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New Business Venture Winner: Eileen Vasquez

My visual impairment happened in service. I was in the United States Navy. I was a nuclear machinist mate, basically a nuclear mechanic. I worked on aircraft carriers, reactors.

I was at a point where: 20 something years old, you know, have a brain tumor, dealing with depression, PTSD, and a visual impairment. My initial contact with Hadley provided me an opportunity to realize that I had a future with a visual impairment, or with blindness. So I took the container gardening class.

The container gardening was the beginning of a new beginning for me, I guess.

"Our final cash award prize, $12,500 goes to Eileen Vasquez of St. Paul, Minnesota. Eileen owns Locavore Time. Locavore seeks to bring organic food to the marketplace through the use of sustainable, agricultural systems, such as aquaponics."

I was a true start up, so I mean, I still had to, you know, pay the money to register the name, post it in the paper, and then buy equipment.

The clay beads are the heaviest thing in aquaponics. They hold moisture and that's what you're looking for, they give the root something to grip on.

For the vision as well, we did color coded sticks so that I knew when the plants were in different phases.

So the restaurant down the street that we're working with, because summer's here and there's a lot more availability with greenhouse plants, we decided with them, to try out some specialty plants.

So I won the top prize of $12,500. Capital wise, the main things are the distiller, the original grow beds, and the lighting. That was quite pricey.

It's a champaign currant, a berry ready to eat similar to a blueberry in size, maybe a gooseberry. And then of course I have the standard old fashioned rhubarb, which you can see kind of the difference, the greener.

This experience with the Forsythe Center, it's just been amazing. I mean, the marketing class was challenging. It made me think in different ways about how to negotiate what I was trying to do on a low budget, and who to talk to in the community and how to get out there. It really has pushed me to a whole new level.

We're just trying to build community and I'm trying to make money. But it's good. I'm making money. I'm out there. I personally changed from owning the business by becoming more personable. I've had to be more outgoing and talk to more people. And I think that's really brought me back to the core of who I am. I used to be very outgoing and that changed and this is bringing back the old me. Or the new me, however you want to look at it.

For more information on Hadley Forsythe Center for Employment and Entrepreneurship, visit

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