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Little Leaf Farms founder and CEO Paul Sellew in one of the company s greenhouses for growing organic baby lettuce. SUN FILE PHOTO/JULIA MALAKIE
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DEVENS — The area’s only LEED certified “green community” is even greener now, heads above the rest.

Little Leaf Farms at 105 Walker Road hydroponically grows millions of pounds of lettuce every year in a system that reuses rainwater and requires no soil. It is literally a “plant” plant, now entering its second full year in operation.

The sprawling, 13-acre farm is scheduled for expansion of its existing 220,000-square-feet of indoor greenhouse with another 183,000-square-feet already approved for development on an abutting 12-acre tract.

The innovative hydro-engineering network allows for 80 percent of the crop’s irrigation needs to be supplied via a roof and flow-path designed to catch, store and redistribute rainwater.

But that is the tip of the iceberg in terms of efficiency and sustainability. The actual agricultural process is a unique set of steps that grows lettuce leafs from seed to store-shelves in 25 days.

Paul Sellew is the architect of the system and the founder and CEO of LLF. He and his 45 employees engage in what he calls “fertigation.”

“As the rainwater is collected from the roof, we infuse it with nutrients before irrigating the plants,” he said.

The seeds, which are imported from Holland, are systematically laid into a bed of stone wool, which is made from basalt rock. The stone wool is nestled into 19-foot-long gutters where the lettuce is grown. Everything is organic and the fertilized byproducts are returned back into the ecosystem through industrial-level composting off-site.

The complex labyrinth of 25,000 “mobile gutters” are moved around the floor space. The “little leaf lettuce” (yes, that is the plant’s name and the plant name) is three varieties of plant in a spring mix of green leaf, red leaf and arugula. It is packaged immediately upon cutting and, “it arrives at the merchants within a day of harvesting.”

“Local lettuce, locals love,” reads the sign on the door. Already supplying local grocers and food service providers, LLF recently began selling to local school districts. Although not available directly to consumers, little leaf lettuce is available at nearly every major supermarket chain in the region, and now is enjoyed by students in Springfield public schools and UMass Amherst, et al.

“We are always looking for more business,” said Sellew, who is a lifelong practitioner of agriculture-related occupations including growing up on his family’s Pride’s Corner Farm in Connecticut.

“In the spring and summer we can produce more because the sun is out longer.” The scheduled expansion, slated for late 2019, will nearly double the output capabilities.

Because most lettuce arrives from the West Coast and the trip can often take seven days or more, not including whatever layover time at the farms, little leaf lettuce has shipping advantage to local stores.

“Our prices are competitive,” Sellew said.

The mass-production, short-turnover, low-shipping costs, self-contained and efficient process converge to keep prices in line with larger producers.

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