Q&A with Little Leaf Farms

April 20, 2022 Updated: January 23, 2024

Little Leaf Farms – based in Devens, Massachusetts – helps grocers make fresh, locally and sustainably-grown lettuce available throughout New England all year round. Little Leaf Farms is committed to supporting the environment through their business, including through partnerships with organizations like ours. Every week, Lovin’ Spoonfuls picks up Little Leaf lettuce at their distribution facility in Chelsea and distributes it, same day, to nonprofits serving people facing food insecurity in the area. Little Leaf Farms is also frequently involved in Spoonfuls events, too, like our Cocktails & Community event, which they sponsored earlier this month.

Learn more about Little Leaf Farms’ commitment to our planet in this interview with Brand Manager, Jeannie Hannigan.

Jeannie Hannigan (right) with Ashley Stanley (left), Spoonfuls’ Founder & Executive Director, at Cocktails & Community. (Photo credit: Drea / 13 Photography)
In what ways is Little Leaf’s lettuce sustainable?

Because of where our greenhouse is located and the way we grow, our greens are more sustainable than field-grown greens coming from the West Coast (which make up for 95% of the lettuce in our local grocery stores). Here are some of the ways we incorporate sustainability into our growing process:

– By growing indoors, our lettuce is protected from the elements, and very little of our crop is wasted compared to field-grown greens. We then harvest and deliver our lettuce to stores in about 24 hours. Because of this, lettuce spends much less time in transit compared to lettuce grown on the West Coast (which can spend up to two weeks on a truck before it gets to grocery stores here in Massachusetts) and stays fresher for longer on store shelves and in your fridge. That means less lettuce going to waste throughout every step of the supply chain!

– Our greenhouse is built to maximize the power of the sun – a free and renewable light source! We use high-quality glass to let the light in on sunny days. When the sun isn’t shining, we use efficient LED grow lights which use 40% less electricity than regular lights.

– We capture rainwater on our roof, store it, sanitize it with UV lights, and then use that water to nourish our greens. With this approach, we use 90% less water than lettuce grown outdoors in a field. 

– We use a biological control system to keep pests off our lettuce. That means there’s a little ecosystem in our greenhouse, where beneficial insects that are natural predators (like ladybugs) eat the insects that like to eat our lettuce (like aphids). That keeps our lettuce healthy and pest-free without using any harmful chemical pesticides.

From your perspective, how does building up our local food system support the health of our planet?

Little Leaf Farms was born out of the idea that we can create a resilient, local food system right here in New England. When we grow and consume food locally, we reduce food miles and improve the shelf life of fresh foods, which ultimately leads to a lower carbon footprint compared to food that travels thousands of miles to get to our plate. It also lessens the impact of supply chain issues (which have become increasingly common over the past few years), ensuring that New England is not as dependent on other regions for access to fresh, healthy food. But it’s not only good for our planet, it’s good for the people, too. The more local growers and food producers there are in our region, the more accessible fresh, local food becomes for the people who live here.

Any tips for making Little Leaf lettuce last longer?

Yes! Make sure you refrigerate your lettuce as soon as you get home from the grocery store. When packaged lettuce gets too hot or too cold, it creates condensation in the lettuce container. Moisture makes lettuce break down more quickly than usual, and that’s the main reason why it gets soggy. Some of our fans go the extra mile to fight moisture by putting a piece of paper towel on top of the lettuce in the container once it’s in the fridge.

Erin Keohane, Spoonfuls’ Senior Director of Development, helping to pick up Little Leaf lettuce at their distribution facility in Chelsea.
If someone’s lettuce does start to wilt, are there ways people can still incorporate it into something tasty?

Wilty lettuce can be blended into smoothies and soups (like this one). I also love the idea of using it in a slaw or a grain bowl – something with a lot of flavor and texture going on will make the wilty-ness less noticeable.

What do you say to those hesitant to buy lettuce in plastic packaging?

I understand where you’re coming from! We’re actively working on alternate packaging that reduces the overall amount of plastic we use, and, eventually, we’d love to see the packaged salad industry move away from plastic altogether. We also recognize that recycling infrastructure in our country is imperfect, and a whole lot needs to change to ensure that the materials we recycle at home truly end up being recycled.
For now, our packaging is made from 100% Post-Consumer Recycled plastic (no virgin plastic used) and can be recycled again at most major recycling facilities when properly disposed. The containers we currently use does a great job at protecting our lettuce and keeping it fresh for 2+ weeks, which ultimately prevents food waste. We’ve also had some fans get really creative with our containers, repurposing them as seed starters, storage bins, kids arts and crafts projects, portable dog bowls, and more. We love seeing all the fun ways people use our packages!

Why does Little Leaf Farms support Lovin’ Spoonfuls?

We’re proud to support Lovin’ Spoonfuls because we believe everyone should have access to fresh, healthy food – especially produce! The work Lovin’ Spoonfuls does to feed people in Massachusetts is so important, and the fact that this work keeps good food out of landfills makes it even better. It’s incredible to be able to make an impact directly in our community through the work Lovin’ Spoonfuls does every single day.

Want to hear more from the Little Leaf Farms Team? Check out Food Waste, Food Rescue, and the Future of our Planet, an environment-focused panel discussion hosted by Lovin’ Spoonfuls, featuring Little Leaf Farms Founder & CEO, Paul Sellew.

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