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Sunday Wrap-Up: Little Leaf Farms Continues Its Expansion, Vertical Future Spearheads Plant-Based Protein Research
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This Week’s Editorial
This Week in Indoor Farming
Little Leaf Farms, a leader in the sustainable growth of packaged lettuce using controlled environment agriculture (CEA), has announced plans to open a state-of-the-art greenhouse in McAdoo, Pennsylvania, this fall. This expansion will mark the fifth greenhouse for the company and its second within the state of Pennsylvania.
With an additional 10 acres of indoor cultivation space dedicated to fresh, sustainably grown lettuce, Little Leaf Farms is set to increase its retail presence to nearly 5,000 grocery stores, making its fresh produce accessible in major retailers across the Midwest to the Southeast.
The company announced its expansion news during a ceremony on May 31, which included Pennsylvania Governor Josh Shapiro and other state representatives. Little Leaf Farms, which owns 180 acres in McAdoo, has quickly emerged as the state’s largest producer of indoor-grown leafy greens. The company opened its first 10-acre greenhouse in July 2022 and by the end of 2023, anticipates employing over 170 individuals.
Paul Sellew, Founder and CEO of Little Leaf Farms, shared the company’s dedication to sustainable produce production and delivering fresh, flavorful leafy greens to consumers. “Our expansion in Pennsylvania exemplifies how we’ve been able to scale our efficient production and operations consistently,” Sellew said. “We’re delighted to have increased our retail sales by more than 50% in the past year, confirming our position as the country’s top brand of sustainably grown packaged lettuce through CEA.”
Vertical Future, an emerging leader in vertical farming technology based in the UK, is steering the Innovate UK-funded research project Vertical Indoor Protein from Leaf (VIP Leaf). The project, a part of the farming innovation program, seeks to establish a novel alternative plant protein source.
The two-year initiative aims to devise methods for growing amaranth in vertical farming facilities. The plant, renowned for its myriad health benefits and rich antioxidant content, is undervalued in the UK food market. The harvested amaranth crops will serve as a new source of plant protein that could diminish the UK’s dependence on imported plant proteins, like soy and pea, fostering not just the national economy and environmental impact but also improving the health of the average UK consumer. Historically consumed in Southern Africa, Southeast Asia, and South America, amaranth has proven to be a more affordable substitute for the widely used pea protein. Furthermore, indoor farming technology could cultivate it in the UK throughout the year.
As the vegan, vegetarian, and flexitarian food markets grow, consumer demand for plant-based protein surges. The VIP Leaf project caters to this increasing demand by uniting vertical farming technology and crop biology experts to create a high-yielding, high-protein, quality crop. This crop could be used to craft recipes for a market-ready meat alternative for UK consumers. The employment of vertical farming facilities for the entire growth process could lead to reductions in water and energy consumption, the area of land required for cultivation, and carbon emissions linked to transportation. In addition, vertically farmed amaranth would have lower environmental costs than other widely available plant proteins.
Vertical Future is leading the project in collaboration with the University of York, Crop Health and Protection Limited (CHAP), an Innovate UK-funded Agri-tech center, and Syan Farms and Eat Curiously, a plant-based food development company. The VIP Leaf project is leveraging Vertical Future’s experience in designing, manufacturing, and building a range of proprietary hardware and software technologies for vertical farms worldwide and tapping into protein and crop-specific knowledge at the University of York and CHAP, as well as food manufacturing and scale-up production facilities at Syan Farms and Eat Curiously.
London-based vertical farming technology and data company Vertical Future has joined forces with India’s retail brand MODI FRESH, a subsidiary of the Modi Group. This partnership aims to establish a joint venture to develop, construct, own, and operate large-scale advanced vertical farming production facilities throughout India.
The focus of the collaboration will be near crucial population centers across India, providing technology and production support to local growers. In addition, this partnership will enable significant scientific research and knowledge exchange centered on growing indigenous ‘staple’ crops using Vertical Future’s systems.
Although rich in agricultural resources, India presents significant challenges and opportunities for vertical farming and the broader controlled-environment-agriculture (CEA) sectors. Despite a wide array of hydroponic growers nationwide, issues such as insufficient electricity infrastructure, extremely low pricing, and an immature capital market for infrastructure deployment in CEA have hindered the progress of high-tech vertical farming. But this is about to change.
Vertical Future has been building its presence in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region over the past year. This partnership with MODI FRESH marks an expansion into a market that faces similar food and water security challenges, primarily linked to climate change. Given India’s vast size, population distribution, and diverse climates, vertical farming solutions and crop science will be crucial for supporting and stabilizing the rapidly growing region’s future food and water security.
MODI FRESH will develop its consumer-facing brand and use its market experience to provide access to local contractors/vendors and secure regulatory approval. As a part of the renowned Modi Group, one of India’s leading industrial conglomerates, MODI FRESH is well-positioned to facilitate this growth.