Lisbon aquaponics operation gets funding to expand

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Updated at 3:15 PM

increase font size Lisbon aquaponics operation gets funding to expand

Springworks Farm combines aquaculture and hydroponics, using wastewater from tilapia tanks to fertilize produce.

Lisbon aquaponics operation gets funding to expand

Trevor Kenkel of Springworks Farm in Lisbon said he has secured $1.6 million to build a second greenhouse, larger and more efficiently designed than the first. Photo by Sun Journal

In early 2016, aquaponics farmer Trevor Kenkel vowed that he would expand his already-flourishing operation.

You can’t say Kenkel isn’t true to his word.

Kenkel’s business, Springworks Farm, has secured $1.6 million to create a second greenhouse, larger and more efficiently designed than the first.

Kenkel says that with the funding, the three-year-old company’s 6,000-square-foot greenhouse will be complemented by a new 8,000-square-foot facility, scheduled to open by summer of 2018.

The expansion will earn Springworks the distinction of being the largest aquaponics farm in New England.

In his marriage of aquaculture and hydroponics, wastewater from 1,000 tilapia swimming in several large tanks is channeled through greenhouse beds growing crops such as lettuce, tatsoi, bok choy, cilantro and mizuna — products that are sold to local restaurants and other clients.

“Lettuce is a $3 billion a year industry, with over 98 percent of the product grown in, and shipped from, California and Arizona,” Kenkel said in announcing the expansion. “The time is ripe to disrupt an agricultural system that no longer works for those who understand the critical need to shift to a more sustainable model for growing food.”

Kenkel, now 22, is a Montana native studying biology and economics at Bowdoin College.

According to a news release, his new facility represents the latest model in a series of experiments with aquaponics that Kenkel has been exploring since childhood. He was first drawn to the field when he noticed the degradation of the pristine creek where he fly-fished as a child in Montana.

After learning that pollution from a nearby farm was responsible, Kenkel started investigating sustainable agriculture. That began a series of projects funded by summer jobs during Kenkel’s high school years. Those experiments culminated in a 2,000-gallon greenhouse system that supplied enough greens to feed his family and supply a local restaurant.

Kenkel’s academic investigation of the aquaponic principles he put into practice allowed him to create a miniaturized version of the models he’s been perfecting for most of his life. The Springworks ‘microfarm’ is an aquarium-fitted aquaponic system that turns a 10-gallon tank into everything needed to grow fresh herbs from water exchanged with the aquarium’s fish.

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