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Aquaponics startup outgrows Portland, heads to North Yarmouth

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Aquaponics startup outgrows Portland, heads to North Yarmouth

NORTH YARMOUTH — Fish waste is used by plants, which is converted by bacteria into nutrients for plants, which in turn filter clean and oxygenated water to be recirculated back to the fish.

It's the circle of life.

That's the gist of aquaponics, a symbiotic merging of aquaculture – through which fish and other aquatic animals are raised in tanks – and hydroponics, the growing of plants in water.

And aquaponics is what Fluid Farms, a Portland-grown business that's moving to North Yarmouth to grow produce and freshwater fish, is all about. Founders Jackson McLeod and Tyler Gaudet are building what they believe is Maine's first commercial-scale aquaponic greenhouse on leased land at 1445 North Road.

The endeavor started in 2010 with the breeding of tilapia in the spare bedroom of Gaudet's apartment.

"(We) obviously quickly outgrew that," he said.

The longtime friends then operated Fluid Farms for two summer seasons in a small Bayside greenhouse in Portland. From there they sold herbs and greens to area restaurants and markets on a shoestring budget, Gaudet said.

McLeod said he had initially seen the operation as strictly about growing food. "I really didn't think about it as a business until like the second year," he said. "As soon as we got some produce to some markets, and saw other people's excitement, I think that's when it clicked for me. I (thought), 'we could go somewhere with this.'"

Their success pushed them to expand, and to buy a production-scale 2,600-square-foot greenhouse, which they will build and move into this spring on the North Yarmouth farmland property. They hope to be operating by mid- to late May.

Gaudet and McLeod have benefited from generous support along the way. They launched an online fundraising campaign March 11 to raise $5,000; it will cover additional expenses necessary for completion and operation of the greenhouse. Their Kickstarter campaign reached its goal in just six days.

That campaign's success prompted the men to set a new goal of $15,000, which will allow them to buy a heating system so they can produce fish and vegetables throughout the winter. Kickstarter backers are offered awards like Community Supported Agriculture food baskets, which people can enjoy or donate to the Preble Street Resource Center in Portland.

The extended campaign had raised nearly $8,200 by Tuesday morning.

Gaudet, a fisheries biologist for a Portland environmental consultant, has conducted fish studies throughout the U.S. in recent years. McLeod, who has spent his life cultivating backyard and kitchen gardens, has pursued a career in industrial manufacturing automation. He experimented with hydroponic food production and grew a passion for sustainable food models in college.

Log onto fluidfarms.com for more information.

Alex Lear can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 113 or alear@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @learics.