Spirulina Revolution - Interview with Robert Henrikson

> Spirulina Revolution - Interview with Robert Henrikson

I am excited to interview Robert Henrikson, who, together with his team, pioneered spirulina farming in the USA in the late 1970s. He recognized the potential of this blue-green algae, which has since become known world-wide as a nutrient-dense 'food of the future' and a superfood. Spirulina and other algaes have been shown to prevent and reverse many illnesses and they hold great promise in the future to be used in energy production as well as in a variety of consumer materials.

In this interview Robert Henrikson, the CEO of 'Smart Microfarms', discusses growing spirulina at home, its health benefits, his work in promoting microfarms, as well as his vision for what spirulina can do in the future.

growing spirulina, robert henrikson
Robert Henrikson at his spirulina farm in Olympia, Washington, USA.

How can spirulina change the world?

Algae is the foundation of life on our planet, nature's original life form.

A fast-growing microscopic blue-green algae, spirulina produces more than 20 times more food protein than other land plants such as soy, using far less water, land and energy than conventional crops. Spirulina can be grown on infertile land and alkaline and brackish water, not competing for valuable fertile land and fresh water needed by most food crops.

By growing algae as an environmentally sound nutrient-dense food, feed and biofertilizer resource, we can address global concerns of climate change, drought, fresh water shortage and soil depletion and help regreen the Earth with more awesome carbon sequestering forests.

Why is spirulina called a superfood?

Beyond spirulina's 60% digestible protein, highest beta-carotene, B-12, iron, trace minerals and GLA essential fatty acid, is a rainbow of pigments, phycocyanin, polysaccharides and phytonutrients. This is the nutrient-dense superfood we need for protection everyday!

growing spirulina, robert henrikson

What are spirulina's health benefits?

35 years of customer experience and published scientific research shows spirulina offers six health benefits in a 3-gram serving per day:

  • Promotes and stimulates immune system protection
  • Restores and enhances beneficial intestinal flora
  • Enhances body's own natural healing responses
  • Strengthens neuro-protection and promotes anti-aging
  • Detoxifies pollutants, heavy metals, radioactive compounds
  • Improves eye and cellular health with antioxidants

What is an ideal, recommended daily amount of spirulina?

Spirulina is a concentrated whole food. From 3 grams (6 tablets or a teaspoon of powder) up to 5-10 grams per day.

(Ulla:) How much spirulina do you eat?

I've been eating about 5 grams (10 tablets or one tablespoon of powder) of spirulina every day for over 30 years. I read the scientific research, and I know what it means.

In the past two years I've been eating fresh frozen spirulina from my own spirulina microfarm, sharing it with family, friends and associates.

Can spirulina be used to produce energy?

Spirulina is 60% protein, only 5% lipid (fats). There are over 100,000 species of algae, and some algae with 20-50% lipid content are better choices for hydrocarbon extraction for producing energy.

Spirulina is for eating for more personal energy and better health, not for burning for fuel energy. Spirulina's remarkable phytonutrients are far too valuable to burn.

(Ulla:) But whatabout other forms of algae?

Biofuels from algae are not commercially viable yet. Realistically, algae biofuels could still be 10 years or more from having any impact at all on the global energy equation.

Spirulina Revolution

"We need a revolution to transform our food system"
- Robert Henrikson

The revolution we need is in our minds about the food choices we make, and how we produce, market and distribute food.

We need to eat healthy nutrient-dense foods, not unhealthy empty processed foods.

We need foods grown efficiently, producing more nutrient value with less land, less water, less energy, less toxic chemicals, and less damaging to our environment and other beings.

Microalgae like spirulina fit these criteria and can help transform our food system.

(Ulla:) How can people ensure that they are buying spirulina and other algae free of heavy metal contamination?

Really this is an issue for all foods we eat.

Do you know where your food comes from and how it is grown? Are product manufacturers disclosing the source on the label or not? Do the grower's websites disclose the growing environment, water source and quality, product specifications and safety assurances?

You've called spirulina 'the food of the future'...

