Loudon, N.H. - Who doesn’t like fresh salad greens? They’re tasty and crisp, not to mention healthy. So why do those in the Northeast settle for eating lettuce and herbs that typically spend an entire week on a truck shipped in from the West Coast?
That was the exact question Henry Huntington and Bob LaDue of Pleasant View Gardens had been asking themselves for the past few years. In fact, it was the primary motivation for them to start Lef Farms (pronounced “leaf”), and breaking ground on a brand new, 75,000-sq.-ft. greenhouse growing facility in the heart of New England.
“With the discerning tastes and Yankee practicality here in the Northeast, we truly couldn’t understand why anyone would choose to eat something that was perceived fresh but in reality was a week or so old,” says Lef’s President and CEO, Henry Huntington. “We knew there was a tremendous opportunity to better serve the people of our region with greens that are truly fresh. To give them a choice while elevating their expectations of how fresh packaged lettuce could actually taste,” affirms Huntington.
Located in Loudon, New Hampshire, Lef Farms is currently in the final stages of construction and will be the first of its kind in the Northeast. Their grand opening is right around the corner, with finished product expected to be available as early as June, so Lef has already begun spreading the fresh greens gospel that will ultimately bring tastier lettuce to this very demanding market – a market that reportedly gets 90 percent of its lettuce from the West Coast.
“We will initially be able to produce 1.3 million pounds of fresh greens a year, with tremendous future capacity,” says Lef’s VP and COO, Bob LaDue. “Most importantly, our customers can get those greens within 24 hours from the time they’re harvested. Grocers, retailers, restaurants, schools, hospitals and consumers all across the Northeast will be getting the absolute freshest and most flavorful salad blends possible. It’s something bagged lettuce shipped in from Mexico and California simply can’t match.”
The 75,000-square-foot greenhouse facility that will house Lef Farms in Loudon, N.H.
Lef greens will be grown in an advanced climate-controlled greenhouse environment where baby greens will be harvested at quality standards every day of the year – regardless of the weather. So Lef greens can be consistently delivered at the peak of freshness and flavor, whether it is January or July.
Knowing freshness equates to local production, much of the raw greens being harvested and shipped to the Northeast from the West Coast and beyond are being sent to East Coast packing plants, where they are transformed into “local” greens through packaging.
“This is the exact reason our tagline, ‘Fresh is right here’ is so important,” Huntington says. “We’re truly grown in the Northeast – from start to finish – not packaged to trick people into thinking that.”
Lef Farms’ hydroponic method of production relies on recycling water balanced with nutrients rather than dirt to provide essential minerals for optimal growth. And since the process delivers an exact amount of water, oxygen and nutrients to the plants, Lef is able to employ a plant nutrition program that has essentially zero waste. Plus, it uses as much as 90 percent less water than traditional farming, where water is used in excess and lost to the environment. All of this combines to help Lef lettuce grow twice as fast as lettuce grown in the very best organic media available.
Lef has invested heavily in technologies and techniques that will minimize the introduction of insect pests. This includes expertly managing the high growth rates of its greens while also taking advantage of something the organic movement has helped make affordable: the use of beneficial insects to fight the bad ones.
From a food safety perspective, Lef Farms starts with 100-percent non-GMO seeds and employs a process where those seeds are sown, grown, cut, mixed, weighed, packaged and boxed all under the same roof. Human hands will never touch the product directly. And since lLf greens will be grown in a clean environment with no pesticides, the need to pre-wash the product is eliminated. This is a plus for consumers, since each bag of lettuce from Lef Farms will contain more greens and less water, on top of the fuel savings that come with locally grown produce.
“When you add it all up, the benefits of our greens are tremendous,” says Huntington. “Fresher lettuce that’s grown without chemical pesticides, contains little to no PH2O (packaged water), and hasn’t experienced a weeklong road trip means our customers will get a much greater value for much tastier, safer lettuce."
Prior to connecting with the Huntingtons and joining Lef Farms, LaDue gained critical operational and business experience as general manager of Finger Lakes Fresh, where his ideas and successes were put to work in a commercial greenhouse business in Ithaca, N.Y. LaDue created and marketed new leafy-green products for retail and wholesale markets, established its distribution system, developed and implemented its food safety program, and advanced expansion plans for a new greenhouse and packing facility.
Visit the Lef Farms website for more information.