Cool Women Doing Cool Things: Sara Gasbarra

By Rachel Bubis

Sara Gasbarra is the founder and “lead garden girl” of Verdura, a full service garden design company that cultivates culinary gardens for chefs, restaurants, and hotels. She services hotels and restaurants across the Southeast, including Park Hyatt Chicago, Cindy's Rooftop at Chicago Athletic Association Hotel, Palmer House Hilton and Floriole Cafe and Bakery in Chicago, and Bastion, Henrietta Red and Nicky's Coal Fired in Nashville. Rachel spoke with Gasbarra about living and working in Chicago and Nashville, the importance of social media in the culinary world, and some of her favorite heirloom plant varieties.

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RB: How did you get into Culinary Garden Design and start Verdura?

SG: I’m originally from Chicago and spent some time volunteering for Green City Market, the city’s premiere farmers’ market. One of the market’s educational programs is a 5,000 square foot vegetable garden (The Edible Garden) which is open to the public and hosts tours for school groups from spring through late fall. I started volunteering my time at the garden in 2008, bringing some basic gardening experience I had gained from helping my father tend our backyard vegetable garden as a kid. I certainly didn’t have a formal education in agriculture but gardening always felt instinctual. It was at The Edible Garden where I was able to hone my skills and shortly was promoted from volunteer to project manager. I always had a keen interest in growing heirloom vegetables and varieties of crops which felt more unusual and had a story behind them. I thought focusing on these would be a great way to teach kids that not all tomatoes are red, carrots come in a variety of colors and sizes, and lots of flowers can be eaten and not just admired from afar. These were all things I had discovered in my backyard garden as a kid and I wanted children in Chicago to share that same exciting experience.

Around this time, Instagram had debuted and I took to posting lots of images on my feed of the beautiful and unusual things we were growing. Green City Market also happens to be the market that most Chicago chefs and restaurateurs shop at and through my work at the garden, I had several chefs follow me on social media. Quickly, chefs began reaching out to me, describing a rooftop space they had and asking for help in setting up their own on-site garden. This is where my business took root.

My first client (Sandra Holl of Floriole Bakery and Cafe) was actually a vendor at the market, soon to be opening her brick and mortar, and I built a small, boutique herb and edible flower garden on the bakery’s second story terrace. It’s been eight seasons, and we are still growing beautiful edible flowers and herbs for Sandra’s award winning pastry program. Since launching my company, Verdura, in 2010 I’ve worked with over 20 restaurant clients to design, build and tend on-site gardens and expanded into Nashville in 2016 where I am lucky to work with Bastion, Henrietta Red and Nicky’s Coal Fired. I’ve also launched a residential division of my company here in Nashville, building backyard vegetable gardens for home owners.

RB: What do you do in the winter?

SG: Well, first I take some time off, but then I launch into planning for spring. You’d be surprised how quickly spring approaches and its always the most chaotic time of year for me, so I prefer to be as prepared as I possibly can! Our Chicago winters are colder and harsher than Nashville’s, and so last season I did a bit of experimenting with year-round growing at Bastion. I outfitted our three beds, which sit outside chef Josh Habiger’s kitchen door, with simple low hoops and insulating row cover and seeded for cold hardy specialty greens in December. Growth was very slow and we didn’t get proper germination on everything, but come February, some of the crops like miner’s lettuce began showing signs of life. By March, the kitchen was already harvesting from the beds. I’m planning on doing winter seeding for most of my Nashville clients this year given the success we had at Bastion.

RB: What’s the process like for designing these boutique garden projects?

SG: The projects are all quite different and specific to the needs of each kitchen. At the start of each season, I’ll sit with the chef or kitchen team and review my lengthy crop list of more traditional vegetables, specialty items, herbs, edible flowers, etc. Within each category (for example, basil) I’ll have at least 10-15 varietals or cultivars. So at Bastion, we grow a small number of crops to maximize yield: African Blue basil, lemon verbena, begonia flowers, cranberry roselle and nasturtium. The garden at Nicky’s Coal Fired is situated on their east and west patios and visible to patrons. Our garden at Henrietta Red is also on their patio. I designed the planters and beds for Nicky’s and Henrietta incorporating both ornamental and edible vegetation, although most of the plants do have some sort of culinary use. Following the initial spring planting, I make follow up visits to each project re-seeding and re-planting as the season progresses, as all of our plants have a life span and we want to ensure the beds always look beautiful and continue to yield for the kitchen.

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RB: I find culinary food trends super interesting. For example, I feel like a few years ago you couldn’t go to a restaurant without seeing Brussels sprouts on the menu. What are your thoughts on this? Who/what informs these trends?

SG: Influence certainly comes via social media and ideas and information are constantly being exchanged, which allows my work to evolve and change at a rapid rate. I strategically follow certain gardening, farming, culinary and restaurant feeds from around the world to gather information, to participate in a dialogue and become inspired. I enjoy following along with The French Laundry’s culinary gardener, Aaron Keefer, who runs their robust culinary garden program across the street from the world renowned restaurant, in Yountville, CA. Whenever I find myself in Napa, I make sure to pay him a visit. What an inspiring place.

On a more recent visit to Napa, I discovered tomato breeder Brad Gates of Wild Boar Farms and began incorporating his unusual tomato cultivars in my projects here in Nashville and in Chicago. I’m always in search of new varieties, paying close attention to flavor as well as appearance. Each season, I expand my crop list, focusing on things that might be difficult to source or come at a higher price point for the restaurant or just make a real impact on the plate. This research and discovery aspect of my job is what I enjoy the most.

RB: Would you say social media is an important part of the culinary world now?

SG: Truthfully I wouldn’t have a successful business if it weren’t for Instagram. In the early stages of my company, I was able to market myself, my crops, my projects visually through “snapshots” directly to chefs and restaurants. There’s something to be said about the power of a photograph. You don’t have to caption an image you post for it to be incredibly impactful. I’ve been so fortunate to have had many professional opportunities come to me by way of IG. I feel as if I’m part of a larger community of growers and culinary professionals from around the world, linked via this platform who communicate with each other on a daily basis sharing stories and knowledge.

RB: What’s your garden at home look like? Since gardening is your work, are you tired of it when you get home?

SG: I hate to say it, I currently do not have a home garden because splitting my time between Nashville and Chicago has proven tricky for the tending a garden consistently. In the past however, my landlords have always allowed me to build a garden and I enjoyed the idea that when I moved, the garden was left, hopefully providing future tenants with a green space to cultivate and enjoy. I never tire of gardening at the end of a long work day, and I have missed it the last two seasons. A goal for next year is to have a garden in Nashville to call my own.

RB: Are the gardens you design in Chicago and Nashville much different?

SG: One of the main differences I’ve encountered is accessibility to space in Nashville versus in Chicago. In Chicago, my projects almost always end up on rooftops, as ground level space can be a bit scarce. Installing feels easier in Nashville as I can just pull up, load in off the street and rarely find myself hauling materials up stairs, into elevators or sometimes ascending a propped up ladder against a wall with 40 lb bags of soil (that happened in Chicago!) It’s nice to pull up at Henrietta Red and unload directly on to their patio - the process feels so much more streamlined. I also enjoy that, because all of my Nashville projects are at ground level, the public can actually see and appreciate them. Often times when I am working at Nicky’s Coal Fired (the west side patio shares its space with Frothy Monkey’s patio) patrons of the coffee shop chat with me during morning visits, ask gardening questions, sometimes ask to sample something or wonder how chef Tony Galzin is using the vegetables and herbs for the pizzas and pastas at Nicky’s. There’s a genuine curiosity there and its nice that people get to interact with the projects.

RB: What’s next for Verdura?

