For most students, extracurriculars take place on Bowdoin’s campus. Trevor Kenkel ’18, however, can be found in Lisbon, Maine, in between classes operating his own farm. 

Kenkel is the chairman and founder of Springworks Farm, an aquaponics farm in Lisbon, ME that is about 30 minutes from campus. 

From a young age, Kenkel became interested in sustainable agriculture. When a local creek in his hometown of Kalispell, Montana, experienced a huge loss in biodiversity due to human agricultural activity upstream, Kenkel was fascinated. 

“I made this rough connection as a kid that agriculture could significantly change the ecosystems around me,” said Kenkel.  

Looking for more sustainable ways to farm, he started a small organic garden in his hometown. However, given Montana’s short growing season, Kenkel was only able to produce his own food for a small portion of the year, and he wanted to expand. 

After reading about aquaponics online, he built his first aquaponics system with money from his summer job. 

“My parents thought I was crazy,” said Kenkel.

In aquaponics, fish are housed in recirculating tanks that produce the fertilizer that the plants need. The plants then use that fertilizer to grow, which keeps the water clean for the fish.

“We take both of those waste streams and combine them in a relationship that ends up making the process better. We use about 90% less water, ten times less space—and that doesn't include the fact that we are able to operate year round.”

From there, he continued to expand upon his first system with financial assistance from his family. Soon, he had enough produce to feed his family and neighbors with plenty to spare. Afterwards, Kenkel began to sell to local restaurants. 

“I had seen the potential of a business in it before that, but it was really nice to go out and start to prove that business model,” Kenkel said. “That’s when I started developing what is today Springworks. I began creating a business plan and pitching to investors the idea and receiving the funding and locating ourselves in Maine.”

Kenkel was originally recruited by Bowdoin to play football, which established his connection to Maine. After seeing the food scene in Portland, he knew that Maine would be a suitable location for the farm, and it would also allow him to live nearby during his time in college.

“We felt like Maine was so well-prepared for this kind of business because they care about their food so much,” said Kenkel.  

Springworks purchased its land in Lisbon in the spring of 2014. Kenkel spent his first year at Bowdoin building the system and working on the interior components. Springworks harvested its first crops in July of this year. 

Many local restaurants have expressed interest in working with Springworks. Kenkel is currently selling to over 18 local establishments, including Gelato Fiasco, Wild Oats Bakery and Café and Frontier Café. 

“Wild Oats has been a great customer for us,” said Kenkel. “We sell a couple of different varieties of lettuce, basil, mizuna, things of that nature.”

“We went out for a tour of their facility, and I was really impressed with their product,” said Becky Shepherd, owner of Wild Oats. “It's clearly very fresh and clean, and I thought that it was a wonderful concept.”

Springworks is the first farm that Wild Oats has worked with that can produce year round, which has given Wild Oats the ability to continue to buy locally outside of season. 

“We usually get two to three deliveries a week from them, and they're super responsive to anything that we need or any feedback we have for them—they're always looking for ways that they can improve,” said Shepherd. 

Recently, Bowdoin Dining has shown interest in getting involved in Kenkel’s work. Although nothing is formally set in place for Bowdoin becoming a long-term customer, Kenkel is excited to see where the relationship goes. 

“I have been talking to [Bowdoin Dining] pretty extensively. They're really excited about it,” Kenkel said. “They plan on using Springworks’ greens for the president’s inaugural dinner.”

Aside from the commercial side of his business, Kenkel has made it a priority to educate the community on sustainable agriculture through the use of “Microfarms” that people can purchase for use in their own homes.

“It takes what we do on the large scale and squeezes it down to the size of a ten-gallon aquarium,” Kenkel said “We’re excited to use it as an educational tool.”

Kenkel is also working with local teachers at Morse High School in Bath, ME to help design their AP Biology curriculum to incorporate more education about sustainable agriculture. Students can visit the farm and learn about aquaponics through MicroFarms. 

Like many other Bowdoin students, Kenkel also has to manage a heavy workload.

“I think a lot of Bowdoin students have extracurriculars that they spend a lot of time on, and if you schedule yourself properly, there's a lot of time during the day that can be used to work on projects like this,” Kenkel said.