More greens, butter lettuce specifically, grown in a clean, green way.
Tyler Gaudet’s patient girlfriend knew exactly when his side business had outgrown the couple’s East End apartment.
It was 2011, and Gaudet, a fisheries biologist, was raising scores of tilapia in hulking, open-top tanks in their spare bedroom.
“I had one jump out and dry out under a radiator,” Gaudet said. “(My girlfriend) was like, ‘the apartment smells fishier than normal,’ and just the fact that my apartment has a ‘normal fishy smell’ means these things gotta go.”
Gaudet packed up his tanks and moved into a tiny greenhouse in East Bayside. It was the birth of Fluid Farms, and now three growing seasons later, Gaudet and his business partner, Jackson McLeod, are preparing to expand their operation once again, swimming into unchartered waters as the largest commercial aquaponics greenhouse in Maine.
Every week during the six-month growing season, they churned out hundreds of heads of immaculate butter lettuce, which was quickly gobbled up by restaurant-goers in southern Maine.
“It’s a really clean product and you can use all of it,” said Taryn Kelley of Native Maine, which sells the lettuce for Fluid Farms. “That’s huge for clients.”
Yet the business so far is a part-time gig, squeezed between careers, wives, girlfriends and everyday life. If all goes according to plan, the pair will be full-time farmers by this time next year.
To make it happen, Gaudet and McLeod will leave their current 2,200-square-foot North Yarmouth hoop house, thanks to a landowner in Dresden who made a gargantuan deal with them. Fluid Farms would become the proud owner of a 36,000-square-foot greenhouse that the landowner no longer wants, in exchange for disassembling the 3/4-acre skeleton of metal and glass. The duo plan to reconstruct the greenhouse in sections as they grow, until the operation is producing lettuce year-round.
“We know what are goals are,” said McLeod, an engineer who designs automated machines for a living. “We want to get to a size that employs us, but not to a size that’s too big.”