We had the good fortune of connecting with Andrea Vanderbilt and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Andrea, what was your thought process behind starting your own business?
The beginnings of my business, Teach Me To Grow, came flooding to me very naturally. I have always been one to quickly grow bored in a “normal” job setting so it was no surprise that once the idea came to me, I was eager to work at warp speed to get it off the ground. I never really put much thought into being a “business owner” or entrepreneur, but it makes so much sense now that I am in how it fits my desire for constant challenge and strong independent thinking. The thought process behind starting the business was to share gardening knowledge in a fun and practical way. Being in the horticulture industry, I know first hand that many growers withhold the sharing of information, making growing anything seem intimidating and competitive. Teach Me To Grow seeks to empower beginner gardeners to understand food cultivation using the foundations of horticulture leaving them with the ability to grow food effectively. After many seasons of “I wish I could do that” comments from peers on my home vegetable garden, I decided my knowledge and passion to share it was a strong basis for an important business. The idea-maker in me decided that this business can contribute to a larger ripple effect in harmonizing people and Earth which gives me the drive to push harder every day. (So does the reality of being able to take large chunks of time off in the winters, hire amazing employees, and getting paid to do what I love most).
Let’s talk shop? Tell us more about your career, what can you share with our community?
I started volunteering at the student farm at my University in 2011. In 2012, I was recommended for the position of Farm Co-Manager and was paired with an experienced farmer, Amy (thank -God because I had no skills when I was thrown into this position – really). The amount I learned that year with Amy and the magic that I watched unfurl in the greenhouse and farm setting was life changing. (I always tell people to go work on a farm for a year if they want to change their life). From this experience, paired with my quirky personality, drive, professionalism and the great ability to make people laugh, I was hired immediately out of college as an Assistant Manager of a major retail greenhouse in the area. Woah. That was a challenge. Hiring, scheduling, delegating tens of employees while overseeing a large retail greenhouse (watering, pest control, watering, working with customers, working plant orders) was a LOT. My Manager was pretty tied up with ordering and working in other departments and for some reason had great faith in me. He was very supportive. The greenhouse broke a record in sales that year and I gained a huge amount of experience with managing employees, annual bedding plant ID knowledge and greenhouse management skillset. From this I learned that I can do it, whatever it is, and it’s going to make me stronger. Unfortunately, the pay was not great. I was recommended by a friend internally to the City of Denver Parks and Recreation department. The pay and job description seemed great, so I left the greenhouse and took the job as Park Horticulturist for the East District of the Denver Parks and Rec Dept. For two seasons, I designed, ordered and ran planting and maintenance crews for the annual and perennial flower beds in public spaces for the East District. I gained an immense amount of knowledge on perennial and annual plant growth and also the caveats of working for the City. Sorry to say, working for the City was not my cup of tea, at least not in this capacity. And watch out when you’re walking through a public park.. that might not be dew on the grass (speaking to chemical applications). This experience, however, gave me major insight on how much room for improvement and innovation exists, and how getting buy in from a large entity like a City government, can make a massive change. When I left the City I moved around a lot and ended up working for a small gardening business, much like what Teach Me To Grow is like today, but in California. How divine for me to be able to see my business model idea flourishing in another state! I brought this back to Colorado, worked professionally managing an organic commercial greenhouse for six months than finally made the leap to quit my salaried position and start Teach Me To Grow. Yes it was challenging, but I feel that when I would make the right decision (like quitting working for someone else and pursuing my own dreams), things would naturally align. This lets me know I am on the right path. I put a dorky sticky note at my desk when I first started my business “Go over, go under, go around, but NEVER give up”. This mentality has helped me push through my challenges and recognize that there is always a solution, there is always a way. Also, having trust and faith in God has helped me allow compassion and space for myself when things were really tough… “love yourself through it” is one of my favorite mottos. Looking back, I can see that I am a natural leader and innovator. If something isn’t working well, lets come up with a better solution. If someone isn’t doing something right, lets talk about it. Effective communication is something I’ve learned along the way, being upfront and honest to everybody is so important, even when it’s hard or you are afraid of losing a job or seeming weak. Also, gracefully harnessing the ability to lead with the ability to sit back and let others come forward as well. This has really served me in my business (and personal) relationships and with employees and clients. There is always something to learn from everybody and every situation and as an entrepreneur, I feel like it is of gravest importance to pay close attention to the University of Life! As far as my brand, I see Teach Me To Grow as a catalyst for positive global change. I have always had a sweeping vision of the People returning to home gardens as a solution to the major problems with Big Ag. Lasting change has to happen from the ground up. Through Teach Me To Grow, people are empowered to connect and positively interact with the most vital part of their existence; their food source, and the Earth that gives them life. I feel that this incubating this connection through our services for thousands and eventually millions of people is the vehicle for real change in the way we interact with our natural environment, and with each other.
Any places to eat or things to do that you can share with our readers? If they have a friend visiting town, what are some spots they could take them to?
Fort Collins is a RAD place. We have the best natural playground in our backyard so I would probably start at Horsetooth Reservoir. We would rent (or borrow) some paddle boards and check out some of the coves by the North Dam while we take in the beautiful red horizontal rocks formations. Next we would jump on the bikes and hit the Spring Creek and Poudre Trail. We’d probably stop at the Pickle Barrel for a dank sandwich and cold beer then mosey to Old Town for some of the best boutique shopping in the state. One morning, we would grab breakfast at my favorite Cafe Bluebird and see Inky and Leia serving up the best coffee in town there. Eventually, we would take to the road and head up the Poudre Canyon, probably stopping to hike the Big South Trail and camping in State Forest State Park. Upon our return we would have to hit at least one brewery, but I would prefer a winery, so we would grab some juicy red at the Ten Bears Winery outside of Fort Collins. Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
Big shoutout to my direct family and friends. I always say thank God my Dad is a carpenter because without him, I wouldn’t have been able to get my raised bed game locked down like I have. My mom is always beaming with support, reminding me to take time off, and to not be too hard on myself. My brother has been instrumental in teaching me how to walk, talk and type like a business owner, a very important skill I have come to find out! My friends thought the idea was genius from the very beginning, especially my friend Lauren. Their support and resounding YES to my business idea gave me the fuel to get it off the ground. All parties continue to support in so many ways as the business grows from infancy into it’s teenage years. Also, thanks fam, to listening to me talk in circles when something really ruffled my feathers, and then helping me to break the cycle and move right on.