SG: I still plan to continue my work in Chicago and expand further into Nashville. I landed in Nashville in January of 2016 and felt an immediate connection to this incredible city and since that first drive down along 65, its become a very special place for me. I’m a Midwest girl at heart, but Nashville feels like home. I’m excited to see what’s in store for Verdura in 2019, there are already new projects in the works down here! I’d love to build out more backyard gardens too. And fingers crossed, maybe I’ll have a shot at building my own backyard garden once again.

Follow Gasbarra’s projects on Instagram @saragasbara.

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Cool Women Doing Cool Things: Sonia Chaudhuri

By: Alyssa Curran

Sonia Chaudhuri is the Founder and Creative Director of the Upasana Performing Art Center, the largest school for Kathak classical Indian dance and Hindustani vocal technique in Tennessee. We talked with Sonia about the the importance of Kathak dance and how the artform fits into the Nashville arts community as a whole.

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You’ve been dancing since age 4. How did your professional dance career lead to the founding of the Upasana Performing Arts Center?

My parents immigrated from India in the 70s and I was born and raised in the US. I was introduced to classical Indian dance as a young girl. It spoke to me as a way to connect with my roots and explore more traditionally and socially what it means to be an Indian girl and woman in America.

As I got older and became more involved with classical Indian dance, I wanted to intensify my training. I went back to Kolkata, India for a year to train under a master teacher. This immersion was so important in my study and solidified my passion for the art.  I returned to the US to pursue a Bachelor of Science in dance and education and a Master of Arts in teaching. In 2003, we moved to Nashville and I knew that I wanted to provide a resource and space for others, whether of Indian descent or not, to connect with the allure of Indian performing arts. I opened Upasana later that year.

You describe your programming as more than just dance. Tell me more.

For young Indian American girls, hearing the languages, music, traditions, and stories of India are important connections to their families, culture and heritage. As the students grow up studying at Upasana with peers through the years, they begin to have important conversations like, “What does it mean to be an Indian American woman in this country?” “This character that I’m representing in dance may have different values than me or they may not correlate with my American way of thinking – how do we evaluate and interpret that?” It’s empowering for young girls to share their passion, and one that’s not often featured in the mainstream. There’s a real power in that representation.

Our programming is not just for children. I teach students from age 3-65. Indian American women are able to express the concept of beauty through dance. To be able to enjoy the costume, jewelry, traditional makeup and feel elegant and beautiful in that attire, helps define their own sense of beauty and identity in this country.

What’s the significance of the Kathak form of classical Indian dance?

Indian classical dance involves storytelling and acting. It’s graceful, feminine, and sensual. There are eight different styles, but at the Upasana Center, we teach Kathak – which means “the one who tells a story”. Kathak is the only style of Indian classical dance that is a fusion of Persian and Hindu music and culture. Kathak has evolved into a dance form that is considered very secular. For example, I have choreographed dances from South Indian Christian hymns to Sufi poetry to Hindu poetry and more. We have the freedom to interpret our art.

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Not only is dance taught, but also history and the knowledge and understanding of Hindustani classical music. It’s important that students of any classical dance form have a true understanding of the art they are studying in every aspect. Kathak lessons can be used to enhance all areas of learning and growth while building resilience and confidence.

How does the Kathak dance form fit into the greater Nashville arts community?

Our professional dance company participates in several prestigious events with organizations such as Festival of Nations, Celebrate Nashville, Contributor, International Festivals and various local community events. I’ve been invited to perform at the Ryman and the Schermerhorn for world music events. Additionally, in July, we had a large production based on the legend of the Taj Mahal that we’re touring in India this summer. This project was put on by the Upasana Foundation, where we continue to create more projects that bridge the connection between artists from India and America.

We love representing India and Indian art and culture at these events, but it would be nice to promote our artform as a classical dance form in its own right. There is opportunity for growth there - to not just be considered for “diversity and inclusion” type events, but to be featured as the prominent classical dance form that it is.

Reaching out to non-Indian Americans as well has been a challenge. Many non-Indian Americans see and love our productions, but they don’t feel like they can participate. That’s simply not the case. I would love to have more students come in to explore a different form of movement. With classical Indian dance, you can take it as far as you want. If you want to focus on the fitness and agility side of it, that’s fine. If you want to take it further and focus on the performing side of things, great! If you want to go even further and focus on professional side of things, we can support you in that way, too.

Where can we learn more about the Upasana Center and sign up to dance?

At the Upasana Center, we are committed to authenticity and innovation. We are affiliated with the University of India because it’s important to me that my students are at the same level of instruction as students in India. It allows us to provide certifications and diplomas to our students directly from the University in India. It’s been a wonderful way to assure that our quality remains at the top level.


All are welcome! Click here to sign up for our classes and learn more.

A Conversation with Bliss Cortez

By: Alyssa Curran

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Bliss Cortez is a creative consultant, producer, and educator who works to establish safe spaces for marginalized communities in Tennessee. Bliss focuses on community building and resource sharing with people of color, queer people and the intersection of the two. We talked with Bliss about representation, identity, and storytelling within the context of a changing Nashville.


Tell me about founding QTPOC (queer, trans, people of color) Nashville.

I moved here 7 years ago and noticed that in post-flood Nashville, the city was changing rapidly and gentrification was rampant across the city. Marginalized communities were being pushed out at a scary pace.

I felt like there were not many community gathering opportunities for people of color and/or queer people. I would go to events and be the only person of color in the room, and that was incredibly isolating. I knew I wasn’t the only one feeling this way.

One particular night stands out. I was on a shoot and an older drunk man ran up to me, wrapped his body around mine, rubbed up against my body and held on. I could feel him smelling my hair and holding by body and it was terrifying. I still can feel the feelings I felt that night- fear, disgust. I needed a community of people to connect with where I felt safe.

I set out to create this safe space - a place to talk openly about issues happening around us and how they affect us, situations we find ourselves in, let each other know about happenings around town, and to just take care of each other.

I started QTPOC Nashville as a Facebook group for queer and trans people of color. We’re now a collective and a family. We look out for each other. We gather. We talk. We have fun. We share resources.

What’s an example of a QTPOC Meetup?

One of my favorite events recently, we took over the movie theater to watch Black Panther together. We spread out on the reclining chairs like the lounging panthers we were and spent a night building each other up and watching strong black portrayals. We ended the night discussing what that representation meant to us.

What’s next for QTPOC Nashville?

Recently, I posed a question on Facebook, “Can you recommend a doctor to visit where I can feel safe as a person of color and also a queer?” This spurred a great deal of conversation around resourcing and safe spaces. I want to create a network, a kind of database, to share information like this – a site that details anything you’ll need: doctors, accountants, counselors, etc. – people and resources to turn to without fear.

You’re the regional producer for The Moth Nashville, a live, monthly storytelling event held at the Basement East. Can you tell me about the origins and evolution of this event and how we can get involved?

The Moth is a not-for-profit organization dedicated to the art and craft of storytelling. It was born in New York and they have been doing shows across the globe for 22 years. The Moth is also a podcast where some of the stories that are told are broadcasted on NPR, locally WPLN.

I started with The Nashville Moth hoping to create a safe space for marginalized voices. The Moth has a strong following and has historically served an audience of upper-class people of certain demographic and, as a whole, is not representing as many marginalized voices. So, I’ve really worked to see queer and/or people of color feeling comfortable and thriving in this space.

What is a typical Nashville Moth StorySLAM like and how we can get involved?

