Businesses that offer cool alternatives: Holly & Chris Gardner from Safe Happy Family

A little while back I read some posts by Holly Gardner.  I then checked out Holly’s website and instantly knew she was someone I needed to feature in this series. Holly and Chris are scientists who have turned those observational and problem solving skills toward creating some great solutions to help families with children who have severe allergies.


Holly, would you please tell us how you came to start Safe Happy Family. 

When our son was diagnosed with life-threatening food allergies, we found ourselves rapidly thrown into a whole new world. We started looking for products that could help us reduce cross-contact in the home and when we came up short we decided to make our own. We never intended to start a company… But when we realized that our products could help out other families like ours we knew that we needed to take the leap. We got the ball really rolling a year ago and our site went live in December of 2014!

What did you find were the 3 biggest challenges when your son was diagnosed with a serious allergy?

First and foremost, we wanted to keep our son safe. Our greatest struggle has been figuring out how to balance keeping him safe with raising him as a “normal” little boy. We also found our new diet (strict avoidance of dairy) to be incredibly challenging. He wasn’t diagnosed with additional food allergies until several months after he was initially diagnosed, and by then we’d learned more about reading labels and avoiding cross-contact. The other major challenge we faced was how to educate others without sounding preachy or downright crazy. Food allergies can be difficult to understand if you don’t live with them, and we work really hard to educate others with kindness and grace.

In your bio it mentions that both yourself and your husband are scientists and artists. I love how you’ve combined these skills to come up with a simple and clever solution for families with food allergies.

Yes, we are both nerds.  Chris is a fisheries biologist that deals with a lot of underwater robotics and camera systems and my background is in engineering (Ocean and Systems Engineering). Over the years, I’ve worked as a government consultant and math and science professor, but for the past six years I’ve owned and operated a photography studio. While Chris doesn’t work with me regularly, he is heavily involved in the logistics and also has quite a talent for photography (he’s more interested in nature photography, whereas I prefer people.) Because of our backgrounds and shared interests, we live in this strange little world where we can make statistics jokes and then transition into a conversation about the nuances of light. Of the two of us, he runs more on the technical side and I on the creative side. Together, we are able to work through challenges and truly see them from every angle.

Would you please tell us about the 4 key products you design and sell through your business Safe Happy Family and how they help the newly diagnosed with food allergies?

  • The Food Allergy Binder has been our “baby.” When our son was diagnosed, we found ourselves with stacks of test records and notes. In an attempt to keep it all organized and easily accessible, I created a binder. As time went on, we refined it until it became not just a binder but a tool to make his life safer. It’s the place we turn to in moments of both uncertainty and joy. We not only track his medical appointments, test results, emergency information, financials and allergic reactions but also his milestones and moments of joy. It’s become an indispensable tool for us and other caregivers (grandparents, etc.)

allergy binder by gina zeidler(Picture by Gina Zeidler)

After we refined the binder over a year, I bounced the idea off a couple of other food-allergy families and then moved forward with making it something “real.” We believe in this product more than any other because we truly believe it can not only help someone feel warm and tingly from staying organized, but is truly capable of helping save lives.

HG13256_1500wide_1024x1024(Photo by Holly Gardner )

  • Cutting boards – Our cutting boards were one of the first products that we developed. Our method for avoiding cross-contact was to put a piece of tape on our “safe” cutting board to differentiate it from others (at the time we had our son’s allergens in the house.) The tape wouldn’t stick for very long and outside friends/family didn’t understand our code, so we sought out a more permanent solution. Our Allergy-Alert boards let everyone know that extra caution is required and is incredibly helpful in preventing cross-contact!

HG13244r_medium(Photo by Holly Gardner)

  • Sporks – Our sporks were created after our little friend, Kendall, experienced anaphylaxis from a contaminated spoon. After her episode, she was afraid to use regular silverware and would only use disposable utensils. The Big Red Spork and Spork Jr’s were made especially for her to bring to school and use at home. She knows it’s hers because it’s clearly labeled and her family knows that extra caution is required. Our little man now only uses his blue Spork Jr; he knows it’s his safe utensil and mastered it at a very early age!

spork by holly gardner(Photo by Holly Gardner)

  • Water bottles – We were working on completing our line of allergy-alert dishware when our son experienced anaphylaxis after he grabbed another kid’s sippy cup. It was one of the scariest moments of my life, and it really drove the home how important this work is. Now, he only uses his clearly labeled straw cup and knows that he can only drink from his “safe cup.”


AdultCup_medium(Photo by Holly Gardner)

Lastly, would you like to share some of your favourite allergy friendly cooking tips?

I’m going to be honest and fess up that I do very little of the cooking… Chris is a whiz in the kitchen and has taught our non-allergic daughter to make some amazing dishes.

  • We do not always try to re-invent the wheel – we like to take old family recipes and modify them.
  • One basic principle we cook by is to use simple, fresh ingredients so we know exactly what goes into our food.
  • We rarely measure things and recipes vary greatly depending on what’s in the refrigerator.
  • We use meal preparation as way for us to foster creativity and spend time together.

View More: by Gina Zeidler)

If you’d like to learn more about Holly and Chris and purchase some of their allergy friendly products everything you need to know is right here: