By Molly Hays, Photography by Robin Oatts
Plenty of teens have summer jobs: dog-walking, babysitting, lawn mowing. Then there’s hard-working Hayden Bowlin, 14-year-old owner of Hayden’s Homegrown. This summer marks the fourth year the Powell eighth grader will grow, assemble, and sell his eponymous salsa kits.
Hayden’s salsa story begins with a prologue when, at age 10, his family’s garden produced a surfeit of tomatoes and onions. At his mom’s suggestion, Hayden shared the surplus with neighbors. They offered him money; he demurred. But, a business plan was born.
The following summer, Hayden planted four tomato plants, “a couple peppers, and a bunch of onions:” the holy salsa trinity. That July, he launched Hayden’s Homegrown, packaging his vegetables with homemade garlic sauce into handsome $5 salsa kits, which he sold at Powell’s Farmers Market. That first year, he sold 10 to 15 kits each Saturday, selling out most weeks. He’d found his summer job.
It helps that Hayden loves growing things, a passion he traces to his family. He credits his green thumb to many gardening mentors: his mom, maternal grandparents, paternal grandmother. And he reflects warmly on his earliest years, at his family’s former two-acre Hilliard home. “My mom has pictures of me when I was 3, picking radishes; it was my favorite thing. I could just go along, playing in the yard, and pick a carrot, or a tomato, and eat it.”
Eleven years on, Hayden speaks with a gardener’s attentive curiosity, about his current Powell plot (“there are no big trees, so it gets good, full sunlight”), and about his latest experimental crops, like rhubarb and loofah. From starts to weeding—“my least favorite part!”—to harvesting, Hayden does it all. Well, almost all. “I like to sleep in,” he admits, “so my mom likes to help water in the morning.” Indeed.
Still, good gardeners don’t always good businessmen make. Hayden, notably, enjoys both. Staffing a market stand early every Saturday is worlds away from weeding rows. And yet, Hayden reports, “People really enjoy talking to me, and I really enjoy talking to them!” Even when, say, it’s pouring down rain? “It’s still fun!” He’s a natural.
Fun in part, no doubt, due to strong sales, which are in turn due to Hayden’s savvy marketing. Tomatoes aren’t exactly scarce at Ohio markets, come mid-summer. But by packaging his wares in salsa kits, with that signature zesty lime-garlic sauce bonus, Hayden brings serious value-added, plus huge entertainment, to the equation. His customers include grandparents and grandkids; people hosting parties; and “a lot of parents, because it’s just fun and easy and you can’t mess it up.” Five dollars rarely deliver so much.
So what’s next for this 14-year-old entrepreneur? With weekly sales of 20 to 25 kits, Hayden’s extending his season to eight weeks. He’s also “aiming to add bruschetta kits this year,” a natural line extension. Also? He’d like to see his kits at local-area Whole Foods. Far-fetched? Perhaps. But so is a 4-year-old salsa kit company, owned by a 14-year-old. In other words: keep your eyes peeled.
Look for Hayden’s Homegrown from early-to-mid-July (when the tomatoes come on), through early September, at the Powell Farmers Market Saturdays, from 9:00am to 12:00pm. The market is located in the parking lot of 240 N. Liberty Street, Powell.