Tyler Gaudet and Jackson McLeod, two native Mainers, are successfully producing thousands of heads of lettuce, grown locally and sustainably through their aquaponic system located in Dresden, Maine. They met first at Kents Hill boarding school and their friendship was immediate. As college roommates, Tyler and Jack bonded yet concentrated in different fields, biology and mechanical engineering. While they didn’t realize it at the time, it was the development of these two independent skill sets that would lead them to developing a business model and system that would produce local, organic lettuce year round right here in Maine.
Why aquaponics? Jack and Tyler saw the opportunity to combine two forces - technology and farming. They created a living system and then let nature take care of the rest. Jack said, “It’s like organic farming but we are applying technology.” But it took some time for these two to get to the point they are at today.
Their first greenhouse was at the back of the Urban Farm Fermentory in Portland, Maine and they built this one after work hours. They started with basil and sold locally to restaurants. At first it was a time for them to get the system down and see if scaling was possible and profitable. Realizing it was, they rented a space in North Yarmouth, launched a Kickstarter and proceeded to build out the next greenhouse tracking every dollar and hour ensuring their forecast and model. While they were in Yarmouth Jack and Tyler got lucky, like really lucky. They were offered a new space to grow in exchange for dismantling a 36,000 ft2 Dutch style greenhouse. This required intense effort, and Jack had to be 100% committed to it, living off of his savings and having friends and family help with the deconstruction. While one greenhouse was coming down, the other was blossoming and Jack and Tyler were fulfilling orders to restaurants through the summer and fall for aquaponically grown lettuce.
Through aquaponics the fish are fed through the nutrients circulating from the plants and vice-versa. The fish clean the toxic waste, such as ammonia, out of the system and convert it into nitrogen, while the plants take the nitrogen out of the system. The aquaponics system is described as an eco-friendly system. This one has minimal waste, saving thousands of gallons of water per month compared to other agriculture systems such as hydroponics. Usually aquaponics is specific to certain plants, such as those with a short life cycle, like lettuce, basil, chockchow. This is why Jack and Tyler have focused on these markets.
Even though they are an organic certified business Jack and Tyler still compete with anyone that grows lettuce, yet they also see the importance of growing and selling locally. They are aiming to have comparable products year round, and they want people to be able to consume their greens with the same taste year round. This winter, 2016, was a landmark year as their first winter producing in through the freezing temperatures.
While it started from an idea, Jack and Tyler with their energy and time, have, after five years become one of the biggest aquaponics producers of greens here in Maine and their journey is really just getting started.