US: Young farmer has big plans for aquaponics

With 64,000 square feet of growing space, Springworks Farm in Lisbon, Maine, is a place where plants and fish grow in aquaponics harmony. “So it’s one big ecosystem, and we’re essentially stewards of it,” says Trevor Kenkel, founder and president of Springworks.

He started tinkering with aquaponics while in high school in Montana, where he grew up. Having grown up around farming and ranching in Big Sky Country, Kenkel wanted to do something that mimicked more natural systems for growing crops.

He started a little organic garden and got chickens, “but eventually I wanted to find a way to grow year-round,” he says. “In a place like Montana, aquaponics was that solution to be able to grow organically in a controlled environment where it can be done year-round.”

Kenkel built a greenhouse system in his backyard to grow crops for his family, but he ended up producing a lot more than he knew what to do with. He started selling crops to some restaurants, the boost he needed to get the business off the ground.

A few folks liked his idea of aquaponics, he says, and in 2012, Springworks Farm, with the help of investors, started as a small, 6,000-square-foot hoop house. At 18 years old, he was running a farm and attending college.

Young tilapia weighing less than 1 gram is flown in from a supplier. The fish are grown for 10 months, moving from container to container before getting to market size, where they’re sold to a local fish market. “They are really important as the fertilizer engine behind the system,” Kenkel says, adding that they produce about 200,000 pounds of fish a year, a second revenue stream for the business.

Initially, Kenkel and his team marketed almost exclusively to food service. But eventually, they switched their marketing to direct retail and wholesale accounts. “Initially, we planned to grow a lot more things,” he says. “So we started out growing 20 different things through the facility early. All kinds of different herbs like basil and cilantro, and all done through aquaponics.”

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