Mary, Mary, quite contrary: How does your garden grow?
So goes the famous nursery rhyme…but watch out: In the Vegas version, throw Mary in a desert and rename her Chelsea, and it’s no more silver bells and cockle shells, but hardy crops from a self-taught farmer who not only drinks our juice, but grows some of the produce we press.
Indeed, despite the kind of blistering, water-sucking heat that rips life from plants instead of inspiring growth, Chelsea Dora is a Las Vegas-based farmer/owner (Urban Hydro Greens is her biz) who makes microgreens-growing magic in the most unlikely spot: a 1000-square foot vertical farm space, in an industrial park off Sunset near McCarran International Airport. There, Dora tirelessly grows the kind of greens that are as gentle on the environment as they are on our stomachs.
I moved to Las Vegas in…2003 from…South Carolina, and at UNLV I studied…International Business Marketing with a minor in Chinese. I graduated in…2013.
In my experience, the biggest misconception about living in Las Vegas is…that everybody eats-sleeps-works on the Strip, and that there’s no life outside the Strip. If you think about other cities [the Strip] is one street—one street! There’s so much to Las Vegas within four hours: hiking, swimming, snowboarding, lakes, beach….
The thing I not-so-secretly love most about living here is…the landscape and the weather. The skies are always so beautiful and blue, and the mountains look different every single day.
My daily mantra or “quote to live by” is…“Be the change.” Very simple. It inspires action, always, which I think is lost on a lot of us. We have mantras or things we want to do every day, but “Be the change” is so powerful.
Don’t get me started talking about…misconceptions in the health information world. I get so fired up. I feel like I have a deep understanding of how the body works, and there’s so much marketing out there about what our body “needs.” People see an article they read on Facebook they’ve scanned for a few seconds and think they’ve become an expert.
Every day I strive to…stay present. There’s no shame in striving to do something, even if you don’t reach it. When you go to the store and someone’s in the checkout line, it’s so easy to be inside our day and not say, “Hi. How are you? Who are you?” I try to set the intention [to be present].
Something people would be shocked to know about me is…I kill houseplants. Microgreens are really easy. [But] I have no green thumb.
A fave Vegas spot that never gets old is…the trail system, and the mountains. There’s a trail behind Rhodes Ranch with gypsum caves. It takes 10 minutes to drive there and five minutes to walk, and there’s a view of all of Las Vegas.
About Urban Hydro Greens
Being a farmer in Las Vegas makes me sound like an urban farming unicorn. When I tell people what I do, I get funny looks, followed by this:
Them: You’re from Las Vay-gas? Oh, how cool. What do you do?
Me: I’m a farmer.
Them: What do you meeean?
And this is the thing: With urban agriculture, we are really creating an industry. In this new-age, urban setting, I use some soil but I’m not knee deep in cow dung. I live in a high rise and I drive my Mustang. There are a few out there, but there are maybe two or three new-age urban farms growing micro greens as a health-oriented company.
We get questions worldwide on our Facebook page [about what we do]. People want to be healthy. You may need a doctor once a year, but you need a farmer three times a day.
This is how I acquired the company. A lot of people don’t know the inception story. When I was in college and I was going to farmers markets (and you should encourage students to go to farmers markets!), I met husband-and-wife team—Dennis and Nickie Vitali—and they had a farm. And I started buying microgreens from them. Mind you, the microgreens were just in a box, so I started learning about what they were and why they were good for me.
I went home and would put them in my smoothie. Then, any time I was at the market as a customer, I started selling to the other customers, explaining what microgreens are. The Vitalis were like, “Hey: You can come to the farm!” Finally, I started volunteering and I learned how to farm them. I wanted to start a juice bar, so they invited me to open one next to them. And I did. And, I ended up buying into the company.
Today, Dennis and I are partners and Nickie has her own business. But they sparked the interest in me by giving me the inspiration that hey: I can grow. I attribute a lot of this success to them. They’re older and wiser, and for them, I brought a youthful energy
I supply the micro greens to TJS. The thing that makes me most proud about my collaboration with the company is…I think it’s one thing to serve juice, but to go the extra step to inspire them and educate them about something that’s better than anything they could make at home? Something they would feed it to their mom, or give it to their child?
Other restaurants and stores I supply my micro greens to are…Winder Organic Farms (which delivers farm-fresh products); View Wine Bar and Kitchen at Tivoli Village; Chef Jeff at Todd English P.U.B. (at Aria); The Sparklings; and, The Juice Standard. We’ve worked with more than 30 restaurants.
What’s your 5-year goal for the company? We have a school curriculum, a classroom initiative. I’d like our “Garden In A Bag” kit to be retail-able. I’d like…for young people to have some sustaining income, and to open farms in food deserts, or in the middle of New York City. There are projects I’d like to see grow and be managed by young people. Farms create community, and I’d like [the Urban Hydro Greens] model to spread like wildfire.
Chelsea On Juice
The fruit or vegetable you’ll always find in my pantry is…goji berries. I always like them in tea.
The first time I realized I loved cold-pressed juice was…probably when I watched Fat, Sick and Nearly Dead.
The first time I drank green juice…it was wheatgrass, and I was one of those people who just threw it up. I detoxed so quick! But it showed me how much I really needed to detox.
Today, I drink cold-pressed juice because…I believe it’s an integral part in understanding produce and food as a whole. The idea is that we don’t eat enough things that start from the ground, and [juice] is an easy way to get the nutrients we need. Who’s going to sit and eat as much produce as what’s in a bottle? I’m a vegan, and I can’t sit and eat so much kale. I don’t want to be in an uncomfortable place. But cold-pressed juice hips me get those natural, healthy things into my diet. Plus, I feel healthy. When I drink a green juice, it feels like medicine, and it reminds you that you’re giving yourself a gift. You’re treating yourself nicely
My advice to a newbee juicer is…to avoid juice with too much fruit. They should try something like a Bee Resilient, because for a green juice that is one of the smoothest juices I’ve ever had, it is the most healthy juice TJS has. It’s going to be the most detoxifying. And I think it’s imperative that new juicers know that.