We produce each show with a different theme. Last month, the theme was education. In a city with so many different kinds of schools, universities and levels of academia, I was excited to hear what people had to share. Storytellers arrive, put their name in a hat and are drawn randomly. Some are repeat storytellers. Some have a prepared monologue. It’s different each month. It’s not all people with theater or public speaking experience. There’s a mix of people from different backgrounds, careers, ages, etc. Last month we had a construction worker put his name in the hat and tell his story and it was very compelling. It’s amazing how much can be shared in the five-minute window that each person is allotted.

The theme for October is disguises. Join us on 10/15 at the Basement East. All are welcome!

You recently spoke at the annual Girls to the Moon “Campference”, for 10-14 year olds. How was this experience and what did you share?

My heart fluttered as soon as you brought it up! I was approached by Freya West, a talented burlesque dancer in town, and asked to speak. I wasn’t sure what to talk about at first. Then I realized, what are 10-14 year olds really struggling with? Well, a lot of things, but some of the big ones are representation and identity. As a black, latinx, queer, non-binary person, I have so many layers to my identity. I’ve had to find my representation in little spurts. I told my story.

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I told the children and their caregivers that for me, as a child, Uhura from Star Trek was the first strong, black person that I remember seeing on television. When I looked into it, she was indeed one of the first black women to be featured on tv and not portrayed as a slave or servant. It was a breakthrough role for black women. There were other shows like Fresh Prince which were important, too, but these were comedies and the characters weren’t portrayed with much depth or a range of human emotion. I was growing up in a time and place where I was told that I was not like everyone else and my existence was wrong. I had to relate to representations of strong, creative blackness in pieces.

I made my session interactive, asking questions like, “What do you think queerness means?” And their responses were beautiful. “Doesn’t it mean loving who you want to love?” I realized as I was standing on the podium that I was serving as the representation for these kids that I really longed for when I was growing up.

The day was pure magic. Speakers touched on topics from body positivity, processing emotions, and money management, to periods and body changes. It was an event I wish I had offered to me when I was growing up and I was proud to be part of it.

Who is a hero or influential figure who you relate to?

Janelle Monae and the way she brings people together is a hero of mine. She reaches communities from all walks of life and that speaks to me. The way I’ve grown up, I have often lived among predominantly white communities and have had to learn to navigate through really difficult conversations, harassment, sexism, racism, and homophobia. People see my afro and feel like, “this is someone I should talk some shit to” and I’ve really learned to navigate situations. Even when there are people who are saying problematic things, I can talk to them about why they’re saying those things. I end up teaching a lot on accident. Janelle is also a teacher and I love that about her.

What’s next for you?

I’ve built a wonderful collective of people in my life. One of my goals is to open up a community center for marginalized people. In this space, we would bring the QTPOC group to life and have a safe space where we could gain support from one another, create relationships, have educational speakers, and teach actionable skills, like financial tips, mental health resources, housing tips, etc. I’m also seeking speaking opportunities, eager to share my story like I did with Girls to the Moon.

Connect:

Cool Women Doing Cool Things: Katie Turner

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Katie Turner is a Nashville based artist and illustrator known for creating bright, vibrant work. Though she specializes in children’s illustration, she’s created artwork for brands as varied as ASOS and The New York Times.

She spoke with us about her process and what brought her from New York to Tennessee.

Can you tell me a little about your background and what got you into illustration? Why did you decide to become an illustrator? Did you always know this is what you wanted to do?

I always loved to draw (can’t really remember a time that I didn’t), so I knew even as far back as elementary school that I wanted to be an artist of some kind. It wasn’t until the end of high school, when I started applying for colleges, that I really thought about what kind of artist I wanted to be. The more I thought about it (and through some internet research), I found that illustration seemed like the right path for me. Something about words and pictures together makes me excited.

What brought you to Nashville? Does the work you do here differ from New York, and if so, in what ways?

I lived in New York for almost nine years, and I really loved it! I moved there in 2006 to study illustration at Parsons School of Design. But after living there so long, my boyfriend (now husband) felt like we needed a change. We made a list of cities we were considering moving to and decided to visit them. Nashville was first, and after we visited we were like, “This works!” We didn’t visit any other of the cities on the list and moved here six months later.

  Katie’s cover illustration for  Nashville Scene ’s 30th annual “You Are So Nashville If...” issue.

Katie’s cover illustration for Nashville Scene’s 30th annual “You Are So Nashville If...” issue.

The work I do now is much different than what I was doing in Brooklyn. For one, I worked as a server at a restaurant full time, so I had far less time to work on illustration in New York. I mean… the city is expensive! Since moving, I have had more time to cultivate my portfolio and figure out what area I really wanted to focus on. Rather than editorial illustration, which had before been the bulk of my work, I found that I really wanted to move into children’s illustration with a side of art licensing.

Do you have a dream client / collaborator?

One thing I want to do more than anything else is have my own children’s books published. So working with any publisher would be ideal! A few of my favorite publishers are Tundra Books, Flying Eye Books, and Chronicle Books. But really, there are SO many. On the art licensing side of things, I’d love to work with Hallmark or BlueQ.

Do you have any heroes in the industry?

So many! Three off the top of my head… Jillian Tamaki, Carson Ellis, and Dahlov Ipcar.

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People underestimate the power of design. When do you think your work is at its most powerful and has the greatest impact?

I don’t want to overestimate the power of my own work – there are many other amazingly talented illustrators who make powerful political work, and although I believe all work is political, it’s not something I really do overtly... I think my work does, however, have the power to make someone smile, to tell a story, or to depict people or groups that are not seen as often in the mainstream, and those are things that are important to me.

What’s the best part of your job?

Drawing everyday and getting to create my own hours. My husband is a musician, so it is nice that we are not usually set to a rigid schedule and can work weekends or take weekdays off. And of course, getting paid to be creative!

What inspires your work? What do you read/watch/check out for inspiration?

I live near Shelby Park and love nature, so I love to go for walks at the Greenway and see all the birds, bugs and other animals. That inspires me a lot. As for media, I read tons and tons of picture books (along with middle grade and some YA). Sometimes I’ll watch animated movies too – I’m a fan of Hayao Miyazaki films. I’m also frequently inspired by the work of my studiomates at The Warren, where I work.

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Do you have any resources / thoughts you’d like to share with any up-and-coming illustrators?

I think the only advice I feel really qualified to give new illustrators is to be patient! I’m still working on that. It’s OK if you’re not a huge overnight success. Working and succeeding in any creative industry usually takes lots of time and hard work. If you aren’t willing to be patient and persistent, and work through the rejection, it might not be the career path for you.

What’s next for you? Any cool projects coming up you want to share?

I’m currently pitching two new picture books to publishers – wish me luck!

Outside of work - what do you like to do? Any hobbies/interests/passions?

My favorite thing is going to the movies. I go A LOT! And I’ll see almost anything, but for some reason I just don’t like action movies. I find them boring.  Anything else, I’m game. When I’m not at the actual movie theater, I watch movies at home – my favorite genres being horror and romantic comedy. I also love to read (and I’m trying to make more time to read since I no longer have 1 hour of subway commuting time to do it). I also love to take nature walks and I’m pretty nerdy when it comes to learning about bugs and birds. My in-laws even bought me some binoculars to do bird watching with for my birthday last year!

You can check out Katie’s Etsy store and purchase her work here.


Cool Women Doing Cool Things: Meet A&M Events

By: Alyssa Curran

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If you’ve attended a cool event in Nashville recently, the ladies of A&M Events probably had a hand in it. Founded in Nashville by Amanda Stone and Micaela Reed, A&M Events produces corporate and special events across the country. Not only are Amanda and Micaela boss women, they’ve hired a fully female team and they go out of their way to support fellow women in business. Alyssa chatted with Amanda and Micaela about practical tips for building a business from scratch, best practices for networking in Nashville, and what you must remember when throwing an awesome party.

What led you two to go off on your own and start A&M Events?

Amanda: Micaela and I began working together straight out of college at a local events management firm and immediately beginning looking for a creative outlet on the side. We began reaching out to other area planners to see if they needed help with their events and we were working as many events as we could both in our day job and as a side hustle. Ultimately, we knew we could see ourselves having our own company in the events space.

Micaela: We saw the opportunity that was arising in Nashville with such rapid growth. We saw a need to fill here in Nashville and throughout the Southeast. What’s unique about our model is that we see ourselves as a long-term partner with clients rather than a transactional vendor and we’ve built our business accordingly.

What are the most important details to remember when hosting an event?

M: One thing that people so often overlook is music. They’ll plan an elaborate experience with larger-than-life details, but you walk in and it’s silent. This is a huge pet peeve of mine. I carry a Bluetooth speaker with me wherever I go, in case I need to swoop in with some tunes.

Another easy fix that will make or break you is lighting. There’s a Danish term called “hygge”, which essentially means the feeling of coziness and comfort caused by a warm glow. This is most important. Nothing bothers me more than showing up to a well-planned event, but the light is so bright you feel like you’re at a doctor’s office. Mood lighting doesn’t have to be expensive. Buy a dimmer or remove a few light bulbs.

A: Think about the event from your guest’s perspective. What will your guests see first? How was the parking experience? Was the invitation clear? When they walk in, do they know where to go and what to do? If your guests don’t immediately know what they’re supposed to do, they’re already feeling stressed and not enjoying themselves. Incorporate clear signage, provide ample instructions on communications, and make it easy on your guests and on you as the planner.

Finally, if you want to add flourishes to your event, pick one or two areas to focus on. Add a balloon installation or a funky menu, for example, but don’t go over the top. Don’t let every detail be the statement, otherwise they will get lost and won’t be appreciated.

What have you learned as you’ve grown your team? What are some tips for learning to delegate?

A: We’re simultaneously narrowing in on the types of clients and projects that we want to be working with and diversifying the types of events we’re doing. We’ve moved into the creative project management space more than exclusively events. What that means is, when a client throws out a seemingly “impossible” or “crazy” idea, we take their creative concept and make it into something real.  As we continue to build our team, we’re able to be more strategic and focus on the big picture rather than being in the weeds coordinating events. We have more bandwidth to focus on our culture, mission and values.

Maintaining good culture starts with the hiring process. If you’re not bringing on the right people then you’re already shooting yourself in the foot. That being said, A&M Events is our baby and growing your team does make you more vulnerable.

M: We’re planners, which means we innately like to have control. In order to let go, it’s important for us to clearly define our goals and paint the picture of what success looks like. I’m an only child and a Virgo. Letting go of control is the antithesis of my innate being, but we’ve hired a team of people who are also leaders, and entrepreneurial themselves, and who we trust wholeheartedly to represent our brand. We’re not bringing people on to simply do tasks, but to complete our team and contribute their own valuable skills.

What have you learned about each other working as partners for so long?

A: We describe our relationship as a professional, life partnership. We have grown to be completely open and honest with each other. We can pinpoint different areas where one of us shines and the other needs support. We also take it to the next level and have taken countless personality assessments to utilize psychoanalytical techniques to pinpoint our strengths and weaknesses.

What networking and professional organizations in Middle Tennessee have helped you to grow your business?

M: We’re involved with Scale Nashville, a competitive training program focused on scaling your business, put on by Chamber of Commerce. In this course, we’re learning to treat our business as if we’re franchising (even though that’s not an immediate goal of ours). This has been very valuable.

A: One general tip for involvement in professional organizations is you only have so much time and money to devote to memberships and fees, so be strategic. We don’t go into an event industry specific organization expecting to leave with a client. We do leave with a sense of community or camaraderie. Other organizations or networking events are better suited for strategic business development and brand alignment, like the Chamber of Commerce, for example. Know what your goals are and what you’re hoping to accomplish before signing up for everything in town.

What parts of your business are you hoping to expand in 2019?

M: We have naturally grown in the experiential marketing arena. People are looking to be more creative and there’s a growing trend toward experiences rather than traditional campaigns or events. Our clients want to touch and feel and do.

We believe that good luck is the result of good planning!

M: An example of this is a fun partnership we have with BarkBox. During CMA Fest, we worked with BarkBox to manage five days’ worth of dog friendly activities in Nashville designed from the dog’s perspective, as well as the dog owner’s. Their goal as a company is to be more than a toy and treat company. They want to be physical and interactive and connected with their customers. This is the essence of experiential marketing.

Amanda, as a mother, how has your professional life changed when your daughter was born?

Both of my parents worked for themselves and were usually working from home when I was a child. I knew I wanted to have my own business and I was always thinking ahead to a space where I could have my child with me and work as well. The day-to-day is very challenging, but also worthwhile. There are days when my daughter is with us and doing well and well-behaved and other days when she wants to chime in.

The most valuable lesson that I’ve learned as a mother is that time flies. That has never felt more real than when you’re pregnant or when you have a baby. Time really slips through your fingers. This can be very grounding. It makes me realize it’s okay to slow down every once in a while, and take a break with her. It also makes me realize I need to accept help from my team, partner, business partner, sitter, etc.

Micaela, your family owns the local restaurants, Sinema and 8th and Roast. Any inside scoop on any new restaurant concepts popping up around town?

M: We are opening our second 8th and Roast on Charlotte any day now and that business has a lot of opportunity. Every new office, hotel and company needs delicious coffee. Look for 8th and Roast coffee wherever you may go.

A&M Events is a relationship-based events agency specializing in fresh experiences. Connect with A&M Events via email: info@ameventsnashville.com or on Instagram:@ameventsnashville.

Cool Women Doing Cool Things: Meet Jane

By: Rachel Bubis

Jane Dupree is at the top of her game.  

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Born in Jackson, TN, she moved to Middle Tennessee at age 17 to go to MTSU, and got her start working for the college radio station. Now, she headlines her own shows and has played events with God-Dess & She, Martha Wash, Morgan Page, Questlove, Richard Vission, Bad Boy Bill, Junior Vasquez, The Crystal Method, DJ Funk, Figure, Dieselboy, Star Eyes, BT, DJ Rap, Stacy Kidd, Athens Boys Choir, Superstar DJ Keoki, American Idol Ashton Jones, DJ Trashy, Charles Feelgood, and Vanessa Carlton, to name a few.

 

You started doing music playing guitar at your church. How did you go from playing guitar at church to getting into electronic music?

I started playing guitar when I was 14. It’s cheesy, but it was after the first time I heard Nirvana. I asked for a guitar for Christmas and took lessons. My mom suggested I play this instrument in church, so I started playing on Sundays. I traveled around to different churches playing with the choir. When I got to college, I was in a Christian rock band signed to Ricky B, the gospel rapper's record label. That was freshman year, and I didn't pay much attention to turn tables.  One of the guys I met through Ricky B was DJ Silence. Growing up, I listened to Crystal Waters and the Euro stuff on MTV as well as Liquid Groove electronic music. I always liked stuff like that.

Fast forward to summer after freshman year, I wound up going to the gay bar Connections. I just fell in love with what the DJ was selling and the music. I started buying records from Tower Records. When school started back, DJ Silence showed me the basics of how to use a mixer. I was also in a bowling class with Pimpdaddy Supreme who told me about college radio. At the end of fall semester. l submitted to be involved with the college radio station. In the winter semester I began my short intern period.  After interning, I submitted a show proposal and was approved to launch the show House Nation.  I started the show barely knowing how to use turntables. From day one of my show I used the radio station’s turn tables to practice every week. 

