Know your product: Customers will ask a million questions about your product. Study & research your product/industry. You may not have all the answers, but it will make you feel better in sharing what you do know.
As part of my series about young people who are making an important social impact, I had the pleasure of interviewing Te’Lario Watkins II.
Te’Lario Watkins II (age 12) is a rising entrepreneur, author and hunger hero. He started Tiger Mushroom Farms after his involvement in a wonderful Cub Scout project. Since then, Te’Lario has sold his mushrooms to restaurants, small grocery stores and farmers markets. Due to the pandemic, Te’Lario has put more focus into his mushroom seasoning line. Te’Lario also started his nonprofit “The Garden Club Project” in March 2020. He has donated thousands of seeds to different organizations and has helped maintain community gardens. Currently, Te’Lario is working on starting his own community garden to serve a food desert community.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit. Can you tell us a bit how you grew up?
Well, so far things are going pretty good. I am growing up in Ohio with my parents and big sister, Kennedy. Although the pandemic has changed things a bit, we are quite successful and still have a lot of fun. I continue to go to Boy Scout meetings and enjoy going camping.
You are currently leading a social impact organization that is making a difference for our planet. Can you tell us a bit about what you and your organization are trying to change in our world today?
I started The Garden Club Project because I wanted to help people in my community. My mission is to help end hunger and encourage kids to eat healthier.
Can you tell us the backstory about what inspired you to originally feel passionate about this cause?
I started selling my mushrooms at farmers markets and noticed some people used coins or different cards to buy produce. My parents explained that some families needed help to buy food. I wanted to help and my sister and I started a small garden with a grant we applied for. We grew carrots and cucumbers and donated them to a local food bank because we saw a lot of people that needed food and we wanted to do more.
Many of us have ideas, dreams, and passions, but never manifest it. They don’t get up and just do it. But you did. Was there an “Aha Moment” that made you decide that you were actually going to step up and do it? What was that final trigger?
My “aha moment” was when I saw so many people in line to get food when I started volunteering at Food Rescue US. I rescued over 5,000 meals from local restaurants and would take them to local food banks. The Bishop at one food bank told me he feeds hundreds of people in a week! I decided that I wanted to help, because I wouldn’t want to be hungry.
Many people don’t know the steps to take to start a new organization. But you did. What are some of the things or steps you took to get your project started?
We had a lot of help from The Ohio State University. I attended a network event and met a law professor from OSU and he and his students helped us with the paperwork to file for my nonprofit. They loved my idea and were happy to help!
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company or organization?
One of the most interesting stories that has happened so far was being on the Steve Harvey Show when I was only 7 years old. I had a chance to share my business idea and he gave me some great advice. Another great story was meeting Ron Finley (The Gangster Gardener) in California. We were on a panel together about the “Future of Farming”. He started a community garden to feed his community fresh food. He inspired me so much to help my community more.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson or take away you learned from that?
One mistake I made when I tried to grow cabbage is that I didn’t protect it from the rabbits. It was growing so good and getting so big! At first, I saw small nibbles and one day it was gone! Now I use protective fencing to protect my produce.
None of us can be successful without some help along the way. Did you have mentors or cheerleaders who helped you to succeed? Can you tell us a story about their influence?
My parents are my number one mentors and biggest cheerleaders. I am lucky to have several other mentors that have helped me through the years. Alex & Nick- Founders of Back to the Roots — I bought my first mushroom kit from them & I’m their Junior Brand Ambassador.
Ron Finley- He encourages me to keep going.
Jin Jun -Founder of Seasnax- She is awesome and gives me tips about growing my mushroom seasoning line.
Are there three things the community, society, or politicians can do to help you address the root of the problem you are trying to solve?
Three things they can do to take care of the people are to provide them with access to healthy food, help them find jobs and offer an affordable and safe place to live.
How would you articulate how a business can become more profitable by being more sustainable and more environmentally conscious? Can you share a story or example?
Businesses can become more profitable by using local products and services. When people buy local produce, they are helping the environment and their community. Local produce cuts down pollution from trucks traveling thousands of miles. Businesses should advertise that they are local to interest people who want to support local products & services.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
1. Start small: If you try to grow to fast you may not be able to serve everyone. It may affect business in the future.
2. Talk to mentors: A lot of mentors have made mistakes along the way. They were kind enough to share them with me so I won’t make the same ones.
3. Know your product: Customers will ask a million questions about your product. Study & research your product/industry. You may not have all the answers, but it will make you feel better in sharing what you do know.
4. Use social media to market & advertise: It is free and it can help you sell more of your products or services.
5. Network A LOT: I have met a lot of chefs at the farmers markets, who bought my mushrooms to use in their restaurants. I met the OSU professor who help me create my nonprofit at a networking event.
If you could tell other young people one thing about why they should consider making a positive impact on our environment or society, like you, what would you tell them?
If you want to make a positive impact on our environment and society think about what is wrong and how you can make a difference. Small actions can make a big impact.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“Dream Big & Believe Big! If I can do it, so can you! I say this at the end of every speech I give at schools and other organizations. I want people to know they can do it, too. I did!!
Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂
I visited the White House when I was little and I wanted to see President Barack Obama. I only saw the security and tour guide. I would love to have a private lunch with President Obama. I want to be President one day and I would need him to be my mentor.
How can our readers follow you online?
Facebook : Tiger Mushroom Farms
Facebook: The Garden Club Project
Instagram: Tiger Mushroom Farms_
Instagram: The Garden Club Project
Email: [email protected]
This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success on your great work!