For many business owners, Paul Sellew has a good problem to solve. The founder and chief executive officer of Little Leaf Farms is producing one million boxes of fresh greenhouse-grown baby green lettuce a month, delivered to every major supermarket chain in New England usually within 24 hours, year-round, and demand cannot keep up with supply.
In 2016, Little Leaf Farms opened its doors in Devens, Massachusetts and sent its first truck of fresh baby greens off to grocery stores in New England, and they haven’t stopped since. New Englanders can’t get enough of the sustainably grown, pesticide free, crispy baby lettuce.
Demand has increased so much that Little Leaf Farms will double its growing capacity in May 2020 to 10 acres in Devens and will expand distribution to New York and New Jersey’s major supermarket chains. Little Leaf Farms also plans to break ground in the Eastern Pennsylvania region on a 20-acre greenhouse to supply stores locally, followed by another 20-acre greenhouse located in Western North Carolina to extend distribution of its signature locally-grown lettuce that has a devoted – some would say cult-like -- following among consumers in New England. Each acre of greenhouse will yield 25 times that of lettuce grown on an outdoor farm. To support this expansion, Bank of America has stepped in with over $18 million of financing today, to be followed by another $20 million to help finance the company’s growth.
“We are changing the way food is grown in New England and changing consumer expectations for fresh produce in this part of the world. And after becoming the number one lettuce brand in New England in just two years, we know there is tremendous opportunity to expand to new geographies and feed families, a fresher, cleaner, more nutritious lettuce than what they can buy today,” Sellew said. Little Leaf Farms is a great business success story.
Little Leaf Farms grows lettuce hydroponically with great efficiency. The company uses 100 percent captured rainwater and utilizes advanced fertilization and irrigation systems that use 90 percent less water than field-grown greens so there is no depletion of groundwater reserves. With the nation’s dual problem of farming issues that are a result of climate change and growing population demands, Little Leaf Farms has a model growing method that brings year-round sustainable farming to New England and the East Coast with a smaller carbon footprint. “California is a state without a lot of water, yet that’s where most of our nation’s lettuce is being grown,” Sellew says. “That’s unsustainable.”
Growing locally and shipping within 24 hours to local stores adds to their efficiency. No human hands ever touch the lettuce as its grown safely, with less risk of contamination. As Little Leaf Farms expands, Sellew said they are also looking at growing new varieties of lettuce.
“We’ve been in an over-demand situation for 18 months,” said Little Leaf Farms’ co-founder Tim Cunniff. “Customers tell us all the time that this is the best lettuce out there. It’s the freshest. It’s the tastiest. It’s the safest. It’s grown the most sustainably. It will last the longest in your refrigerator, and it’s a good price value.”