Fish fertilizing young Lisbon farmer’s dream

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LISBON — New aquaponics farmer Trevor Kenkel’s first sale this summer: a delivery of basil to Gelato Fiasco.

“They made a basil sorbet out of it,” said Kenkel, 20.

The sophomore biology major at Bowdoin College opened Springworks Farm earlier this year, using fish to farm. In his marriage of aquaculture and hydroponics, wastewater from 1,000 tilapia swimming in several large tanks is channeled through greenhouse beds growing crops like lettuce, tatsoi, bok choy, cilantro and mizuna. 

Kenkel, a Montana native, had his first harvest in June, then ramped up production. Springworks has 20 retail customers so far, a mix of restaurants and small groceries, and had its own farm stand all summer.

Bow Street Market uses “our lettuce in the produce department and in the deli, so that’s been a great customer for us,” said Kenkel, of the Freeport market.

The entire 6,000-square-foot greenhouse is in use and company is up to six full-time employees.

“It’s been great, a lot of work,” he said. “We’re always harvesting. Things slow down a little bit during the winter because of reduced light levels, but there’s a couple different ways that we can kind of counteract that. So far we’ve been pretty successful in keeping everything growing at a good enough pace for us and our customers.”

This winter, he plans to heat the water in the greenhouses, the most efficient way to keep fish and plants happy.

Kenkel originated his aquaponics idea back home in Montana when he experimented with growing watercress above his goldfish tank as a teenager. There have been engineering learning curves as he scales up, he said, but he’s committed to the farm and the idea of fresh greens year-round.

“In the spring, we’re planning on expanding and improving our production potential,” Kenkel said.

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