Springworks Farm in Lisbon Maine. Courtesy of Springworks Farm

Lisbon-based Springworks aquaponics farm recently became an exclusive provider of romaine lettuce heads to Hannaford supermarkets in Maine, New Hampshire and Massachusetts.

Springworks farm was started by Trevor Kenkel, who grew up in Montana, where he said he saw the negative impacts of conventional agriculture firsthand. The wildlife disappeared in a creek he used to fish and look for frogs as a child because of agricultural run-off, and he was interested in finding a more sustainable way to grow food.

He built his first aquaponics system soon after, which ultimately led to starting Springworks farm when he was just 19 years old before starting at Bowdoin College.

Aquaponics farming uses greenhouses, tanks of water, live fish and seedlings to grow crops. The waste by-product of the fish ultimately fertilizes the lettuce, which grows from the nutrient-rich water. In turn, the lettuce filters the water, creating a circular and symbiotic method of agriculture.

Springworks Director of Business Development Emily Donaldson said the pandemic disrupted the lettuce industry by exposing the vulnerability inherent to centralized production.

“As a regional producer, our ability to help build a resilient and sustainable food system has never been more relevant,” added Donaldson. “Our closed-loop system grows twenty times more produce per acre using 90 to 95 percent less water than a conventional farm, without using synthetic fertilizers or pesticides.”

To meet the growing demand for nutrient-dense organic local greens, Donaldson said they plan to expand their operations to 500,000 square feet over the next six years.

Currently, they are producing different types of lettuce in three facilities totaling 66,000 square feet in Lisbon. The farm has 168 acres of land in total.

“Our new 40,000-square-foot facility that we opened this July alone will nearly triple our yearly production of greens and tilapia. This not only creates meaningful jobs but also increases access to safe, organic local lettuce,” said Donaldson.

The company currently has 48 employees.

Donaldson said they would be producing over 2 million heads of lettuce a year with this most recent addition.

“Once we fully build our site, we could be producing around 20 million heads of lettuce a year,” added Donaldson.

The company is already Hannaford’s exclusive supplier of certified organic green leaf lettuce. It also supplies all 184 Hannaford stores with Baby Romaine lettuce, Boston Bibb and pre-cut products to select stores.

Attempts to reach Hannaford officials were unsuccessful.

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