Yes, called the food of the future over 30 years ago, spirulina is still coming on today. Spirulina has become the most widely cultivated micro-algae all over the world on six continents.

My book 'Spirulina World Food' has been a good sourcebook for over 25 years.

Why has spirulina become the most widely cultivated micro-algae around the world?

Spirulina has six advantages:

  • Spirulina has historically been consumed as a safe nutritious food.
  • It can successfully grow outdoors in ponds.
  • Easy to harvest with micro screens.
  • 40 years of published scientific medical research exists.
  • Existing global market has already been developed.
  • Spirulina has a lower cost of entry for small-scale production.

traditional spirulina harvesting, lake chad, africa
Traditional spirulina harvesting at Lake Chad, Africa

Do you know of spirulina farms that accept voluntary workers?

Most large commercial spirulina farms want specialists with training, not volunteers.

(Ulla:) Are there other ways in which people can get involved?

Over the past decade, more entrepreneurs are getting involved with growing spirulina in smaller scale microfarms. I authored the recent book 'Algae Microfarms' to show examples of the entrepreneurs, small companies and NGOs growing spirulina and other algae around the world.

What are microfarms?

Algae microfarms are scalable small commercial farms often inside greenhouses in temperate climates. They may be the future of greenhouses, hydroponics and urban farming.

In a small area, fast-growing microalgae, like spirulina, can produce higher income for growers than conventional foods, vegetables and herbs.

Tell us about your own spirulina farm?

My Smart Microfarm spirulina algae testbed is located in Olympia, Washington. As one of the northern-most spirulina farms in operation today, this facility demonstrates productivity in cooler climates where most people live. Ponds have insulating foam panels below and a retractable cover above, all within a larger greenhouse. This greenhouse pond design raises productivity and extends the growing season beyond the summer months.

Can people grow spirulina at home and is it expensive to do?

Yes, spirulina can be grown at home in tanks, but some people will find it to be a somewhat time-consuming hobby to maintain the algae culture for the small amount than can be grown and harvested at home. It is more difficult keeping a specific algae culture growing well than growing vegetables, herbs, sprouts or fungi.

How did you become interested in spirulina and farming it?

Way back in 1977, when a small team of us realized we could harness the amazing productivity of our original life form - algae, we set out to build first commercial algae production farm in the USA. By 1982, our pilot farm transformed into Earthrise Farms in Imperial Valley California, becoming the world's largest spirulina farm, and is still operating today.

The next step was to introduce algae to health food customers, raise awareness of spirulina as a superfood, and stimulate worldwide production especially where people most need it in developing countries. This is now well underway.

spirulina
Spirulina as seen in a microscope.

How can spirulina benefit people in the future?

My focus has evolved from large-scale production to small-scale microfarms.

Based on 35 years of experience in the algae industry, the next step is to promote a viral spread of small algae systems across the planet. Successful small-scale spirulina cultivation is now practical and can support local food production.

What are you working on at the moment?

We provide consulting services to start up spirulina production. Building a network model of algae microfarms with web-based sensors and controls so remote experts can guide local growers, without the cost of on-site algae scientists. This breakthrough, combined with scalable, modular growing systems, means algae microfarms can be installed anywhere in the world.

Now we have another way we can transform our food culture, sustainably and profitably.

fresh spirulina
Freshly harvested spirulina

Where can we learn more about the opportunities with algae?

Like the Facebook Algae Microfarms page for regular news updates. Check out videos, slide shows and stories at SmartMicrofarms.com, Spirulinasource.com and AlgaeCompetition.com.

(Ulla:) In addition, Robert Henrikson's YouTube channel has plenty of good information. And the Spirulina Health Library has references to research studies related to spirulina and cancer, viruses, cholesterol, diabetes, hypertension, anemia, nutrition, kidney and liver detoxification, immune system, radiation protection, etc.

Thank you so much Robert Henrikson for taking the time to answer these questions, and thank you for your amazing work in enabling nutritional and sustainable farming revolutions in the world!

(Images copyright: Robert Henrikson)

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