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After soilless babyleaf, here's hand-less babyleaf

Little Leaf Farms, one of the largest growers of hydroponic baby greens in North America, has officially opened its expanded greenhouse in Devens, Mass this week. The expansion doubles the size of the greenhouse from 2.5 acres to 5 acres, and more than doubles its annual production of baby greens. Thanks to their innovative growing system the greens are grown fully automated, without any chemicals and without any human hand touching the produce. Little Leaf Farms also announced it has purchased adjacent land for a third expansion project set to begin in 2019, which will further increase the size of the greenhouse to approximately 10 acres.

Baby lettuce
Opened in 2016, Little Leaf Farms produces locally grown, fresh baby greens year-round that are delivered to New England consumers within hours of being harvested. Little Leaf Farms grows multiple varieties of baby lettuce at its greenhouse. “Our ability to deliver fresh, great tasting and safe baby greens to consumers that can be easily traced back to the Massachusetts greenhouse has led to our rapid growth and expansion”, said Paul Sellew, CEO and founder of Little Leaf Farms. “We are passionate about transforming the way food is grown. Our process is clean from the start, so consumers can be confident they’re purchasing a safe product, grown in an environment that employs the most advanced food safety practices.”

For doing so, Little Leaf Farms is using a fully automated growing system. The system is optimized for growing of baby leaf lettuce and makes it possible to grow leafy greens fully automated without any human hand touching the produce from medium filling and seeding to harvesting. The seeding is done directly into the gutters to avoid the need of transplanting. Germination takes place under the growing line. After germination the gutters are lifted up to the growing line. During the growing process the gutters are moved automatically through the greenhouse toward the harvesting area. As plants grow the distance between the gutters continuously is adjusted - giving each plant as much space as necessary, but as little as possible. Once ready for harvesting the gutters are transported per conveyor belt to the harvesting area and guided into the cutting machine for a fresh cut.

The system is developed by Green Automation and has recently been upgraded and updated. “The growing lines are now even more robust, offers more precise and easier operations resulting in reduced maintenance needs as well as noise levels”, Patrik Borenius of Green Automation explains. Making the system more durable with increased frame thickness and additional steel components also allows for longer greenhouse growing lines to be designed and for increased gutter capacity.”

Seeding directly into the narrow gutters – eliminating the need for transplanting

Electric lift moving the gutters from the germination level to the growing line in one smooth movement.

New generation harvesting end with more space efficient conveyor design
The system is an important part of the Little Leaf hydroponic growing process, using mineral nutrient solutions in water without soil. “We incorporate principles of sustainability in everything we do, all to provide consumers with delicious, local baby greens at a fair price”, Paul explains. “The growth is completely sustainable, utilizing natural sunlight, a computer-controlled growing environment and a rainwater-based irrigation system that uses 90 percent less water than field-grown lettuce companies”, Paul shows. “The system enables the baby greens to be seeded, grown, cut and packaged without ever being touched by human hands. The production system is free from chemical pesticides, herbicides and fungicides, ensuring that what customers purchase is safe.”

LED lighting
The greenhouse is to be lighted with LED and the company opted for Oreon Grown Light 2.1, water-cooled fixtures by Lemnis. The complete installation of both water and electricity was provided by PB Techniek, Sellew’s installation partner for many years.

Salad mixes
Little Leaf Farms grows multiple varieties of baby lettuce at its greenhouse that are blended into salad mixes and sold in more than 1,000 Northeast grocery stores and to many restaurants, Universities and institutional customers. “More than 98 percent of the lettuce we eat in this country is grown on the West Coast and shipped for days, which means customers in New England are not receiving the highest quality or freshest product,” said Andrew W. Kendall, executive director of the Henry P. Kendall Foundation, an organization focused on creating a resilient and healthy food system in New England to increase the production and consumption of local, sustainably produced food. “Little Leaf Farms has cracked the code on providing the region with fresh baby greens within hours of being harvested. It’s exciting to see that consumers appreciate the value of the product, which will drive the company’s growth for years to come.”

For more information:
Little Leaf Farms

Green Automation
Patrik Borenius

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