The root of what we do is summarized with Eat. Real. Food. It’s our slogan and our way of life. From sourcing local ingredients from local farms to delivering them to our clients, we’ve created quite the list of partners. These are their stories.
By the time your lettuce reaches your plate, it’s been through a transcontinental voyage. According to Tim Cunniff, EVP of Sales & Marketing for Little Leaf Farms in Devens, Mass., the majority of lettuce on supermarket shelves is grown along the west coast. “We didn’t think that was sustainable in a field agricultural standpoint,” Tim explained, which led to Little Leaf’s greenhouse model.
Tomatoes to Lettuce…
Tim and Little Leaf’s CEO Paul Sellew worked together on Backyard Farms where they mastered the growing and distribution of greenhouse-grown tomatoes. Paul then branched off to pursue greater opportunities in commercial scale agriculture and settled on lettuce. “The lettuce industry was a large category for us to go after,” noted Tim.
As the majority of supermarket lettuce is shipped thousands of miles, it has lost nutrient potential and flavor by the time it reaches store shelves. Tim and Paul were determined to change that. “We had to go in and change basically the dynamic of how cut lettuce is grown, packed, and shipped at a local level from a daily supply standpoint,” Tim explained.
Little Leaf emulates an automated system in Finland that cools, washes, and packages lettuce within a short period after harvesting. While Tim and Paul believed that the majority of the market was already being served with a pretty good lettuce product to begin with, they went for it anyway.
“I didn’t know what the consumer reaction would be with our product,” admitted Tim. “I can tell you right now, it’s been overwhelming.” After their first crop reached maturity at the end of July in 2016, Little Leaf has experienced massive demand. Along with freshness, Tim noted that customers are praising Little Leaf’s quality and taste over other lettuce options.
Love of Leaves…
Little Leaf’s success is rooted in their convenience and volume model. “The main goal of the business is getting as many people eating locally grown, sustainable product [as possible]”, Tim explained. “The way to do that is go where people get their product: the supermarket.”
In order to supply local supermarkets, Little Leaf needed a large-scale operation. The greenhouse model they tend to favor allows them to grow year-round, a definite benefit through cold New England winters.
With a greenhouse, Tim revealed that Little Leaf uses very little land and doesn’t erode any dirt, which is, “A problem with field agriculture.”
Little Leaf also strives to lower their impact. With a compostable landfill on the property, they are able to toss in roots and subpar leaves, allowing deer the chance to grab a bite until the produce is fully composted.
Taking a tour through their greenhouse, it’s apparent that Little Leaf loves their leaves. We love them too, which is why we’ve included Little Leaf greens on our ingredient list, making our dream of locally grown lunches a year-round reality.
Article by: Meg Brown / Images by: Raddao Samphaoyon
Meg is a dreamer, entrepreneur, and homesteader based in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. She loves her cats, feasting, and road trips in her green VW Bug.