SFWS Alumni Spotlight: Adam Howard of Arbor Day Farms
Bachelor of Applied Science, Forestry and Business ‘97
Adam Howard is the director of Farm Operations for Arbor Day Farm Lied Lodge and Conference Center, a 260-acre Arbor Day Foundation property in Nebraska City, Nebraska.
In 2008, he joined Arbor Day Farm as director of production and shipping. In that role, he managed the propagation and distribution of more than 4 million tree seedlings for members nationwide and oversaw the production of a 25-acre fruit orchard producing apples and peaches for on-site retail and grapes used to produce more than 10,000 bottles of wine per year.
He became director of Arbor Day Farm in 2014.
What do you value most about Arbor Day Farm and your role there?
Arbor Day Farm is a beautiful setting. It is a resort property at heart, containing a lodge on property, a state park that we manage, a tree-centered attraction called the Tree Adventure, other historical buildings, and a host of other experiences such as walking paths. It is located on the original estate of J. Sterling Morton, founder of our national Arbor Day as we know it.
What I value about my work is that I love what I do, and I love it on a daily basis. I help build an experience that impacts our guests in ways that they otherwise would not get on any other property. We have a story to tell here, and I am part of that storytelling. Our mission as an organization is that “We inspire people to plant, nurture, and celebrate trees.”
We don’t want our guests to just stay with us. We want them to see the world as a greener place and a world that they can help—by planting trees, loving trees, and seeing the value that trees bring to our lives. My role as Director of Farm Operations allows me to set the vision for what our property can be in the future and help steer the teams and make sure we accomplish our goals.
What drew you to the field of forestry, and how did your Auburn degree prepare you for your career?
Although born in Montgomery, my early childhood was based in the suburbs of New Orleans. It wasn’t until the sixth grade that my family moved back to Alabama, to Leeds—both my parents were from Leeds and the Birmingham area—and I enrolled in the Boy Scouts.
Moving from the suburbs of New Orleans to the beautiful rolling hills of the Birmingham area was inspiring to me even at a young age. I was exposed to natural areas all through the Southeast during my scouting career (in which I eventually attained Eagle). It was in the eighth grade that I did a science project on a forestry career and it just stuck with me. I knew midway through high school that I wanted to attend Auburn and work on my forestry degree. I should also give credit to my parents. My parents exposed me to some wonderful natural areas growing up. Places like the Smoky Mountains, the Blue Ridge Parkway, numerous camping trips, and a three-week car trip through the western national parks made an indelible expression on me and probably solidified my choice of career more than the scouting experience did.
Like all degrees, it is only a start to a career path that is yours for the making. It is only a tool in the toolbox. I was fortunate to work early on with a large reforestation company in Alabama growing seedlings and managing the seed plant that worked with genetic orchards throughout the Southeast. Even though tied to mainstream forestry, I found myself gaining more horticultural experiences than any. I was able to experience a couple other roles in the procurement industry and I found that I just did not like working in that arena, and, I just wasn’t good at it.
I wanted to be a leader and I knew that I wanted to potentially work in the non-profit field. It was in 2008 that my family and I moved to Nebraska (where my wife is from) for me to start working at Arbor Day Farm, which is a property owned and operated by the Arbor Day Foundation.
The Arbor Day Foundation is a global leader in the planting of trees worldwide. It is here that I have grown into my current role impacting guests on property and creating a space that allows them to take the ethos of tree planting with them even after they leave. Auburn prepared me to think big and to think differently. I credit Auburn for developing the leader in me and encouraging me to seek a not-so-standard avenue to the typical forestry career. I am way more hospitality now than forestry, but the core of Auburn, and the forestry principles learned, remains. These values help steer me in continuing to develop the leader in me and keep pushing me to make my organization better.
What motivates you in your work?
I am motivated by team members that want to impact guests in a positive fashion and by giving of themselves to create a space that is memorable and inspiring. Without guests on property there is not a story to tell. Without inspired guests we can’t pay it forward and impact our world for the better.
What advice would you give students who want to follow a similar career path?
You don’t have to fit into the “normal” forestry profile. I considered myself an outsider when I was enrolled in forestry school at that time. I camped, I backpacked, I worked in national parks and national forests during school, etc. Point is, I didn’t fit the mold either.
You must find what it is you are passionate about and go after it. After a few years in the working field, I found that I was passionate about leadership and I give credit to the terrible bosses that allowed me to see the person that I didn’t want to be. I also found I was passionate about telling people stories and sharing my work, but I also understood that I didn’t want to work in the forestry field as I knew it. That led to the non-profit work I do now.
At the end of the day, I believed I could have a style that was uplifting, a style that added value to those around me, and a style that created action for the better. The school does a great job of teaching you the fundamentals, but it is up to you to script your destiny. Invest in yourself, always try new things, continue to learn throughout your career, and simply trust yourself. If you follow these things, I guarantee that you will see success. War Eagle!