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1970 Earth Day Event Inspires Lifelong Career for Vermont Conservationist

By Amy Overstreet, Public Affairs Specialist, NRCS Vermont

Drew Adam has had a long and fruitful career with NRCS, starting in 1978 working on the national soil survey in Windham County, Vermont. Most of his career as a soil scientist was spent in Vermont, but he knew that he always wanted to see the world. Through his career with SCS/NRCS, Adam seized the chance to realize that dream with USDA details served overseas. Learn about how his trip to the nation’s first Earth Day event in 1970 led to his lifelong commitment as a conservationist.

Drew Adam fondly remembers his trip to the nation’s first organized Earth Day event. “When I took that local train into Philadelphia to Fairmont Park to attend the first Earth Day rally in April of 1970, there were over 20,000 young people in attendance. It was very exciting. I was not alone, and I realized, together there may be hope after all,” he says.

The now historic event, which turns 50 this year, was created by an ad hoc committee of students, professionals, leaders of grass roots organizations and businessmen concerned about the environment. Ultimately, it was also the inspiration for Earth Week , celebrated each year from April 16-22.

It was also a turning point in his life that led Adam to pursue his profession as a soil conservationist, culminating in a 40-year career with the United States Department of Agriculture, Natural Resources Conservation Service (USDA-NRCS). He retired from NRCS in Brattleboro, Vermont, in 2014 but returned to continue his work via USDA’s Agriculture Conservation Experienced Services (ACES) Program until last year. He now continues his conservation commitment as a conservation planner with the Vermont Association of Conservation Districts (VACD).

As Earth Week turns 50 in 2020, and Adam celebrates his 47 years as a conservationist, we asked him to share his story about his pivotal experience at the nation’s first Earth Day celebration and his amazing journey as a lifelong conservationist.

What motivated you to go to attend the nation’s first Earth Day event back in 1970?

The feeling that things were not right with the world was growing in my mind.  The loss of open space, the polluted waters, the litter in the streets.  Was this just me or were others out there concerned about the same issues?  I am from Philadelphia originally, and had no self-awareness of my environment (Drew was one of eight kids!). In high school my older sister Mary brought home some records and I listened to one of them—Joni Mitchell’s “Big Yellow Taxi”—and it really spoke to me. The chorus, “don’t it always seem to know that you don’t know what you got till it’s gone – they paved paradise and put up a parking lot.”  My girlfriend at the time, Marcia, and I took the Philly local train to Fairmount Park to learn more about this new thing called Earth Day. I was a senior in high school. We have now been married for forty years.

What was your path to a career with NRCS?

I began college at the University of Maryland in 1970 and had no idea what I wanted to get into, but I knew that it had to be something in the environmental field, yet I had no real background. A schoolmate told me about a great “Introduction to Soils” course, and I signed up the fall of my sophomore year. I was totally hooked after being a part of the soil judging team and then learned about an opportunity to spend a summer as a soil trainee in Vermont with USDA Soil Conservation Service. I then knew that I wanted to be a soil scientist and map soils. I loved it. I remember driving around with my supervisor and saying, “all I can see are lines on the land!” Adam graduated with his BS degree in Agronomy and Soil Science.

Adam also had the opportunity to serve internationally with USDA and spent time in Afghanistan (serving two assignments, 2005 and 2012) and in Uganda and Kenya.

I went to Logar Province in Afghanistan from January -July 2013 and then went to Mazar until July 2014. I was impressed by the graciousness of the Afghanistan people; they were always thankful. I even had dinner with Tom Brokaw, as there were often journalists visiting and reporting.

We salute Drew Adam for his loyal dedication to protecting and improving natural resources, here in the Unites States--and beyond. Happy Earth Day!!

TOP PIC: Drew Adam at the Brattleboro, VT field office,  far left, as a student trainee from the University of Maryland, with Bob Brown, instructor at Vermont Technical College; Paul Love NRCS soil scientist from Kentucky; Ed White, student trainee from the University of Maryland; and Will Sheehan, project leader 4 Orange County Vermont Soil Survey.  Drew Adam, photographed below in February 2020, at the Brattleboro Field Office.

BOTTOM PIC: Drew Adam, photographed below in February 2020, at the Brattleboro Field Office.

Drew Adam and photo

Drew Adam, Vermont conservationist