What attracts you to the genre of house, circuit, electro?

I like the way it makes me feel. The experience. It’s about love, happiness, peace, unity. There’s nothing negative about dance music. That’s what I like about it.

“Nashville’s electronic music scene is growing a lot. It has always been an underground scene, but in comparison to other cities, it’s still relatively small. But any weekend you can go out and find electronic music.” 

Who are your biggest musical influences?

Smashing Pumpkins, Paula Abdul, Janet Jackson, DJ Pierre, Joey Deltron, Junior Vasquez.

How do you find out about new music/stay up-to-date on new tracks?

I follow several blogs on Hype Machine and am on several promo lists. I give feedback on those platforms. I also use SoundCloud. I search the top three record stores for dance music. I’m also in a record club called Club Killers, based in Las Vegas, and they supply a lot of bootlegs and remixes.

What’s your process like and what technology do you use?

I start on vinyl which is my preferred method. In the clubs I use a Numark controller and Serato DJ.  At a bigger festival I use Pioneer CDJ 2000s.

Nashville’s moniker is “music city,” but electronic music isn’t the first thing to come to mind for people. Is it challenging to do this genre of music here? What’s the scene in Nashville like compared with other cities?

Nashville’s scene is growing a lot. It’s always been an underground scene, but in comparison to other cities, it’s still relatively small. But any weekend you can go out and find electronic music. Back in the day there was way less, but you can even catch a show on a Tuesday or Wednesday here now. We don’t have any dedicated electronic clubs, but access to friendly venues like the Back Corner. Canvas and Traxx are my resident clubs.

I imagine the DJ profession/culture is pretty male dominated. Do you experience any discrimination professionally?

Oh yeah, where do I start!  I’ll keep it short. For one, I walk into clubs and people instantly assume I’m going to play hip hop. Then, because I’m a woman, they assume I don’t know what I’m doing or know how to hook the equipment up. Also, some frat boy types try to bully their way into my time slot sometimes. That kind of deal. And mainly just assuming I don’t know what’s going on with the music or not as good as the other guys.

How do you cope?

I just mix. I mix and do what I do and there’s no questions after that.

What’s the best advice someone has ever given you?

You can’t please everybody. And have no expectations.

What else are you into besides Djing?

It’s corny but I play Candy Crush haha.  I like to drive a lot. Hang out outside. Walk around and go to local bars. Hang out with my friends and to make music.

How do we follow your music/keep up to date with future shows?

I keep my website updated on a regular basis. Also Instagram and Facebook. 

 

A Conversation with Senzela Atmar

By: Alyssa Curran

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In the mid-1990s, following a chaotic end to the nine year Soviet-Afghan War, Afghanistan was ravaged by civil unrest.  After years of war and no clear leadership, competing fundamentalist groups fought to rule the country. A newly formed militia, the Taliban, began their rise to power, and by 1996 they had conquered the capital city of Kabul, establishing the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan. It was an era of violence and persecution for the Afghan people. According to the Pakistani government, by 1996, the number of registered refugees who fled Afghanistan to Pakistani and Iranian camps reached 3.2 million. One of these refugees was Senzela Atmar. She shared her firsthand account of displacement in one of the world’s most protracted refugee crises in history.

The Atmar family lived well before the Soviet-Afghan War. Senzela’s mother was a biology professor and her father a university dean. In the ‘80s, her parents thrived as intellectuals with influence, resources and connections. But born into a different Afghanistan than her parents had experienced just a decade prior, Senzela started life with a target on her back.

“In Kabul, in the mid-90s, if you were educated and had land or resources, the Taliban threatened to kill you or kidnap members of your family to hold for ransom,” she said. “If you had lived comfortably before, you lived in constant fear under the new extremist stronghold.”

Members of armed political groups routinely entered civilian houses in Kabul and other parts of the country, killing members of the family who resisted their entry, confiscating property, and kidnapping children. Reports of torture, mass executions and unlawful imprisonment in private detention centers were widespread.

“For our family, and many others, living in Kabul can be best described as survival. We hid in our home most of the time, and left the house only in short spurts to buy food,” she described. “The windows in our home were shattered more than once, and by early 1995, the Taliban forces were shelling Kabul with ferocity.”

It wasn’t until later that year that the government issued a 72-hour cease fire, and the Atmar family jumped at the opportunity to flee the country. Within weeks of their departure, the home they had left behind was left in rubble after their neighborhood was bombed.

“Fleeing the country was not easy,” Senzela said. “First of all, you could only flee if you had some money. Without money, you had to stay put, and many did. We paid a man who was smuggling people over the border to drive us as far as he could, but in rural Afghanistan, infrastructure, like drivable roads, was lacking, and we were forced to walk for many miles. We were six children and our parents, at that time, hoping to find safety and livable conditions, but that’s not what we experienced when we arrived to Pakistan.”

The Atmar family registered at the United Nations Refugee Camp in Peshawar, Pakistan in the winter of 1995. The camp consisted of large tent communities and mud-brick box “apartments”, available at an additional cost. They passed their days waiting in lines for food rations and water, in a compound where resources were limited.

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"Everyone thought it was temporary,” she said. “That the extremists would be pushed out and we could go home.” But the news of a stable Kabul never came.

While rumors of a better life spread among the newcomers, many of the same fears that plagued citizens in Kabul were alive and well for Afghan refugees in the camps. Extremist groups had members living in the camps to enlist young men and enforce their laws, and their influence was strong. Inside the camps there were murders and kidnappings, just like there were on the outside.

“It was, once again, dangerous to look like you were from the middle class. So, people made themselves look poor. Mom wouldn’t bathe us often so we’d look dirty and wouldn’t get as much attention from potential threats. We were pale skinned Afghans and we were getting harassed for this, too -- my brother, Iqbal, especially. Light brown hair and hazel eyes, Iqbal had features that stood out in any crowd. Toward the end of our time in the camps, my brother was pushed in front of a car and killed by, what my mother described as, young Taliban recruits. Iqbal was 11 years old.”

“In a desperate time for our family, we did receive one blessing that year. In his ‘school’ (really a haphazard gathering of kids and sometimes a teacher), my oldest brother, Atal, had submitted paperwork to the U.S. Government to enter the visa lottery on behalf of our family, without our knowing. The chances of being selected were slim to none. Miraculously, our family received word that we had been approved to move to the United States.”

“I used to avoid telling my story. It’s triggering and difficult to relive, but it’s important for people to understand what it was like then and how it affected us.”

The Immigration Act of 1990 increased the total, overall immigration to allow 700,000 immigrants to come to the U.S. per year from '92–'94, and 675,000 per year after that. It provided a family-based immigration visa, created employment based visas, and instituted a diversity visa program that created a lottery to admit immigrants from "low admittance" countries or countries where their citizenry was underrepresented in the U.S. The Atmar family fell into the diversity visa program category.

“When we received the letter from the U.S. Embassy, we first thought it was too good to be true. Then, we spoke with relatives in the United States, and they told us more about the visa process. We learned that upon receipt of the letter, we could leave the country at any time. Thanks to the help of our family, we were able to pay the $13,000+ to purchase flights from Pakistan to the United States. I have a fond memory of landing in the Nashville Airport and seeing all of the bright lights.”

The Atmars moved to Nashville in 1997 and would find themselves facing a new set of challenges: starting fresh as a Middle Eastern family in the American South, where anti-refugee rhetoric was both rampant and deep-rooted. They spent the first six months in Nashville living in Senzela’s aunt’s garage. Senzela’s father, once the dean of a large university, now walked to the local McDonalds each day to work and her mother worked at Kroger. Senzela’s mother spoke English, but the other members of the family began ESL programs to learn the language, and the Atmars lived without a car for a several years until one was donated to their family.

