Little Leaf Farms opens in Devens
May 9, 2016 : Lowell Sun, by Anne O'Connor
DEVENS -- The seeds are ready to be sown at Little Leaf Farms -- but don't expect to see fields of crops.
Instead, this 21st-century farm is contained inside a multimillion-dollar greenhouse, which will allow the facility to grow greens year round and provide fresh, locally grown lettuce throughout New England in an environmentally-friendly fashion.
Founders Paul Sellew and Tim Cunniff feel strongly about producing food for the region, Sellew said. He said New England, which imports 90 percent of its food from other regions, needs to improve its food security.
"We're proud to start our business here in Devens and be part of the local food movement," Sellew said. "We'll be making millions of bags of lettuce a year."
Their awareness of environmental impact is apparent in the entire operation.
Each of those millions of 5-ounce bags will use 90 percent less plastic than the common clam-shell packaging, Sellew said. "We were troubled by using all that plastic."
They searched for a location close to Boston. Customers will include local grocery stores.
"We hope to be at the market price that is there right now," Sellew said.
The Devens location is close to markets, so the delicate baby greens will not have to travel the thousands of miles that California produce does. Produce will arrive at stores within a day of harvesting.
"We think we're going to deliver a superior product," Sellew said.
Agriculture is a water-intensive business.
In California, 80 percent of human water use is for agriculture, according to the Public Policy Institute of California. The state is in a drought.
Little Leaf has the water issue well in hand.
"Why not capture the water that falls on the roof?" Sellew said. "It's clean."
The "very, very efficient" system has another benefit.
"We have no wastewater. All the water use is uptaken by the plants," Sellew said.
One factor in deciding to come to Devens was affordable power, Sellew said. The greenhouse will also use solar power to offset costs. LED lights and climate control will reduce power usage.
The hydroponically grown greens will not be treated with pesticides.
MassDevelopment provided a streamlined permitting process, which Sellew said also influenced the company's decision to move to Devens. The company also received a $4.5 million loan from MassDevelopment.
"High-quality, locally grown food has become both popular and prudent for the Commonwealth's consumers," said MassDevelopment President and CEO Marty Jones. "We're pleased to welcome Little Leaf Farms to Devens as the community's latest innovative business, and I applaud Paul Sellew, Little Leaf's founder and CEO, and his Massachusetts agricultural colleagues for their commitment to the health of their customers and the environment."
When the first phase of the greenhouse opens, it will employ about 10 people, Sellew said. The company plans to expand as the business grows.
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