FARMERS SMELL DIFFERENT from the rest of us. They do. They smell like earth, sweat, the sweetness of berries and the tang of onions, garlic and leeks. It’s a way of life.
For the past 20 years Michael Maddox has gladly smelled different, being slave to fork and spade on his farm in the heart of Effingham County. Green Bridge Farm, as it is known, was family land from the 1700s that Maddox purchased over twenty years ago.
And he’s been “roughin’ up the garden” ever since. While most of the property is wooded, the organic farm rests on four of his total 25 acres.
He cultivates a mouthwatering array of fruits and vegetables including blueberries, grapes, cucumbers, potatoes, blackberries, figs, peaches, leeks, basil, red okra, squash, zucchini, rosemary, corn, apples, onions, broccoli, arugula, lettuce, melons, peanuts, garlic, green beans, edamame and eggplant.
And his farming techniques are all organic. He reuses newspaper as mulch, composts garden waste and kitchen scraps, uses advanced drip irrigation to conserve water and good old-fashioned sweat and muscle to plow, till, plant, fertilize, grow and harvest his crops.
He’s conscious of the inter-connectivity of a garden. He grows shade crops between the stalks of corn and leaves the arugula to flower to help the ailing bee population.
“All these years I’ve been out here by myself,” says Maddox, a landscape supervisor with the City of Savannah. “People ask me, ‘Why do you do that?’ It’s important to me to set an example, to show people that this can be done and can be enjoyed. You can get away from the grind.”
Green Bridge Farms — named for the symbiotic bridge between plants and the sun, converting light energy into food energy for humans — represents the past, present and future for Maddox. He hopes his simple farming lifestyle will serve as the foundation of a community — a green community.
“This land has been in my family for seven generations,” he explains. “Back then, people helped one another survive. They relied on one another. What I’m trying to do is show that people acting collectively are stronger than they would be individually.”
He has drafted plans and taken initial steps to subdivide his land into nine lots on 1.2-1.6 acres each. The four acres presently farmed organic vegetable gardens and orchard would constitute community space, open to families living in the small, rural community. A pond and performance stage would sit on another three acres of community property, to be maintained by the neighborhood association.
To protect the environmental integrity of his vision — and adhering to Tom Waits’s sentiments, “You can’t chase out nature with a pitchfork” — Maddox is encouraging sustainable development practices on the lots. Covenants include provisions for Earthcraft or LEED-certified homes (encouraged but not mandatory), natural looking facades, maximum 10 percent loss of woodland for house sites and setback stipulations to ensure privacy and aesthetic appeal to entire project.
Maddox’s own home serves as an example of what he’d like to see for his neighbors. He designed and built the two-story home himself with much recycled material. Most of the wood used in construction was grown in Effingham County and was milled in Chatham County.
Maddox hopes Green Bridge community will serve as a template for future development. “People have become isolated from one another and from their environment,” he says.
“I’d like this farm to serve as a bridge uniting disparate people behind a common cause. By circling our wagons, so to speak, I hope we as a community can prosper and provide a model for future sustainable communities.”
His organic garden has already contributed to a larger movement, adding to and thriving off of the support for locally grown, organic produce. Restaurants like Cha Bella, aVida and Alligator Soul have made a reputation for their high-quality, organic and locally-flavored dishes.
Now even catering and food distribution companies are getting into the mix. Chef Nick Mueller & Company and Green Tomato Concepts are two locally owned and operated food service companies that utilize solely organic and mostly local products.
Robbie Wood, chef/owner of Green Tomato Concepts (www.greentomatoconcepts.com, recently visited Green Bridge Farms, harvesting fresh vegetables to take back to his company kitchen. Green Tomato Concepts is an organic food marketing and distribution company founded on Wood’s desire to use the best local ingredients, which led to an extended passion for the local, sustainable movement.
“We strive to turn peoples’ focus back to the source of their food in an effort to encourage the Sustainable Movement,” says Wood, which is precisely why he supports efforts like Maddox’s.
At Green Bridge it is not uncommon for Saturday and Sunday morning to be spent laboring among the rows and afternoons to be passed on the front porch, Sam Adams in hand, talking farm talk. A conversation between farmer and chef reveals that Maddox should try growing ginger, chilis and artichokes — produce in high demand for Woods.
“This is my solution to the food crisis,” Maddox jokes. “Instead of working to get the food to market I’m working on how to get people here, to the food.”
After decades of going it alone, Maddox is ready to share his dream and fertile plot of soil. He’s been before the Effingham County Commission numerous times for approval on his development. A major holdup, and near deal-breaker, centered around a county requirement that the dirt road extending to his property from Zittrouer Road be paved at Maddox’s expense.
Lots at Green Bridge are being sold for a modest $40,000-$50,000. With the added cost of paving the road, Maddox feared he’d have to charge more for the lots making the project less affordable and accessible to interested buyers.
“I’ve been lucky to be able to do this,” Maddox says of his farm and development project. Maddox owns his land so he can set his own rate, absorb much of the financial burden in an effort to promote a green dream.
But he recognizes that it’s just not that easy for the average local developer. “We need tax incentives to make this work outside of here because for me it’s a labor of love. I’m not in it for the money.”
Maddox won a huge victory when the commission, with great overall support for his development project, passed a variance that would allow Maddox to surface his road at a lesser cost while utilizing green techniques. Road construction will begin in several weeks. After that, the property will be surveyed and Maddox will be collecting earnest money on lots. Of the nine lots, three are promised.
“I always wanted this land to be a learning center,” he says. “I knew I wouldn’t keep it for myself because that’s stupid. It’s stupid to keep all this for myself.”
And so, share he will. Until the land is sold and ground is broken on the Green Bridge Farms community, Maddox is content to tend to his crops and play host to area schoolchildren and visitors interested in his sustainable, and delicious, vision.
He welcomes you to come be a part of his “pickin’ project.” Visit his new website to find out how: