We are thrilled to welcome our long-awaited new CEO, Tasha Kennard! Tasha is a native Nashvillian who brings a wealth of both nonprofit and for-profit leadership experience to the Thistle Farms CEO role. Most recently Tasha was the Farm Program Manager for the Southall Farms resort property and start-up hospitality company. Prior to Southall Farms, Tasha served as the Executive Director of the Nashville Farmers Market for over seven years where she was responsible for strategic planning, budgeting, financial management, merchant, board and community relations, facility and program operations, tenant and management, marketing, small business and agribusiness resource development, government relations, revenue development, and personnel management.
Tasha's past work experience also includes serving as the Vice President of Second Harvest Food Bank of Middle Tennessee, Marketing Manager of Krispy Kreme Doughnuts, and the Public & Government Relations Specialist for The Ingram Group. In addition, Tasha has a Bachelor of Science degree with a major in mass communications from Middle Tennessee State University.
1) What is your favorite core value of Thistle Farms and why?
I heard Becca speak at the Les Dames conference in Nashville a few years ago and recall the goosebumps I felt when I heard her talk about radical hospitality. She shared the work of Thistle Farms and how you've "rolled out the welcome mat" and how "love is in the details" and it spoke my heart. At that time, I was serving as the executive director of the Nashville Farmers' Market where I learned how to lean into my faith and offer grace and mercy in spite of what was offered to me. I learned how to love big and welcome all in the face of much adversity. I had to practice putting aside assumptions and expectations on a daily basis and demonstrate respect and honor for everyone as they are. I had to fight for inclusion, equity and equality for the diverse, often misunderstood and undervalued community I served. These were some of the most challenging years of my personal and professional life thus far, but they were instrumental in shaping me into the person I am today. To me, radical hospitality creates safety in vulnerability and welcomes without judgment or perception. It meets differences with curiosity, acceptance and celebration. It is big, bold love and anticipation of need. It is a commitment to making the table longer and to hosting and serving each other with grace and gratitude. It is creating a place of welcoming and belonging - a home - and it's embodied in the work of Thistle Farms. I'm honored to start this journey with each of you and to experience how our values show up in our relationships, in our work and in the community.
2) Describe your leadership style.
Forgive me in advance for the amount of coaching analogies forthcoming...I am a coach at heart and believe you play like you practice. Decoded, that means I am committed to working with you individually and as a team and will always encourage us all to put in the work and effort to be the best we can be - for our own personal and professional growth and for the organization's mission and impact. My communication style is direct, clear and kind and I appreciate it in return. I am committed to building relationships, listening, learning and establishing belonging and trust. I will be candid, honest and vulnerable - I hope you will, too. I respect and value what everyone brings to the team and will strive to support a culture that lifts up our talents, offer opportunities to learn and grow, celebrate wins and what we learn in the mistakes and losses and help us navigate the challenges and opportunities brought about by our work and the growth of the organization.
3) How do you feel about addiction?
When I told my brother I was going to work at Thistle Farms, he said, "I'm proud of you." He has shaped my life in ways he will never fully understand and I love him for it. My brother's drug use had been the worst kept secret at our high school - everyone knew but me and he worked hard to keep it that way. He was in deep and had become a dealer to support his habit. Our relationship had shifted and he seemed angry all the time, so I tried to talk to him which ended with him threatening to kill me while holding a knife to my throat. I will never forget the pain in his eyes that night. Weeks later, a friend told me that he was doing cocaine. I decided to intervene on the way home from school armed with anxiety of what was going to happen to him if he didn't stop. We were just kids - me, 15 and him, 16. We were both scared and unsure of how to handle his secret. He promised me he would stop and I believed him. He didn't. About a month later, his best friend went to rehab and my brother asked me to check the mail before Mom could in case his friend sent him letters. He also asked me to run an errand with him and told me to stay in the car and if he didn't come out, to drive away. He told me he loved me like he was telling me for the last time and I waited for the longest 30 minutes of my life and when he got back to the car, he was pale and wet with sweat. He wouldn't tell me what happened, but he told me he had to tell his dealer he wanted out and he promised me he would stop. He didn't. I checked the mail everyday and watched him struggle and promise every day was going to be the last day. Ultimately, another parent reached out to my parents and asked how my brother was doing and started asking how they could help support my brother's friend as he came home from rehab. My parents were shocked and called a family meeting. That's when the shit hit the fan. My brother ended up in rehab at Cumberland Heights and there, during family week, I learned that my father was also a recovering addict and we came from a long line of addicts. What in the world were they talking about? My parents were Sunday school teachers and deacons at the church. I had never seen them take a sip of wine. But then, blurry memories of my early childhood flickered in and I remembered how they fought and when my sister ran away from home and how she had struggled for so many years, too. Honestly, the only things that got me through those days were my faith, the support of my family and friends and Sunday meals at Cumberland Heights. Those mashed potatoes were the best potatoes on the planet and when no one had much to say over dinner, we could talk about those potatoes or just go for a second helping. At 15, my perfect little world seemed like it was imploding, but my parents, with the help of many, held us all together with love. They loved each other and us like they had been loved through their struggles, and we all made it through relapse after relapse over a 15 year span. My family's journey with addiction is one of mercy - forgiveness - acceptance - second, third, fourth...chances, heartache and most of all, enduring love. For me, it instilled a strong belief in personal accountability, an ongoing mindful approach to behaviors I have and paved a path of learning to set boundaries. It taught me how to love unconditionally. It also taught me that food brings people together - at their worst and best, at beginnings and endings and everything in between - and it has become my love language at home, at work and in the community.
4) What's the best live musical act you've seen in Nashville?
Hands down, Vince Gill at the Ryman. Runner up, my college roommates daughter, Lucy Myers, who performed at the Ryman a few weeks ago singing Carrie Underwood's song, Something in the Water. She brought us all to our feet and I could not hold back the tears as she bravely laid it all on the line.