“We were the only Middle Eastern kids at our school,” said Senzela. “Once again, we stood out in the crowd as different. But we are resilient and our parents were able to build a safe and happy home for us to grow up in Tennessee, in spite of all we’d been through.”

Today, there are 2.5 million registered Afghan refugees across the globe, according to the U.N.’s Refugee Agency, many with similar stories to the Atmar family’s. Afghans make up the world’s second largest refugee population, and violence continues to drive people from their homes.

Senzela pays tribute to her past by serving displaced persons through her Nashville-based nonprofit, Relief Without Borders. She and her team help restore post-disaster countries through strategic campaigns. One of the organization’s main initiatives this year is the Afghan School Project where they’re building and developing a sustainable, co-ed school to educate 300+ children. The organization has already purchased the land and is campaigning to move to the next phase, alongside a team of local, Afghan educators.

Senzela believes in the importance of sharing refugees’ stories, like her own, in order to communicate the shared human experience. Hear stories from some of the men, women and children aided by Relief Without Borders and learn ways you can help.

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Mental Health: A Conversation with Margaret Brittingham

By: Kathryn Berk

Between running her private practice and caring for her one-year old daughter, Margaret took a few minutes to tell us about her path to becoming a counselor and how therapy can help.

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Can you tell us what inspired you to become a counselor?

I wasn’t really sure what I wanted to do when I graduated college, and I got a job doing street outreach and HIV testing and counseling in New Orleans. The ‘counseling’ was really just filling out a questionnaire of risky habits, but I loved being able to connect with and provide support to people in a scary moment. That eventually led me to getting a master’s in counseling, and from there I got more and more interested in the field -- especially the things to learn about that connect to so many different disciplines, and to the big existential questions of existence. So for me it’s kind of a perfect synthesis between science, art, spirituality, and the beauty and complexity of life.

What is the day-to-day life of a counselor like? What are some of the most rewarding parts of your job? What’s the most challenging part?

I think it really depends on the therapist. I do walk and talk therapy, online therapy, and in office therapy and I schedule my clients around my main job, which is mothering, so my schedule varies from week to week.

The most rewarding part for me is witnessing clients’ healing and growth. It’s pretty amazing. I think the most challenging part is being able to sit with other people’s suffering and simultaneously not shut it out, but also not take too much of it on and have it totally drain me. It’s a delicate dance that I imagine I will be learning for my whole life.

Why do you think there is such a stigma about mental health/ seeking treatment?

That’s a great question. I think a lot of the painful aspects of our internal lives (like depression or anxiety) are really isolating. They make us feel like there is something wrong with us, or like we’re damaged and different than everybody else and then we feel ashamed and our natural impulse is to bury our head in the sand rather than go expose what we see as our brokenness to somebody else.

So I think that is part of it. Another part of it, I think, is that hearing about somebody else’s suffering brings up some pain or vulnerability in us that we have been putting a lot of our energy into not feeling -- so we avoid, ignore or gloss over their suffering and stigmatize it as a very short-sighted way of protecting ourselves.  

I also think we live in a culture where we value self-reliance and perfectionism. You should be perfect and you shouldn’t need any help, and those are the aspects of yourself you should present to the world.  Haha! So those are pretty strong cultural values and messages that I think tend to lead us to bury our pain, isolate more from each other and pretend we’re happier and have it more together than we are and than we do. Then of course our isolation exacerbates our distress and it gets into a problematic cycle...

What’s the biggest myth about therapy?

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The first thing that comes to my mind is that you go to a therapist for them to ‘fix you’. Subtext:  if you go to a therapist, you’re broken, and this other person has the power to fix you. Which is not true!

In reality, counseling is a safe place to become aware of habitual patterns of reacting and to resolve unresolved pain or trauma that is keeping you stuck in patterns that create distress. It can help you discover the link between your thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. In moving our habitual patterns into conscious awareness, we are empowered to choose to act differently. When they remain unconscious, they control us.

There is a lot in the news recently about depression and mental health. What does “mental health” mean to you, and why do you think it’s important to talk about it?

“Mental health” to me means self-compassion and a commitment, or willingness, to become aware of the interplay between our thoughts, feelings, and behaviors -- and by doing so, become a little more empowered to be in a relationship with them that creates peace and not suffering.

I think it’s so so important to talk about mental health because so many of the things that plague us -- depression, anxiety, feelings of inadequacy, low self-esteem, guilt, shame, fear -- their nature is to isolate us and to sow discord in our relationships with ourselves and with others. When we talk about it, we take away some of the channels through which these issues really grow strong, and we realize that these are things we all struggle with at various times in our life and that we can help each other heal. We realize that we don’t HAVE to feel like this forever. When we drive it all underground and pretend it’s not there, no healing can take place.

How (if at all) has being a mother changed how you approach or think about mental health?

Becoming a mom has definitely changed how I think about mental health, in that it really has made very real for me the poignancy of innocence lost that is part of our human condition.

When I look at my daughter I see how innocent and open she is. She radiates a joy for life, and a natural confidence in being lovable and in being loved. She takes other people as they are and she takes her emotions as they come and she is open and full of wonder. It’s heartbreaking to know that as she grows, she will be put in boxes by others’ expectations and she will inevitably internalize some of those messages and at the very least those messages, and quite possibly external obstacles, will move her away from this place in herself that is open and free.

And hopefully, she will consciously make a choice to try to rediscover and reconnect with that place inside of us which is beyond all the habits of thinking and feeling and doing that we have picked up to survive and to protect ourselves, but which also imprison us.

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So I think for me, just being around and loving another human being who is as open and free as a young baby reminds me that this is how we all started out, and really helps me to see that part in my clients.

It also really underlines the importance of the work of facing all the pain that has accumulated in life and that keeps us imprisoned, because now I think about my baby going through this and how desperately I would want her to know that the patterns she accumulates through her life and her suffering are not the whole story, and she really has a fundamental richness too that is beyond and underneath all of that.

What would you say to someone who is on the fence about seeking treatment?

I would say you should totally do it! You know,  if you hate it, it’s not as if you’re forced to keep going. Just try to find a therapist that you connect with and feel understood by and see if it feels helpful.

Different approaches work for different people. What do you like to do personally to focus on yourself and preserve your health?

I love being in nature, like deep in a lush, green forest after a summer rain or on the beach watching the waves break and feeling the salty breeze. Internally, I like to scan through my body and listen to/ feel any uncomfortable emotions or tension or spots of vulnerability and just pretend they’re a vulnerable little child that needs my love and care, rather than my enemy that I must destroy.

Where can I go to find a therapist and learn more about mental health treatments?

I think Psychology Today is a good resource for finding a therapist. I found my therapist there and most people offer free consultations so you can see if they feel like a good fit for you. They also have a lot of articles about mental health and different treatments.

You can contact Margaret and learn more about her services on her website here.


If you are having thoughts of suicide, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 (TALK) or go to SpeakingOfSuicide.com/resources for a list of additional resources.

The Nudes Shop: A Conversation with Caitlin Shirock

By: Alyssa Curran

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Caitlin’s studio is a designer’s paradise: vining plants, antique furniture, abstract artwork framed with gold leaf, and fanned paintbrushes floating in glass jars. “I was bored with my floors,” she tells me. “So, I got down on my hands and knees and started painting.” Now a bold black and white checkerboard, she has created a sanctuary of clean lines.

Her personality matches aesthetic – bright, sharp and expressive. Caitlin talked emphatically about art school, graduate school and starting a design career in New York. We discussed her experiences working for large brands including Betsey Johnson, Ralph Lauren, Oscar de la Renta and Abercrombie and Fitch, and discussed the ups-and-downs of launching her own brand here in Nashville, Cash Color.

