Catherine Puckett, owner of the Block Island “Oyster Wench” shellfish and kelp farm, doesn’t mind the chill of an early spring day — the sky is blue, birds swoop, the ocean is clear — and it’s just about time to harvest her golden sugar kelp. “Isn’t it just gorgeous?” she marvels, pulling a seaweed swathed line alongside her boat for inspection. She’s the island’s first farmer to try her hand at kelp production.
A single mom of two little girls, Puckett remembers herself as a youngster in her family’s boat, island bound — and she’s never really been away from the sea since. These days, her vessel boasts spirited hues of pink and blue, her daughters join her for harvest, and she’s a vocal spokesperson for women-owned and operated water-based businesses. Besides kelp, she grows oysters and hard clams, and experiments with selling invasive crabs for bait.
Kelp growing’s the easy part; the hurdle is selling it, she says. She’s got a buyer this year, but next year could be different — so she’s always thinking ahead. “What we need is a hub in South County, a place where we can send our kelp, and other local seafood from the island,” she says. “A type of co-op so industry can work together, pool our resources, and get the biggest return for our products.”
And, every day, she’s grateful for the ocean farming life she’s now living with her kids as part of a coastal community. “I’m so grateful to the fishermen and island families who help me each and every day,” she says. “They support what I’m doing, they give me advice, and they’re sharing their years on the water so I can be a better business owner.”