Lisbon’s Springworks Farm leadership team is planning a large expansion. From left are Patrick Cormier, Sierra Kenkel, Michael Brown, founder Trevor Kenkel and James Tooley. Courtesy of Springworks Farm

LISBON — Springworks, an organic aquaponic farm in Lisbon, is launching its second greenhouse expansion project as demand for the company’s organic lettuce continues to grow.

The business is proposing to build a 26,000-square-foot greenhouse and a 14,000-square-foot service building for processing, according to Lisbon Codes Enforcement Officer Dennis Douglass. The cost of the project is an estimated $3.4 million, according to the project application. The planning board granted conditional approval on the project last week.

Located at 347 Lisbon St. along Route 196 on about 160 acres, Springworks grows lettuce and greens all year using aquaculture technology and fish. The method pumps water from large tanks of tilapia into troughs where lettuce is cultivated. The plants also clean the water that is then returned to the tank. The operation eliminates the need for pesticides and allows year-round growing in Maine.

Springworks expects the expansion to roughly triple its current production. It continues to focus on lettuce because 97% of the produce on east coast supermarket shelves is trucked thousands of miles.

“We’re responding to the demand from our current customers and the interest we’ve received from potential customers,” Springworks stated in an email to The Times Record. “As more retailers focus on sustainability, they’re seeking out local alternatives to lettuce trucked across the country from California and Arizona.”

Consumers’ increasing interest in where their food comes from and how it is produced has helped drive the increasing demand, according to Springworks.

A multistate E. coli outbreak linked to lettuce grown in Yuma, Arizona, was reported in 2018 by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The outbreak “opened a lot of produce buyers’ eyes to the flaws of the current supply chain,” the company states.

Springworks says it grows in an enclosed environment that makes it easier to maintain optimal growing conditions and provides more control over food safety.

Trevor Kenkel, a Bowdoin College graduate, founded the company in 2014. The company has continued growing. In late 2017 Springworks announced it had secured $1.6 million in capital to finance a more efficient 8,000-square-foot greenhouse to complement the original 6,000-square-foot greenhouse.

According to its website, the farm employs 25 people and is growing 1 million heads of lettuce per year. With the expansion, Springworks expects to at least double its number of employees.

Prior to the coronavirus pandemic, Springworks was shipping a large percentage of lettuce directly to restaurants and wholesalers but had to shift its distribution model quickly when the pandemic reached the U.S. The company redirected the product to Hannaford and Whole Foods stores. Their products are available at supermarkets and restaurants across the northeast.

“Springworks is a great company, a great asset for Lisbon,” said Brett Richardson, Lisbon’s economic and community development director. “They’re creating quality jobs in the middle of an economic downturn which just demonstrates the quality of their product, how well-positioned they are to meet consumer demand for their quality greens that are sustainability grown.”

Construction is slated to start this fall and be operational by next spring.

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