Composting is in his blood- Adam Martin carries on what his father started

The Recorder. July 20, 2014. By Andrea Bugbee.

GREENFIELD — Adam Martin may not say this himself, but these days it takes a renaissance man to farm dirt.

Martin, a 29-year-old Greenfield native, purchased his father’s organic compost and mulch farm in February. But turning yard waste, half-eaten school lunches, outdated grocery store produce and cardboard boxes into rich, nourishing compost isn’t easy. It’s a skill this green entrepreneur has invested a lifetime in learning.

“And we’re still learning,” Martin assured. “We’ll always be learning in this. This is just modern day farming. You just can’t survive off of cows and growing vegetables any more.”

In 1981, just a few years before Martin was born, his father, Robert Martin, purchased 90 acres in Greenfield to farm vegetables, beef cattle and other animals. Martin spent his childhood on the farm, riding alongside his father in the tractor, and later, driving the big machinery himself. “My heart was in it,” Martin said. “I didn’t even play sports. I always chose to be with my dad out working.”

During those years, what started out as sensible Yankee thrift grew into the Martin’s crop of the future: compost. In the beginning, the Martins accepted their neighbors’ yard waste, useful as mulch or compost to enrich the fields. They also shredded their neighbors’ newspapers for biodegradable animal bedding and collected school cafeteria waste to feed their pigs.

“My father is a very smart man. He’s a pioneer,” Adam Martin explained. By 1987, Robert Martin was granted one of the first composting permits in the state of Massachusetts. Today, Robert Martin has retired and Adam Martin has taken his lifelong apprenticeship to the helm, meeting the needs of landscapers, schools, restaurants and stores faced with high trash disposal rates and stricter disposal laws.

Effectively spinning straw into gold, Martin removes tons of food, leaves, brush and paper from the Massachusetts trash trail, then turns it into recycled compost and mulch for Bay State farms and lawns, selling it by the yard.

“Compost does not just happen. This is all science here. It’s all about carbon and nitrogen,” said Martin, standing amidst 10 rows of compost, each about four feet high and the length of a soccer field. Behind him tower two pyramids, one of yard waste, the other of food waste. The food pile is topped by snacking turkey vultures. It includes peelings and crusts as well as whole watermelon, cardboard boxes, and rotten squash. Because it doesn’t sit there long, the pile does not smell.

To understand the process, think of composting as baking fine bread. Beyond the right ingredients, it demands a process, trial and error, science, creativity, intuition and heaps of hard work.

Martin has to understand the chemistry of the gases composting uses and produces, as well as the biology of decomposition, and the preferences of the microorganisms that are his minions. To complicate matters, recyclable materials vary with the seasons, as does the weather — and both influence Martin’s path to the final product.

Furthermore, he earned a degree in diesel mechanics to keep his fleet of tractors, trucks, sifters and turners moving. He relies on his farming background to grow certain crops specifically to add to his compost, and he plies his business skills to pay his employees, appease his bankers and feed his young family.

Martin uses his “free” time to read trade journals and websites to learn about advances in his field. He works with the EPA and Greenfield’s waste removal legislators. He also hosts school tours to show area kids the magic he makes with their uneaten sandwich crusts.

“But it’s not a pat on the back saying this is something I’ve done. It’s not about me and I. It’s something we’re all doing together,” Martin emphasized, noting that without his father and four employees, he would have no business at all. Furthermore, a business dependent on recycling is dependent on the entire community.

”What’s my thorn in my side?” Martin asked. “It’s the contaminants.” By the time Martin’s Farm compost is ready for sale, more than 90 percent of the plastic forks, lunch baggies, Crayola markers (and, once, a 60-pound electric motor) that accidentally drop into the compost bin have been removed. Every week, these contaminants fill an eight-yard dumpster.

Martin believes that education is the cure.

Once organics recycling becomes habit rather than a chore, fewer misdirects will land in compost bins. Quoting the January, 2014 issue of MSW Management magazine, Martin said, “Food waste is the third largest component of generated waste, after yard waste and corrugated boxes, and second only to yard waste. Food waste makes up 30 percent of the waste stream. Most of that can be reused, either by composting, bio-mulch, waste energy, fertilizer, etc. About 80 to 85 percent of the waste stream is recyclable and organics. We’re taking the organics out of the waste stream and turning it into compost and selling it back to people to give them something to use to grow.

“I want to be an asset to this community,” Martin continued. “I want to be able to pay off my debt and support my family, but, being a Christian, being rich and famous isn’t my goal. It’s all about responsibility and accountability. We have to make that difference. We have to make that change. There’s a lot of talk about people wanting to go green, but there’s not a lot of action.

“Here,” Martin concluded, “There’s action.”