Simply Fresh Microgreens promotes nutrition, food access

If you were tasked with deciding how to feed astronauts fresh, healthy vegetables in outer space, how would you do it? This exact question was posed to Ibrahim Ayad, founder of Simply Fresh Microgreens, during his undergraduate studies. Through his research, he learned about microgreens – nutrient-dense, young plants that can be grown in water or minimal soil, and harvested between 7-21 days – and figured they were the perfect solution for this problem. Later in life, Ayad would recall his research into microgreens as he experimented with how to grow more nutritious and weatherproof food in his Denver-area garden, thus marking the start of Simply Fresh Microgreens.

Ibrahim Ayad, founder of Simply Fresh Microgreens, talks with a customer at the Boulder Farmers Market.

Ayad grew up in Sudan, a country in Northeast Africa, before attending undergraduate school at Columbia University in New York City. After growing up surrounded by the Nile River and ancient pyramids, arriving in New York came with a culture shock, and he never quite felt at home. After visiting a family member studying at the University of Colorado in Boulder, Ayad quickly fell in love with the natural beauty of Boulder and decided to pursue his studies here instead. He would first obtain his Master’s in Telecommunications Engineering, followed by a PhD in Dynamic Adaptive Streaming Algorithms. Working for Cisco for two decades, both in California and Colorado, Ayad has had a successful career that many others will only ever dream of achieving. If that wasn’t enough, around four years ago Ayad decided to add something new to his resume: microgreens farmer.

When he was living in California, Ayad took advantage of the mild climate to begin gardening. He secured two spots in the community garden, and eventually turned it into an educational tool to help students learn about growing their own food from seed, to plant, to plate. When the community garden noticed the good work he was doing, they invited him to join their Board of Directors. After relocating back to Colorado, however, he struggled with getting into the same gardening rhythm he had in California, most notably due to the much shorter growing season here. That’s when he decided to go back to his research on microgreens so he could feed himself and his family nutritious food all year long. More than anything else, Ayad was interested in the health benefits of microgreens. He read numerous scientific studies on their nutrition benefits, and would ask his wife (who also earned a PhD, but hers in biology) to interpret any scientific findings he didn’t understand on his own. 

In its simplest explanation, microgreens are commonly referred to as a superfood due to their nutrition density. When harvested at the right time, microgreens pack the nutrients of a full-sized plant in a much smaller package, which is what makes them such a convenient add-on to your meals. The variety of plant determines the color and taste of the microgreen, which can vary from sweet and mild to bold and spicy. Ayad’s favorite way to enjoy his own microgreens is on their own as a salad, with olive oil, salt, and pepper. 

Once Ayad began successfully growing this superfood for his family, he started to share his harvest with neighbors who quickly grew to love them and wanted to help him create more. Founding Simply Fresh Microgreens was never about pursuing a business dream, but instead, Ayad describes it as his mission to get these healthy foods and nutrition information to his neighbors. “At work, I can contribute to products that get sold for millions of dollars, but I never see the impact of those products. This is a direct thing that I can see and feel. That smile and that feedback from customers is priceless,” he shared. 

Ibrahim Ayad uses trays of organic soil situated under grow lights to grow microgreens in his home in Broomfield, Colorado.

In addition to selling microgreens at local farmers markets, Ayad applied for grants that allow customers using SNAP to use their EBT cards to purchase products from Simply Fresh Microgreens wherever they can buy them. To him, providing healthy food to traditionally underserved communities is a top priority. “Coming from an immigrant background, I know a lot of people who either can’t afford or don’t know about these superfoods,” he explained. Ayad has arranged for Simply Fresh Microgreens to visit senior centers, where they can talk one-on-one with older adults to learn about the health benefits of his products and take steps to improve their health. He said that for many of the seniors he talks to, they are skeptical at first, but that through education he has been able to help them see the benefits.

Ibrahim clearly advertises options for SNAP EBT customers at the Boulder Farmers Market.

Because they can be grown indoors, microgreens are available all season long at our farmers markets in Boulder and Longmont. You can visit Simply Fresh Microgreens every Saturday and Wednesday at the Boulder Farmers Market to purchase microgreens from Ibrahim and the Ayad family. We hope to see you there this week!

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