You’ve worked with several top-rated brands. How did these experiences lead to your starting Cash Color?
I loved the fast-paced world of fashion and design when I was living in New York, with brands like Oscar de la Renta, and in Ohio, at the Abercrombie and Fitch Headquarters. I was immersed in the entire process, from concept and design to distribution. My favorite part of the work was to concept with my team: building a mood board and choosing fresh colors, patterns and themes each season. It was invigorating work.

I moved to Nashville in 2013 with a vision for change and I was ready to go off on my own. Cash Color was born with the hope of carving out a space in the abstract art market here.

What resources and tips can you offer women interested in starting their own businesses?
Transitioning from a huge corporation, where I worked with a massive team, to a team of one was terrifying. I had work, mainly logos and small design projects, but I felt really small when I first started out here. I built my brand with the help of a creative entrepreneurship program called My Own Irresistible Brand. This organization offers an online community where entrepreneurs support each other. We began by carving out our “why”– digging deep by answering questions like, “Why are you working in the arts and how will your pieces serve the community?” One valuable lesson I learned early on was to stick to what I’m good at and hire out the rest, when possible.

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You talk about Cash Color as a brand that was built by women for women. Tell me more.
My series, The Love Every Body Collection, is a nod to the body positivity movement. Our gouache, abstract nudes come in a variety of shapes, sizes and colors. I want women and girls to feel beautiful in their skin. I’m currently pregnant and my body is changing. I want to keep reminding myself and others that a woman’s body is beautiful at every stage. It’s truly amazing what our bodies can do.


Where can we find your work?
From original abstract pieces and commissions to hand-lettering and homewares, you can find my work at art shows throughout the Southeast, local pop-ups, and via our website. Come visit us on June 29 at Porter Flea. Follow along on Instagram: @cash.color.

Herb Your Enthusiasm: An Afternoon with Kerbi Howat

By: Alyssa Curran

 Photo by Bree Marie Fish Photography

Photo by Bree Marie Fish Photography

Kerbi is a business owner, foliage design guru and first-time mom to baby Arlo.

I chatted with her about practical tips for female entrepreneurs, local resources for new moms, and best practices for designing with houseplants.

 

 

Tell me about how a backyard gardening hobby led to your opening Flora.

I spent my previous career in social service and social enterprise and had great opportunities to work internationally and locally with different populations, but I needed a break. I quit my job with no back-up plan.

I had recently met a new friend, Kate Holl. Kate and I shared a love for gardening and plant life. Our budding friendship led to countless conversations about our dreams of opening a shop. Flora began as a traveling pop up shop until we opened our brick and mortar storefront on Trinity Lane in the Spring of 2017.

Can you offer some practical advice for women looking to start a business in Nashville?

Mentorship is key. Network with people who work in the same industry. Pick their brains about process, infrastructure, business plans, marketing, challenges, and triumphs. Make sure to have this support system because a lot of times when starting a new business, you feel like you’re in open water.

What about securing funding to get started? Any tips?

Nashville is turning the tide on providing funding for women and minority entrepreneurs, but there’s still a long way to go. We had a lot of trouble finding funding, but I’ll go back to the importance of making connections early in the game with like-minded people.

Flora’s Co-founder, Kate, recently moved out of state and you’re now the sole owner of the business. Tell me a bit about this transition and the challenges associated with this change.

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This was bitter sweet. I loved being partners with Kate, but wish her well in her new endeavors in Wisconsin. I certainly would not have had the courage to start Flora without her.

That being said, transitioning from a partnership to a sole proprietorship has been a change, for sure. It has been particularly stressful because the week she left was the week I came back from maternity leave. “Mom brain” is real and I have had it bad. My first week back I would have to ask my staff the names of plants in the shop that I have worked with for years. With a newborn, and learning to navigate without Kate, my workload has quadrupled. It’s getting easier though. I’m learning to do more in less time.

Let’s talk about being a first-time mom to a newborn as well as a business owner. Can you recommend any resources for new moms in town?

I’ve love being part of the Baby+Co community. They are a birth center that offer a ton of resources and classes for pregnant women and new moms. I joined a six week long new moms group and I loved it. I don’t have family in town and for a first-time mom, it was so important to have a community and know that I was not alone navigating new motherhood. It’s a community where you can ask questions like, “Is this normal?” and “Are we going to survive this?” when it’s been a long night or we’re going through a new phase with the baby. I’m currently enrolling in a new class called “About First Foods” which explains how to introduce real food to your baby.  

Those are super helpful tips. There’s no doubt about it that mothers are Herculean. Having a community to learn from and grow with seems so important. Tell me about Flora’s products and services. Your plant design and consultation offerings seem very popular. How do you begin styling a room with plants and can you share any high-level design tips?

When we do consultations, we’ll go into the space and the first things we have to consider are the availability of light and how much maintenance the home or business owner wants to take on. If a client travels a lot and isn’t home often, or just prefers lower maintenance, for example, we’re able to help them choose plants that do not require much attention.

We start with the availability of light and work from there based on their décor. If we’re working with mid-century style, for example, we’ll incorporate more tree-like plants and moody colors. If we’re going for a more Bohemian look, we may incorporate cylindrical planters with palms. The design piece is really fun and a large part of our business.

What are your customers buying? What’s hot?

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Some customers shop for aesthetic, and others for health benefits. In general, we’re riding a wave where houseplants are very popular. The benefits of houseplants are numerous. They help to increase productivity and creativity, filter toxins, enhance our moods and minimize stress.

Currently, our customers are very interested in the tropical plants like fiddle leaf figs and birds of paradise, as well as desert plants like succulents and cacti. With the exception of the fiddle leaf fig, which is extremely high maintenance, tropical plants tend to be pretty low key, and for that reason are top sellers.

Our number one seller is the snake plant. This is a hardy, low maintenance, but beautiful plant that thrives in the shade. I would recommend purchasing a snake plant if you’re a first-time plant owner or if you’d like to give a plant as a gift.

Why do you think houseplants are so “in” right now?

First off, I don’t think having plants in the home has ever not been in style. Mid-century pieces and general style of design is still super popular. Mid-century homes were filled with the same types of plants that are popular today. Macrame plant hangers and indoor house plants dominated in the 70’s and are still trending now.

Also, social media is used a lot to find design inspiration. Structural plants add a lot to a well-furnished room. Vining plants add whimsy. Almost all photos you see online of an interior space contain plants which have definitely led to an increased interest in indoor plants, especially specific plants. The fiddle leaf fig started to see it’s (very long and continuing) moment in the spotlight because it’s the chosen plant of lifestyle bloggers.

I’m glad to hear that the fiddle leaf fig is high maintenance and it’s not just me. I have the hardest time keeping mine alive. Any advice for caring for these tricky little guys?

Fiddle leaf figs like bright light. I would position them near a South facing window and water weekly, but don’t let it get too soggy. Additionally, do not position it near air vents. They can be fickle.

If you’re struggling to care for a plant, send us a picture of the plant, or bring it into the shop, and we can offer advice on ways to revive it.


To learn more about all Flora has to offer, visit FloraPlantShop.com, or check out their Instagram @floraplantshop.

Body Love: A Conversation with Jessica Williams

By: Alyssa Curran

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Jessica Williams is a wellness coach focused on promoting health and body positivity for women. She founded WERK Your Curves to create a safe space for women, and especially women of color, who are trying to improve their overall wellbeing. She takes a multi-faceted, holistic approach to coaching, touching on clients’ personal relationships, spirituality, finances, fitness and diet.

