The Dialogue with Kent Davis
This feature is a question-and-answer session with a new Blount County Chamber member. So, here we go with our 120th installment visiting with Kent Davis, Executive Director/President of Special Growers which serves the every growing population of disabled young adults that leave high school with little job skills and minimal opportunity for employment..
Describe what Special Growers does. Special Growers is a not-for-profit entity with the mission of providing job training and employment opportunities to area disabled young adults leaving high school by mass producing quality fresh herbs for sale and distribution into many elegant restaurants in Maryville and Knoxville.
How did it get started? Special Growers started eight years ago by a few parents with disabled children leaving high school coming together to form a business model that would provide a safe place to learn job skills and provide challenging work assignments based upon the individual capabilities of each child.
What is your background? Having a disabled son provided me with the understanding and insight of how to work directly with this population of disabled young adults. My professional experience as an Executive with Ernst & Young LLP advising Fortune 500 companies on new trends for growth and efficiency has helped me significantly as we have developed and grown Special Growers.
Who is your mentor? I have had the opportunity and have been blessed to work with many very strong professionals during my 30 years of consulting. My biggest mentor during my career has been Bob Patton, EY Americas Market Leader, who has demonstrated to me how to define your purpose and bring that to work with you each day as you serve your clients. Special Growers is another opportunity for me to define and execute my purpose.
Describe your customers. Special Growers works with many of the leading elegant restaurants in the area like: Foothills Milling Co, Walnut Kitchen, Blackberry Farms, Aubreys, RT Lodge Mertz, and in Knoxville: Cru Bistro, Brazzerie, Farmacy, Knox Mason, Emilia Italian, A Dopo Pizza and Old City Wine Bar.
What impacts the environment you work in? Special Growers is not effected by social, economical or political circumstances. We work closely with the environment by the production of Fresh Herbs on our 3 acre farm and in our greenhouse. Climate change and the impacts to normal weather trends do impose a challenge to us.
Name three things you wish you knew when you started. Without any prior experience in gardening or farming, we have had to learn growing techniques and processes that are reliable and repeatable year after year. We have had to learn how to engage the community into our business operations both as volunteers and financial supporters. We have had to learn the government requirements for running a non profit business.
What do you enjoy most? My biggest reward is seeing the disabled young workers that come to Special Growers each day and and how they have grown independently in their work assignments and socially with the other team members they interact with. The support of the local community of businesses, restaurants, and schools that have contributed to our growth and development is very heart warming.