By Sara Johnson
As interest continues to buzz around Emergent Structures’ farm cart project, an intrigue in the recipient, Farmer Adam, seems to build. (Back story: I led a SCAD design management team on the farm cart’s research phase. Our paper focusing on the project was accepted at the 2015 International Food Design Conference).
Though the research and design team both worked with Adam Mentzer in their process, I found myself contemplating this young, local farmer’s story as well. When his farm’s name snuck into my Sunday New York Times reading ritual, I felt the final push. So on a December morning, I drove 20 minutes outside of Savannah to spend some time at the eponymous Adam’s Farm & Gardens.
A dirt road opened up to a small dwelling, a large and lovely porch, fields, greenhouses, trellises, a busy rooster and slumbering (temporarily) large-scale equipment—on what I learned was 18 acres of property. But even more appealing, after spending 60 seconds with Adam it was evident that he’s not the type that wants a spotlight nor platform to tell his tale. Nor does he find it necessary to have his story or his self-learned farming techniques broadcast. But he was more than willing to tour me around the farm and talk some shop around vegetable production, flowers, bed shapes and repurposed equipment.
One thing led to another and I found myself contentedly picking carrots across from Adam. Well, we started that way, my pace did not exactly match his seasoned approach. I soon realized the rows were like the hair salon chair—for whatever reason, inhibitions evaporate and a pleasant chattiness sets in.
Meet Adam Mentzer:
Adam (mostly) grew up in Savannah. He always had an idea that he was going to do something with the land and agriculture. He studied forestry in school and graduated with a degree in Natural Resources and the Environment from Sewanee University of the South. During the summers and after graduation, Adam was a wildland firefighter with the US Forest Service in the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forests in Arizona and at Eglin Air Force Base in Florida. He then worked in a timber and land operation locally.
Such work eventually enabled him to buy the land and develop the farm. He has spent five years transforming the property (from nothing) into bountiful crops and a respected local business. This obviously comes with intense effort and drive—the latter is also bountiful in Adam. He’s given endless time, money, heartache, loss and trial/error to arrive where he is today.
His awareness of these sacrifices has led to a sincere sense of gratitude. There’s also an innate privacy and humility about him. He prefers to stay “out of sight and out of mind,” allowing the focus to be on the produce that he grows. But he’s not isolated out there, he has a team of workers—some who have been around since the beginning.
He seems eternally ambitious—hungry to learn more, perfect what he’s doing and expand. He travels to places like Panama, Colombia and Ecuador with reverence towards their flower festivals and produce markets.
With our hands in the dirt, he shared some humorous pet peeves: lettuce on hands is like nails on a chalkboard; the smell of tomatoes can be overpowering. He’s proudest of his tomatoes and carrots. That isn’t surprising—both are multi-colored and seem to possess every color of the sun. He’s obviously not fond of farmers’ market patrons squeezing, smelling and handling his produce—only to abandon it and leave it for another. (I developed my very own related peeve the following day: red ants.)
When asked what he wants to be known for, he replied: “attractive, unique, high-quality and great tasting produce.” He genuinely enjoys selling at the farmers’ market. He has a thoughtful, creative mindset in considering the customers’ experience and the correlating stand presentation—where he is mindful of offering abundance, freshness, color and personal interaction.
“I’d love to have this farm and business grow into something that benefits more than me. I don’t just want to be the guy who is behind it all, paying staff and covering the cost. It’d be great if it could benefit people in other ways on a large scale.” This vision is paired with a deep belief that “things in life aren’t free.” He explains, “Effort, perseverance and dedication are necessary.” Considering his self-made journey and the daily labor of farming, this mindset resonates.
Presently, he looks forward to spring and its offerings—which he most likely will fill with new experimentation and continued self-learning. When asked about the farm cart (presently being built), he said that his spring squash might be the perfect test run.
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This project is one of Emergent Structures’ collaborative mentorship initiatives that has been graciously funded by Gulfstream Aerospace which aligns the design skills of students from SCAD (Savannah College of Art and Design) with the technical skills of Savannah Technical College.