Leah Weese’s love of plants is tattooed on her sleeve. Literally, she has succulents, string of hearts, chicks and hens, sunflowers and more than a few roses inked up her arm like a garden of a passion.
“I enjoy spreading the love of plants to anyone who will listen!” she declared.
Out of that passion Leah has bloomed Lele’s Leaf and Vine. Just on the border between Akron and Cuyahoga Falls, her shop can be found over the hill of Portage Trail Extension West, where the old Rose Bowl Florists & Gift Shop used to be.
“So all of last year, people were calling me the plant lady,” Leah chuckles, “ I almost felt like it was an insult when you have more than just the plant lady, but when people come in here and they literally introduce me to their friends as the plant lady I see how excited they are. Now I am like, okay, I am the plant lady. I wear all the plant clothes, I sell the plants, I teach people about them. Yeah, I kind of embraced it this year, it no longer feels negative.”
And what could feel negative? When you walk into Lele’s Leaf and Vine you are greeted with a backdrop of greenery and all sorts of items celebrating plants and the art of growing them. Yet, like the process of growing, opening Lele’s was no small feat. Leah, like many, was let go from her bartending job during the start of the pandemic. Interestingly enough, two days before that shut down, she had filed for the LLC to open her business.
Her passion for plants comes from spending summers in the garden with her dad and volunteering with her grandmother at a flower and plant sale for the American Cancer Society for many years. In the last eight years or so it evolved into a love for anything green. She had been slowly exploring how to transition her plant passion into a career, and was beginning to create floral-based gifts for events such as Mother’s Day. Now the store boasts retail shopping for plants and plant accessories, plant-based events and experiences, as well as six local artists that all focus on plant-themed creations such as jewelry, homegoods, clothing and candles.
Outside of her storefront, Leah also takes Lele’s Leaf and Vine on the road. You can find the operation at farmer’s markets at least four days a week. They travel to Munroe Falls on Tuesdays, Tallmadge on Thursdays, Cuyahoga Falls on Fridays and Stow on Saturday mornings. Beyond connecting with the community, the mission of the plant lady is also to empower the youth of Akron to learn, grow, and harvest their own plants.
She currently works with the Seiberling Community Learning center to revitalize and grow plants inside a greenhouse that was not in use on the property. This year, they grew five different kinds of tomatoes, peppers, three different types of squash, two different types of cucumbers, and peppers, lettuce, raddish, beets and many different kinds of herbs. The crop went to surrounding communities on a donation basis to fund the program for next spring. They plan to grow cold weather crops like broccoli and Brussels sprouts this winter.
They have also started working with the Akron Urban League and The U.S. Department of Agriculture to obtain a five-year contract to get funding to build a greenhouse in an Akron food desert. They are using the Mow to Own program in Akron to secure the land.
This program, started in 2020, allows Akron neighbors to earn adjacent, vacant lots of land for free by maintaining it for six months out of the year. Once the land is acquired, this partnership will result in building greenhouses that will educate the local community on growing their own food supply. A once unkempt and vacant lot will evolve into healthy options for an entire community.
Leah hopes to keep working with children going forward.
“I don’t have kids myself, but I love kids and watching their faces light up when they plan to learn something,” says Leah.
For Leah, working with school systems was a pivot that furthers her personal mission of helping to bring sustainable farming to the Akron area. Ultimately, she hopes to increase the amount of sustainable farms in Akron and expand people’s love of plants.
or through social media: @leleleafandvine for Instagram and Lele’s leaf and Vine for Facebook.
Zinga Hart is a proud alum of The Devil Strip Spring Training program and hopes to unroot resources that make the Akron life worth living.
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