'Epicenter of lettuce:' Little Leaf continues to grow in Banks Twp., Carbon County


Banks Twp., Carbon County, PA - Little Leaf Farms began producing its first Pennsylvania crops of hydroponic, greenhouse lettuce this summer and it continues to grow.

The Devens, Mass.-based company is building its second of three, 10-acre greenhouses in the McAdoo Industrial Park and received conditional approval from Carbon County for three more.

The company is on track to build a total of six greenhouses on a 76-acre tract between Tresckow and McAdoo Borough.

“Right now, Little Leaf Farms is the No. 1 brand of lettuce in New England. We’re in about 3,500 stores,” said Chris Sigmon, executive vice president of operations, who led a tour of the facility on a foggy November morning.

“The output of these two greenhouses is greater than all the leafy green, CEA (controlled environmental agriculture) lettuce grown today,” Sigmon said. “And we got four more to go. This will definitely be the epicenter for lettuce in America.”

Little Leaf invited Carbon County officials to see its first greenhouse, as it advances expansion plans along the East Coast on its way to becoming a billion-dollar company in the next two years.

The tour started near the entrance to the property overlooking two massive water basins alongside the greenhouse. The lined basins each hold 2 million gallons of water, Sigmon said.

Gutters on the roof of the greenhouse are designed to channel and capture rainwater and snowmelt. The system can collect 270,000 gallons of water from 1 inch of rainfall, he said.

The greenhouse relies mainly on this captured rainwater for its operation, Sigmon said.

Water also helps control the temperature of the greenhouse, he said.

Chilled water, held in two large storage tanks next to the outside water basins, is circulated to cool the greenhouse in the summer, Sigmon said.

Another tank holds hot water produced in on-site boilers and then sent through piping that warms the greenhouse and melts snow off the roof.

Plants are fed different nutrient cocktails as they make their way through three different sections of the greenhouse — young plants, medium plants and harvesting plants, Sigmon said.

Little Leaf produces three different types of lettuce — green leaf, an iceberg-romaine hybrid; red leaf and a butter lettuce, which is already sold out in New England and expected to be a sales leader moving forward, he said.

The company intends to keep its focus on leafy greens and not deviate from its mainstay product, Sigmon said. They want to do one thing and continue to do it well, he said.

A second greenhouse now under construction should be under glass by winter and producing lettuce next year, Sigmon said.

“Our philosophy is we want to be the freshest lettuce in the store. So we don’t ship more than one day’s drive,” Sigmon said. “Nothing goes more than one day.”

Greenhouses here will be able to reach stores in New England as well those in and around Baltimore, Maryland, and the District of Columbia, he said.

Little Leaf continues to grow with expansion farther south into North Carolina, which also has a favorable climate for growing lettuce, Sigmon said.

The growth is funded in part through The Rise Fund, which was founded by investment company TPG, in partnership with activist and rock legend Bono and billionaire internet entrepreneur Jeff Skoll.

Little Leaf is producing the same amount of lettuce on 10 acres as a traditional farmer would on 1,500 acres, he said.

“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.”