Written by Deepthi Sendilkumar
“Spirulina is the most nutrient-dense superfood with health and therapeutic benefits.” - Dale Soloman
INTRODUCTION TO ALGAE FARMING
Algae has been farmed for feed, fuel, and energy throughout history. Algae farming has several benefits - for starters, it is great for the environment and provides employment. Apart from the benefits of algae farming, it is also important to know and connect with those who bring spirulina to us, the farmers. Meet our local farmer, and good friend: Dale Solomon
INTERVIEW WITH DALE SOLOMON
Founder of Oasia Farms, Dale works closely with our team at Spira Inc to farm spirulina which can be used as a plant-based protein and nutritional boost in the food industry. Located in Los Angeles County, Oasia Farms is a ¼ acre spirulina farm, making themselves unique in the market by selling nutritionally dense and better-tasting fresh frozen spirulina, as opposed to the powder form most of us consume.
Dale’s interest in algae started during his undergraduate degree at the University of Southern California where he joined the environmental club. Where he was first introduced to algae as a potential biofuel. With an undergraduate degree in engineering, he entered the aerospace industry upon graduation. However, he soon realized his passion lied in algae, which eventually led him to quit his full-time role and start Oasia Farms in 2017.
Dale’s main motivation for founding Oasia Farms: to fight climate change. Although initially interested in biofuels, he decided to shift his focus to creating an environmentally-practical solution for the food industry. The food industry is known for its high waste and carbon dioxide emissions -Spirulina farming is a better alternative to livestock farming, as it emits less carbon dioxide and requires less water use.
To get a better insight into what happens at a spirulina farm I asked Dale what a typical day life looks like. Dale replied, “It’s crazy, since it is a small team, I am very involved in many aspects like bookkeeping, payroll, hiring, delivery, packaging, etc.” Along with his many responsibilities, Dale makes sure to visit the farm 3-4 times a week to monitor the spirulina cultures.
Creating a company from the ground up comes with many challenges and obstacles. When asked about the challenges he faced during the start-up of Oasia farms, Dale stated, “It is very expensive to start’’ with an emphasis on land cost. Dale explained how purchasing larger quantities of land would reduce the cost/acre however that is not a viable option for many start-ups. Dale conveyed that creating small loan programs can encourage small business owners and be financially very beneficial. Dale also stated that Spirulina farming is a quite “niche” and “hard to enter community” hence developing resources/support for new Spirulina farmers would also help. Similar to most businesses globally, Oasia Farms faced hardships due to Covid-19. Dale stated one of the biggest struggles due to the pandemic is a labor shortage.
THE FUTURE OF ALGAE
Fast forward to 2025, Dale believes automation will be a game-changer for algae farming. Dale stated, “in the next 4 years we hope to have the entire process automated.” The current manual method used at Oasia Farms is very labor-intensive. Dale hopes through automation he can reduce labor costs. Next year, Dale will start implementing automation at Oasia Farms.
As for the recent trends in superfood consumption, Dale mentioned that consumers are starting to prefer fresh spirulina over powder options. With an increase in consumer awareness and education, consumers now have several options when purchasing superfoods.
TELLING THE STORIES OF OUR FARMS
Understanding where our ingredients come from helps us better connect with our food and the people behind it. Algae has the potential to transform the way we consume food. At Spira, we are grateful for our farmers and believe it is crucial to provide full transparency of our partners’ farms as well as be a platform for sharing their stories. This is all a step to better appreciating and relating to our food system.