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It Happens Here: Hands-Off, Year Round Farming At Little Leaf Farms In Devens

DEVENS (CBS) – It happens here in Devens, a region made up of sections of Shirley and nearby Ayer. It's a decommissioned army base named for Union Army General Charles Devens. It is now a residential and business community that is home to a small company helping New Englanders eat fresh, locally grown greens year-round.

Welcome to Little Leaf Farms. It's not what most of us picture when we think of farming.

"It's an automated system," explained founder and CEO Paul Sellew.

It's a massive greenhouse where green leaf, red leaf, and arugula are neatly planted in gutters. They are irrigated with rainwater collected from the roof, and an automatic shading system on the roof makes sure it doesn't get too hot.

Little Leaf Farms
Lettuce grows in gutters at Little Leaf Farms in Devens. (WBZ-TV)

Each gutter slowly moves across the massive greenhouse at a pace so slow, you don't even notice it.  After about three weeks, the gutter drops onto a conveyer belt where it heads into the packing room where it feeds through a pair of circular cutters and then through a sorting system before it's packaged into plastic bins.

While not officially organic, Sellew says there are no chemical pesticides.

"We use something called biological control," he explains.

Little Leaf Farms
Little Leaf Farms uses lady bugs to eat the insects that threaten crops. (WBZ-TV)

They use lady bugs to eat the insects that threaten the crop.

"Because no human hands touch it, there's no need to wash it. It's ready to eat," Sellew said.

With a farming background, (he also created Backyard Tomatoes from Maine) Sellew built a massive greenhouse back in 2015. His goal was to provide New England shoppers with an alternative to produce that's shipped from the west coast.

"They were relying on stuff that's grown in California that is trucked across the country and by the time we get it, it's 10 days old," he said.

Little Leaf Farms
Little Leaf Farms products are boxed at their Devens facility. (WBZ-TV)

The company believes the hydroponic method of growing also cuts down on the risk of disease like the romaine E.coli outbreak last fall.

"What we are doing has nothing in common with that is being done in California where they have cattle ranches and dairy farms next to lettuce fields," Sewell said.

Greens from Little Leaf are packaged within minutes of harvest and can be at the store that same day.

Sellew says customers are loyal and demand is constantly increasing which is why they are building another massive greenhouse on their Devens campus.

Their next project?  A new romaine variety. No word on when you'll see it in your local supermarket.

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