After Hurricane Maria ravaged Puerto Rico in September 2017, more than 1,200 families sought refuge in Cleveland for a new start. But the natural disaster also prompted a new beginning for longtime Cleveland resident Tanisha Velez, whose extended family originally hails from Puerto Rico.
“At the time, I was working at the post office, and someone asked me how [Puerto Rico] would bounce back agriculturally,” shares Velez, who was born and raised in the largely Hispanic Clark-Fulton neighborhood. “That conversation sparked something inside of me and made me question everything: How can I learn more about agriculture and sustainability? How can my family get back to our roots? It was a pivotal moment in my life.”
Velez's first foray into gardeningVelez started small, working with her fiancé and three sons to grow potatoes in an old bathtub they’d inherited in their basement. She also registered for OSU Extension’s “Dig In!” program to learn about the ins and outs of community gardening, and later became a master gardener through OSU Extension.
“As I did more research and got lost in that world, I became fascinated by microgreens,” says Velez. “They’re mostly known within the restaurant industry as something that looks pretty on the plate, but there’s so much more to them than that.”
Velez says she was drawn to microgreens both for their speedy growing time (typically between seven and 20 days) and their high nutrition value (which studies show may be higher than mature vegetables). Microgreens can also be grown both indoors and outdoors, which makes them ideal for those who want to grow crops year-round in a place like Cleveland.
Velez's living room setupIn April 2018, Velez decided to go all-in on microgreens by starting Cleveland Fresh, a small family-owned business run out of her home in Cleveland's Jefferson neighborhood. Using a modest setup in their dining room with several growing racks and LED shop lights, Velez and her family were able to grow the business and attract clients such as Sidekicks Salsa, Xinji, The Grocery, Fat Cats, and Great Lakes Brewing Co.
Now Velez is leveling up with her own dedicated space as part of the Tremont Storefront Incubator program. Starting September 1, Cleveland Fresh will inhabit the 400-square-foot storefront at 2406 Professor Ave. As part of a 10-month lease, Velez will pay just $25/month in rent for the first three months and $400/month for the remaining seven months. She will also receive business development and accounting support from the Hispanic Business Center.
“We had previously attempted to get into the Las Tienditas incubator, and this was my second attempt to get into the Tremont West A hydroponic window gardenincubator, so we’re thrilled to finally have our own space,” says Velez.
According to Velez, the retail store will be open 25 hours a week, offering microgreens for sale along with grab-and-go fresh produce grown in her community garden. The store will also offer visitors a window into the growing process with an outdoor raised bed for herbs and a hydroponic vertical window garden.
“I want to bring more awareness for what it’s like to grow inside and outside,” says Velez. “I hope to inspire people and show them what it’s like to have fresh food at your house all the time.”