Harvesting Pride and Purpose
Special Growers in Maryville, Tennessee started with an inspirational idea – to provide opportunities for young adults with special needs. Founded eight years ago, the non-profit employs about 70 workers who harvest fresh herbs for wholesale to restaurants in and around Blount County.
Area high school students with special needs also work at Special Growers, arriving daily by school bus to the two-acre plot. The land was provided by Vulcan and is in close proximity to the Maryville quarry. “It’s Vulcan land, a little buffer land that we have between here and the quarry,” said Manager of Community & Government Affairs Carl Van Hoozer Jr., who spearheaded the project for Vulcan.
“The thing that’s so rewarding is to see our workers, our staff come and work every day,” said Kent Davis, executive director of Special Growers. Davis is the father of a special needs son and worked closely with Carl to make Special Growers a reality.
Special Growers employees Sue McMurray, Gloria Davis, Kim Antonio, Anna Ramirez and Emily Knapp.
Additionally, Vulcan employees volunteer to work with Special Growers on various projects at the site. “When you do stuff like this it’s a common ground, right?” said Diana Fernandez, Operations Trainee. “It’s important for the mining industry to tie itself to the community.”
Vulcan also donated 80 tons of crusher run which are spread around the 30 garden boxes to spruce up the area and eliminate grass that needs to be mowed and maintained. In addition, the stone provides a level walking surface for those with physical disabilities.
Operations Trainee Diana Fernandez with Special Growers employee Emily Knapp
In 2017, Special Growers sold more than 1,800 pounds of herbs, including rosemary, basil, dill, chives, parsley and mint. Proceeds from the sale of Special Growers crops go back into the non-profit business, providing a source of income for the participants.
To learn more, visit specialgrowers.com