CEO of Garden Girl Foods
Family: Husband Daniel, daughter Laila, and parents Robert and Penny
By Carrie Vittitoe | Photo by Kylene White
COVID threw everyone a curve ball, but Whitney Powers took that ball and launched a new game for herself: a thriving business called Garden Girl Foods. She was already an experienced corporate caterer with Penelope Party, a business she worked alongside her mother, so she knew her way around the kitchen. She has lots of plans for the future, including launching baby food products and possibly even becoming as much of a household name as Oprah Winfrey.
How did Garden Girl develop?
With COVID everything stopped, [and] no one was having parties so I decided to piddle in the garden. I didn’t have a freezer so I had to find something to do [with all of my excess]. After begging my grandmother to send me a freezer, she told me, ‘Whitney, just can it.’ I just canned it, and it was the worst stuff you ever tasted, [but] I was persistent and had time. When the store ran out of food, my neighbors knew I had food because I had been on Facebook. I went to Logan Street Market; the next thing you know, we were leaving Logan Street and opening up a storefront.
What was the size of the small garden for you, and how much larger did it get?
Initially, we just had a few raised beds at my house. During COVID, I got a community garden plot. When you plant stuff too close together, like I did, it gets worse. One 18×18 plot went to three 18×18 to over 800 acres. People say, ‘That escalated quickly.’ A couple hundred are in Tennessee, and the rest are in Shelby County.
What are the challenges and rewards of running your business?
The stress and the responsibility. At first, I was just casually making jelly. Now I’m responsible for people’s livelihoods, my own family and my employees. In gardening, you’re at the mercy of Mother Nature. I know we can sell it, but can we make it? The reward is that I get to work with the people that I love every single day.
What have you come to understand about yourself?
I used to be a quitter. I used to tell people, ‘If I don’t like something, I’ll quit.’ That was my motto through most of my 20s. My grandmother says, ‘All of that quitting made you stronger; you’re all rested now.’ Nowadays there is no quitting; it’s just a pivot.
What is your favorite vegetable to grow?
Cheddar cauliflower. It is a light orange color, and it’s just beautiful. Everything else likes it, too. All the bugs and especially the bunnies love it.
What is your favorite flower to grow?
Sunflowers. People see them in my business and everything I do. They are all throughout the shop. I liked them before I was “Garden Girl.” They are strong. I grow colossals which get up to 18 feet tall.
What did you learn from your worst employment experience?
I was a regional manager for a food service group [a coffee chain]. It taught me that policy and procedure molds the company. The bad thing was I don’t drink coffee. I was running three stores and with 100-something employees. At the time, I wasn’t a morning person so you can imagine how that went.
What is a scent that always makes you happy?
I love the smell of spice cake, particularly blackberry jam cake. That is a true Southern staple. My great-grandmother only made them at Christmas. It has a very distinct sweet, spicy, fruit smell.
What is a place that you visited and loved enough that you might be willing to move there?
Hilton Head, South Carolina. I was there recently. I had the opportunity to be a private chef at the PGA tournament. I was in Augusta and traveled the next week to Hilton Head. It is country but not too country. The beach is right there, [and] the sand is perfect.