Friday, September 2, 2016

Little Leaf Farms: Now & The Future (Part 3)

Did you know that approximately 20% of all cases of food poisoning are due to leafy greens, more than any other type of food?

I've already written about some of the advantages of Little Leaf Farms, from its use of rainwater to its incredibly high yields, thereby saving even greater resources. This is an innovative operation, which succeeds on many levels, creating a more sustainable farm which offers many advantages over conventional lettuce farms. I want to note other advantages too, as well as to discuss the availability and taste of their leafy greens.

Back in January 2013, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released a comprehensive report, covering the period of 1998-2008, on the sources of food poisoning. The report mentioned that there are about 48 million cases of food poisoning each year, which includes about 3,000 deaths. Leafy greens constitute the greatest single source of food poisoning though they are not as deadly as other sources such as poultry. An important reason why leafy greens can cause food poisoning is due to unsanitary field workers. You certainly need to thoroughly wash lettuce before eating, and hope that restaurants you patronize do the same. If not, you risk potential food poisoning.

At Little Leaf, because of all their automated processes, there is only minimal human interaction in the process, and gloves are used on those few times when intervention is necessary. What that means is that the potential risk of food poisoning from their leafy means is drastically reduced from what you will find in field-grown leafy greens. That is another compelling reason to purchase Little Leaf leafy greens. If you've ever had a case of food poisoning, from items such as listeria or salmonella, you surely don't want a repeat so you'll want to take measures to reduce your risk of another such illness. In addition, they never use any type of chlorine-based cleaners or other chemical washing agents on their leafy greens.

As I've previously mentioned, over 98% of the lettuce in our country is grown in California and Arizona. It must then be trucked across the country to New England, incurring additional transportation costs, using additional resources and incurring a greater environmental impact than local products. With Little Leaf Farms, their leafy greens can be on store shelves the day after it is harvested, meaning you get fresher greens, with a lower impact on the environment and using less resources. Many people want to support local businesses, especially if they provide an excellent product, and Little Leaf Farms is worthy of your support.

Scientific support for the Little Leaf Farms hydroponic farm also comes from a recent study published in the International Journal of Environmental Research & Public Health. The study, titled Comparison of Land, Water, and Energy Requirements of Lettuce Grown Using Hydroponic vs. Conventional Agricultural Methods, compared hydroponic to field agriculture for lettuce farms in Arizona. They found hydroponics yielded about 11 times more lettuce than field agriculture and also used 13 times less water. However, it required significant more energy but that is also based on the location of Arizona, which has a hotter climate. The study notes that cooler climate regions would have much less energy needs, and renewable sources of energy would also reduce the ultimate cost.

As Little Leaf Farms is located in Massachusetts, which possesses a much overall cooler climate than Arizona, energy needs would be much less. In addition, as mentioned before, Little Leaf uses some solar power to combat energy issues, and a number of the components of their farm have also been designed to conserve energy. In addition, their yields should be much greater than what was found in the study, which is only another added benefit.

Currently, Little Leaf Farms is growing six different leafy greens, including arugula, green leaf, red leaf, multiblond, red chard and finstar, though they are not yet selling a commercial product including their finstar. Currently, they sell two commercial products, a Red & Green Leaf Mix and a Spring Mix (which includes arugula, green leaf, red leaf, multiblond, & red chard), in 5 ounce bags at a competitive price. Their leafy greens, which came onto the market in July, are available at many of the large supermarkets, including Stop & Shop, Star Market, Shaws, Market Basket, Hannafords, and Big Y, as well as smaller markets like Russo's. In addition, restaurants can order bulk, four-pound boxes of the Little Leaf products through Baldor Food.

The big question arises, how do these leafy greens taste?

My favorite of their leafy greens was their Arugula, with a strong and compelling peppery flavor, and it also reminded me in part to garlic. The arugula isn't as bitter as others I have tasted and it makes a great base for a salad, and would be versatile for many other dishes as well. Little Leaf sells boxes of just their arugula to restaurants and I would highly recommend that restaurants check it out, as it contains lots of flavor.

The Finstar lettuce, a cross between romaine and ice berg lettuce, was crisp and clean, with a nice texture and the taste of romaine.

The Red Chard is a more bitter green but with some buttery notes on the finish.

The Red Leaf is a milder flavored lettuce

"Lettuce is a vehicle to transport refrigerated water from farm to table."
--Tamar Haspel, a columnist at The Washington Post

In Tamar's article, she attacked salads, stating they are "overrated" and "pitifully low in nutrition" though her words generally concerned iceberg lettuce and not other leafy greens. It is those other leafy greens which actually are nutritious, with the darker greens tending to be the most nutritious. Leafy greens generally are good sources of vitamin K, vitamin A, vitamin C and iron. Tamar's criticisms are much less applicable if you use different types of leafy greens in your salad. The Little Leaf operation also avoids some of the other problems Tamar mentions, such as the risk of food poisoning.

Little Leaf Farms is also socially conscious, and provides hundred of cases of leafy greens each week to local food banks and other support organizations such as Loaves & Fishes and The Greater Boston Food Bank. How many farms in California or Arizona are contributing to food banks in Massachusetts?

Though Little Leaf Farms has only started selling their leafy greens, they have been looking to the future. They hope to break ground next year on a second greenhouse, basically the same size as the existing one, and attach it to the current building. Within three to five years, they hope to grow even more, constructing a couple other greenhouses. They are also likely to add to their product line, such as maybe an Arugula-only bag for consumers (which is a great idea).

One of their biggest challenges is raising consumer awareness of their products. Their operation is fascinating, sustainable, innovative and local. Their leafy greens are tasty, fresh and present a drastically reduced risk of food poisoning. However, consumers need to learn those facts, to be aware they have a new local option for leafy greens. And getting the word out to consumers is not an easy task.

At the supermarket, consumers are confronted with a variety of lettuce brands, in various types of packaging. Currently, the Little Leaf Farms packaging doesn't really stand out and doesn't emphasize the fact that the leafy greens are grown locally in Massachusetts. If you look closely at the bags, you can learn that information, but the average consumer is unlikely to do so. The packaging needs to make that information much more prominent and visible. It needs to attract the attention of consumers, to make them look more closely at their packages.

Restaurants too need to be made aware of this new option, to learn about these locally grown leafy greens which can add to the flavors of their dishes. Their food purveyors may not mention that they now stock Little Leaf Farms, so restaurants might need to specifically request it.

Little Leaf Farms may be the future of leafy greens and I strongly recommend that you check out their products.

Check out Part 1
Check out Part 2

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