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USDA chief sees what’s growing at N.H. farms, greenhouses

  • Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue (second from left) receives a tour of Lef Farms in Loudon from president and co-founder Henry Huntington (third from left) and co-owner Bob LaDue (left) on Friday, Sept. 1, 2017. New Hampshire Agriculture Commissioner Lorraine Merrill also took part in the tour. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff)

  • President and co-founder Henry Huntington (center) gives a tour of Lef Farms in Loudon on Friday, Sept. 1, 2017. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff)

  • Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue (right) receives a tour of Lef Farms in Loudon from president and co-founder Henry Huntington and co-owner Bob LaDue on Friday, Sept. 1, 2017. New Hampshire Agriculture Commissioner Lorraine Merrill also took part in the tour. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff)

  • New Hampshire Agriculture Commissioner Lorraine Merrill (right) receives a tour of Lef Farms in Loudon on Friday, Sept. 1, 2017. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff)

  • Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue (center) receives a tour of Lef Farms, an automated greenhouse in Loudon on Friday as part of his two-day trip through New England.

  • Bagged salad-greens are seen at Lef Farms in Loudon on Friday, Sept. 1, 2017. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff)

  • Salad-greens grow inside the automated hydroponics greenhouse of Lef Farms in Loudon on Friday, Sept. 1, 2017. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff)



Monitor staff
Friday, September 01, 2017

U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue sampled a few tender leaves plucked from the trays of an automated greenhouse in Loudon.

“Very tasty greens,” he commented.

The secretary was touring Lef Farms, a climate-controlled hydroponic farm that produces salad-greens year round, from president and co-founder Henry Huntington and co-owner Bob LaDue.

Perdue was in New England on a two-day “Back to Our Roots” trip to discuss the 2018 Farm Bill and opportunities for rural prosperity with farmers and other producers. On Friday morning, he began his day at Lef Farms learning how one business is farming indoors in a relatively small space compared to the massive operations he has seen in the Midwest and Southeast.

He noted how in New Hampshire farmers are taking “two- and twenty- and hundred-acres and making a sustainable lifestyle out of a product that we all need.”

New Hampshire Agriculture Commissioner Lorraine Merrill was also on the tour and was pleased with the secretary’s visit.

“It’s an opportunity to show off some of the innovation and diversity of New Hampshire agriculture,” she said.

Lef Farms, pronounced “leaf,” is certainly one of the more innovative argicultural start ups in the state recently.

This since acre of hydroponics growing space is meant to produce 3,000 pounds of leafy greens, bagged and ready to be shipped to stores or restaurants, every 24 hours.

To put that in perspective, that’s a ton and a half daily of arugula, bok choy, mustard greens and lettuce, meaning that every day they expect to produce about one-third the annual production (depending on the crop) expected from an acre grown organically outdoors.

But what makes Lef Farms more unusual is that it uses an extremely automated system that can plant, grow, harvest and bag the greens over a two-week growing cycle with little or no human labor.

The tight growing cycle and automation have other benefits: The precision of automation, in which the water used for hydroponics is fully recycled with its nutrients and fertilizers, reduces agricultural pollution from runoff compared to standard farms. The tightly controlled greenhouse reduces the number the need for pesticides, as well as eliminating weeds and any resulting herbicides.

But Lef hasn’t sprouted up without controversy. Neighbors have complained to selectmen that the 24-hour high-powered sodium lights amount to light pollution.