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Special Growers

How a Group of Parents Created Space for Growth

A Q&A with Kent Davis

Tell us what Special Growers is.

Special Growers is a program of Special Opps, Inc, a 501c3 Tennessee Corporation with the mission of providing job training and employment opportunities to disabled young adults in Blount County. 

Describe how Special Growers got started.

A group of us parents to several recently-graduated high school special needs students initially formed Special Growers as the solution for a less than encouraging post-graduation question and observation: first, “what’s next for my child?” and second, “there really isn’t much.”

Rather than allowing their disabled young adults to fall through the cracks of a work world not designed to offer a patient and understanding environment—the kind of environment that such youth of varying abilities need to develop and reach their potential—we parents decided to take action and form the missing piece to the puzzle. From the combined hopes and initiative of us parents, a realistic and operable plan was formed, and Special Growers was born.

Describe the overall model for how this works.

In short, we grow and sell culinary herbs and cut flowers, and through that process, we provide year-round job training and employment. Today, Special Growers employs a dedicated staff of 14 disabled young adults, under the guidance of a Garden Manager and ten adult volunteers, with 80% of our staff being disabled. Special Growers works closely with four local area high schools: Alcoa, Heritage, Maryville, and William Blount, to provide a School Work-Study Program for special education students during the school year. The School Work-Study Program provides opportunities to learn job skills and gain experience of how to work in the gardens. During the summer months of June and July, Special Growers provides summer jobs to any disabled young adult in the area. This summer, 30 staff members were hired for summer employment.

- Can you tell us some of the products that Special Growers produce?

We provide about ten culinary herbs typically found in a restaurant environment, and our parsley is very popular. We also grow flowers for fresh flower bouquets such as zinnias, sunflowers, snapdragons, celosia, and much more.

How are your products sold?

We work with several local chefs in Maryville and Knoxville who buy our products for their restaurants. We offer the highest quality herbs produced, gathered, and tended with care by our staff. Special Growers meet chef requests for same-day delivery within 2 hours of harvest, ensuring the freshest herbs for their kitchens.

Can Special Growers be found at upcoming events?

Yes, we participate in several annual events. For example, this month, we will be set up at the East Tennessee Maker’s Market with herb plants, Mother’s Day herb pots, and cut-flower bouquets. This market takes place April 30th on the campus of Maryville College at the McAurther pavilion. In addition, Zackary McMurray, a Special Grower employee, will have his own booth offering his birdhouses and bird feeders that have been hand-painted by 16 local artists. Information about East Tennessee Makers Market on Facebook and we list our other annual events on our website SpecialGrowers.com.


 

Join Amy Campbell-Rochelson weekly at The Tennessee Farm Table Podcast & Broadcast for stories of Food, Farming, and Folklore. Listen on your schedule by podcast at TennesseeFarmTable.com or listen in on your radio Saturday mornings at 9:00, 89.9. WDVX, Knoxville, 2:00 WUTC, Chattanooga and Sundays at 1:00 from Radio Bristol.


 

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