We talked with Jessica about the body positivity movement, the underrepresentation of women of color in the fitness space, and why we should never comment on weight, even if we’re trying to offer a compliment.

What led you to the wellness industry and the founding of Werk Your Curves?

I have dealt with body issues for years. My natural body tends toward a more curvy and stout stature and I always felt something was wrong with me. It started at a very young age and I never really settled the score with how I feel in the skin I was blessed with. I tried yo-yo diets: Weight Watchers, South Beach, you name it, but they weren’t sustainable. Once I reached a certain weight or aesthetic, old habits crept back.

It wasn’t until the past several years that I recognized the need for a more holistic approach to health and wellness. I want to know that if I make great choices and treat my body with care, my size does not matter to those around me. With Werk Your Curves, I help clients Work, Embrace, Respect and Know (WERK) their bodies and improve their overall well-being. We look within to discover underlying issues and manifest change from the inside out.

Let’s talk about the underrepresentation of women of color in the fitness and health space in Tennessee.

As a woman of color, I personally do not feel represented by the fitness status quo. Fitness has a certain look. I don’t know any other industry that values aesthetic more than this industry, and guess what? She doesn’t look like me, and she never will unless we create a space where she does. I’ve been to countless gyms and fitness events where I didn’t see enough women of color represented. I know so many women who have felt isolated in the wellness space and this really sparked something in me.

My goal is for all women to feel like they have a community. I’m coaching women and hosting events for women where they have a safe space to work on themselves. I want my clients to know they’re not fighting this battle alone. They can have candid, safe conversations here. My clients are all shapes and sizes. We’re not scale focused and no one is judging.  

Body shaming is disgusting and cruel, but happening all the time. What recommendations do you have for helping to foster this body positivity movement?

One easy fix is to stop commenting on weight, period. Commenting on someone’s weight is a no-no unless they’ve brought it up, whether they have gained or lost. We often feel like we’re being nice if we say, “Wow, you’ve really lost weight.” Unfortunately, you don’t know what measures someone has taken to get to this new weight. Are they doing something unhealthy like eating 600 calories a day and going to the gym twice a day to sustain this weight? Are you feeding into that negative behavior that’s causing this person to lose/gain that weight? Or, perhaps they don’t want you to acknowledge that you noticed their previous weight in the first place. I can’t stress enough - don’t mention it unless they bring it up first.

That being said, my idea of body positivity lies in the idea of finding my own version of my best self. It doesn’t have a specific size or weight, but it does have a very specific mindset. Going into every single day with an affirming attitude that I will take care of my life in a very holistic manner, love where I am and look forward to where I’m going. We are all strong and powerful and beautiful. We find that in our process.

What language would you recommend using to compliment someone’s healthy behaviors?

Say something like, “You have this glow about you” or “you’re really thriving.” If they bring up weight, then you have permission to talk with them about it. Let them guide the conversation.

As a mother, how do you talk with your son about body image?

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I focus on encouraging my son to have a healthy relationship with food. He’ll say little things like, “Mommy, I’m fat.” I tell him, “You are not fat. If you’re hungry, eat. If you’re not, don’t.” Additionally, if I I’m not feeling as body positive as I’d like on a particular day, I try not to express negative self-talk around him. So many of our body image issues are passed down because our parents were so vocal about theirs.  

What are your favorite self-care routines?

I indulge in simple self-care. My favorite activity is taking a bath using essential oils, epsom salts, and lavender. I also enjoy quiet time in prayer and thought on my deck. I feel refueled by increments of solitude.  

What does one week’s worth of workouts look like for you?

For my personal taste and my body, I do a lot of kettlebells and strength training at The Southern Squeeze. I commit to a one hour workout, four times a week. I also incorporate other fun routines like taking a walk outside. In holistic health, finding balance is key to success in any facet. It’s about establishing routines that are effective, enjoyable, and sustainable.

Connect with Jessica on Instagram and visit her website to schedule a complimentary intake session. Don’t miss Jessica’s upcoming event: Werk Your Body: A Body Love Movement for Women of Color on May 12.

Burn Baby: A Conversation with Amanda Pargh

By: Rachel Bubis

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We’re hot sauce fanatics at Congress Club, and long-time friends with Amanda. We wanted to connect with her to hear why she started Burn, how she went from fashion major to hot sauce purveyor, and what it was like moving from Nashville to Santa Cruz.

Tell us a little bit about your background. What inspired you to move to California and start Burn?

I grew up in Nashville and went to college for fashion design. I loved feeding my friends and reading cookbooks. After watching a bunch of Iron Chef, I decided to write chefs Jon Shook and Vinny Dotolo about a summer internship. I moved out to California, spent three months in the kitchen at Animal and fell in love with it. It made me so happy to create beautiful dishes for other people.

After college I spent some time on an organic farm in South America then moved to Los Angeles to find kitchen work. I landed a job at Lucques, where I spent two years making some of the most delicious food I’ve even tasted and meanwhile met Chase, the love of my life, in a drum circle on the beach. It was such a good time in Venice Beach. We moved up to Sonoma and finally had a chance to start our own garden. I started cooking at Ad Hoc and Chase was working on all types of farms and gardens, but when we were at home together we were cooking from our garden, foraging and fermenting all kinds of yummy things.

Not long after, we moved to Santa Cruz for work. Chase was working at a pepper farm and I was cooking at Manresa. One day Chase brought home a boatload of peppers and I started fermenting hot sauce. Months later we blended it, bottled it and gave it to friends. It was so good that you could just see the light bulb go on above Chase’s head. That night we talked about our hot sauce dreams and purchased burnhotsauce.com. The rest is history!  

Can you tell me about what it was like transitioning from working in the kitchen to having your own food business? Why did you make this decision?

We started burn while we were both working other jobs. I was working the line at Manresa and Chase was working at Mountain Feed and Farm. Chase loved my hot sauce and we just kinda started the business one step at a time. We were both working other jobs, but this fermented hot sauce idea just kept us fired up! We would get home and talk about it and it became this cool thing that we did together. After we did our first food expo, we knew we were onto something, so we started selling at the Santa Cruz farmers markets and left our jobs. It was so exciting working together that it all just happened naturally.

What's it like having a business with your partner (and soon to be husband!)?

Chase is an amazing business partner. He saw the magic in something I made and helped turn it into a real business. We support each other in our different roles in and also allow each other to shine in our respective positions. It also taught me the importance of communication- now that we’ve started a business we can do ANYTHING!

What was the most interesting thing you learned working at Ad Hoc and French Laundry?

After working in the kitchen at Ad Hoc I got a job in the French Laundry garden. I helped with weeding, watering, harvesting and planting and it opened my eyes to so many different types of edible flowers, shoots, stems and leaves that you can eat during the life cycle of a plant. After 5 years of kitchen work, it was nice to stop and appreciate where the food comes from.

Did you serve any celebrities while you were there?

Haha no, but last week I gave a hot sauce tasting to Don Cheadle at a Farmshop in Los Angeles!

What would your last meal be?

Bacon, eggs, challah French toast, real maple syrup.

Have you ever noticed any food/culture similarities or differences between Santa Cruz and Nashville?

Definitely that both cities love to eat! Nashville has its BBQ joints and biscuits and Santa Cruz has its farmers markets. There is definitely a time and place for both, and I hope to see more cross over in the future.

What’s your favorite Nashville restaurant?

City House.

Where can you sample or purchase Burn products in TN? What’s next for you and Burn?

So far we are carried at Eio and the Hive and are looking to expand in towards other markets. Just let us know where y’all want Burn and we will make it spicy!

You can follow Burn online and purchase their products at www.burnhotsauce.com