Log In

Reset Password

The lettuce capital of the East Coast

Little Leaf Farms in Banks Township knows lettuce.

The company, originally based on Devens, Massachusetts, recently expanded operations into Pennsylvania and is aiming to become the East Coast’s top lettuce producer by 2025.

Earlier this month, members of the Carbon County Planning Commission toured one of the farm’s 10-acre facilities, located in the McAdoo Industrial Park, and learned about the process of hydroponic, greenhouse growing. The company’s project to expand to create an additional three greenhouses came before the commission last month and received conditional approval.

A total of six 10-acre greenhouses is planned for the 176-acre site, situated between McAdoo and Tresckow.

The greenhouse is a machine in itself, with the building collecting the water that is used to grow the lettuce; as well as regulating the structure’s interior and design to accommodate and control environment; while the land around it has been specially cultivated to sustain beneficial insects such as bees and other pollinators.

Chris Sigmon, executive vice president of operations, said that this business should become a billion dollar company in the next two years, specializing only in lettuce production and supplying the whole East Coast.

“Right now, Little Leaf Farms is the number 1 brand of lettuce in New England,” Sigmon said, noting that the company is in about 3,500 stores and is expanding into larger chains in the coming months. “Our reach from this location is really all the way up into New England and all the way down to say Baltimore or DC area.

“People don’t realize that 90 percent of the lettuce on the East Coast comes from California. It’s grown in dirt. We think there’s a better way and it’s called controlled environment agriculture.”

Sigmon said, as the tour passed by the second greenhouse that is currently being constructed, that once the second greenhouse is operating, just those two buildings will produce more leafy green controlled environmental agriculture lettuce than all other CEA lettuce companies grow.

“And we got four more to go,” he said. “This will definitely be the epicenter of lettuce for America.”

The goal of Little Leaf is to bring quality lettuce once it is grown from harvesting to store within a one-day’s drive, meaning what you purchase was picked about a day or two earlier.

Little Leaf chose the Banks Township site as its second location due Pennsylvania’s microclimate, Sigmon said.

He said that Little Leaf wants to be in rural areas outside of large population densities that have good logistic routes that stretch between New York and Baltimore.

Weather in Pennsylvania also made for ideal growing conditions for the lettuce because the facilities because of milder summers and at least 41 inches of rain annually.

Sigmon said that Devens ranks third in the microclimate needed for optimal lettuce growth, while Pennsylvania ranks second and their third future location in North Carolina ranks first.

During the tour, Sigmon provided a detailed glimpse into the fine tuned operation the company has perfected, from the way the lettuce is seeded to the types of lights used in combination with sunlight for optimal growth.

The company currently specializes in three types of lettuce, green leaf, which is a hybrid of romaine and iceberg; red leaf and butter.

The building houses an intricate system of gutters to collect rainwater and distribute it into one of two 2 million gallon basins that will be used in the growing process.

During one rainfall, the gutter system can collect upward of 270,000 gallons of water, Sigmon said, noting that the system needed to be fine-tuned to specifically meet Little Leaf’s demand.

Three large storage tanks outside the building also provide cooling for the greenhouse in the summer, and boilers provide warmth in the winter.

Sigmon said that once planted, the lettuce goes from seed to harvest in approximately 23 days and will be fed three different types of nutrient rich cocktails. The lettuce lines sit on a type of conveyor belt that moves them through greenhouse throughout the different stages.

Once harvested, the product is packed and shipped relatively quickly to guarantee optimal freshness.

Sigmon said that the company has strong support through various big name organizations and entrepreneurs, including The Rise Fund, Bono from U2 and Jeff Skoll, former eBay president, and will be fully funding itself in the next few years.

“We have to change the way we grow our food,” Sigmon said. “That’s just the long the short of it. Or we won’t be able to feed the world, and we want to do that.”

One fully operational, Little Leaf will provide upward of 250 jobs for the area

An overview of Little Leaf Farms in Banks Township. On the left is the completed 10-acre greenhouse that is currently in operation, while on the right is a second greenhouse that is being constructed. AMY MILLER/TIMES NEWS
Two water collection basins are seen outside the greenhouse. These basins are used to collect rainwater, which is then used in the lettuce growing process.
Members of the Carbon County Planning Commission listen to Chris Sigmon, left, as he explains the operations of the company.
An overview of a portion of the lettuce that is ready for harvesting in the greenhouse.