgae offer even higher productivity for protein, oils and carbohydrates.
Robert describes a future where ecological communities combine algae and aquaponics with organic gardens. Aquaponics growers produce fish that enrich the wastewater with organic wastes that provide nutrients for hydroponic or soil-based gardens. Algae microfarms provide substantial value to the ecological community by cleaning wastewater of organic material and providing rich algae biofertilizers that are highly bioavailable to food crops.
The fascinating chapter on algae microfarms in the developing world provides both a historical background and a survey of current production systems. Robert includes pictures and descriptions of microfarms in Thailand, Ecuador, Costa Rica, France, India, Africa, Togo, Madagascar, Cambodia, and Burkina Faso.
The chapter gives appropriate attention to Antenna France and their excellent microfarms in France, Africa in India. While most the attention goes to algae production systems, Robert does a splendid job in capturing the social aspects of sharing good algae food.
Medical research with undernourished people shows that algae-based foods such as spirulina restores beneficial intestinal flora and strengthens the immune system. Research projects have demonstrated that spirulina enables health recovery of children from malnutrition related diseases in Mexico, Togo, Romania, China, Rwanda, Zaire, India, Ukraine and Belarus.
A book highlight is the rapid evolution of the microfarm movement in France over this past decade, encouraged by a school curriculum for growing algae and a national federation of spirulina growers. Today there are over 110 algaepreneurs growing spirulina to feed their families and sell their products directly to consumers in their local region. Robert toured the region and includes beautiful pictures of algaepreneurs in production and enjoying algae-based foods.
Algae microfarms show potential for urban and community gardens, roof farms and greenhouses. Local food growing is a popular trend, but like small farms, growing vegetables on a small scale is a difficult way to make a living. Superfood products from algae have a much higher retail value. In France, microfarmers sell spirulina direct to their customers for €15 per 100 grams (€150/kg). In the USA, retail stores sell spirulina for $15-20 per 100 grams ($80/lb). A spirulina greenhouse microfarm, 100m2 in pond area (1076 sf), could produce 180 kg (400 lb) dry spirulina over a 6 months growing season. By selling direct to the consumer and capturing 100% of the retail value, an algaepreneur could earn $27,000 or more, paying off the initial investment over the first two years. What other food crop offers this value on such a small area?
The survey of home and community algae growing systems includes appropriate recognition of Aaron Wolf Braun who founded out AlgaeLab.org in 2008. Aaron has led home grow algae workshops for several years in Oakland and Berkeley California where participants take with them an aquarium growing kit with all the supplies needed to grow by reliever at home. Aaron recently published a book, Grow Your Own Spirulina Superfood.
Ron Henson’s The Spirulina Garden™ in the foothills of California Sierra Nevada Mountains near Yosemite receives deserved attention. Ron’s greenhouse allows the spirulina to survive the winter months. Ron Henson worked with Robert Henrikson in the 1970s at Earthrise and in developing commercial and village level spirulina farms. Since then he has done great work developing algae projects for food, feed, pharmaceuticals and fuel in numerous countries.
In the book Algae Microfarms, the collection of pictures and descriptions of microfarms and modular algae production systems create a superb survey of current microform technology. Robert provides pictures of many different algae production systems including raceway ponds, tubular reactors, vertical stacked tubular reactors, flat panels and bag growing systems of several shapes and sizes. Robert recognizes these algapreneurs enabling the reader to contact people who are creating and operating microfarms around the world.
The future visions of living algae systems in daily life come largely from the International Algae Competition and the book Imagine Our Algae Future. Interestingly, on Amazon.com, Imagine Our Algae Future is the book most often purchased with the handbook of micro-algal culture. People who want to understand both the science and the vision of our algae future benefit from both books.
Algae Microfarms summarizes the current status of algae production systems today and all the bioproducts they produce. This global survey includes glorious pictures of open and closed systems, industrial fermentation systems and seaweed in the marine algae industry. Also covered are algae extracts for cosmeceuticals, skin creams, shampoos, cleansers and personal care products. Algae’s use as a natural bio fertilizer, aquaculture an animal feed our explored in detail. Also included are algae’s use for biofuel, bioplastics, green chemicals and wastewater treatment.
Consumers are smart and, according to Amazon.com, most often buy both the Algae101 Best Algae Science and Practitioner books, the Handbook of Micro-Algal Culture and Algae Microfarms for Home, School, Community and Urban Gardens. Robert Henrikson’s Algae Microfarms is positioned to transform our algae industry from theory to practice as people site an algae Victory Garden in their home or community.