ST. JOHN PLANTATION, Maine — At 13 years old, Adam Jandreau may well be among Maine’s youngest entrepreneurs.
The St. John Plantation seventh-grader, who was diagnosed with autism when he was 18 months old, is already an experienced business owner after starting his Adam’s Lunch Box and Greenhouse four years ago with some help from his parents, Lisa Morine and Jeff Jandreau
According to his mother, when Adam was younger the autism made it difficult for him to make any decisions about what he’d like for his lunch or snacks while at school. And, if he did not like it, she feared the food could go uneaten.
“So I would overdo it with an array of items, so hopefully when he looked at it he could make a choice for himself,” Morine said. “The teachers and ed techs loved investigating Adam’s lunch box in wonder of what they might find. The rest of the students started noticing how much he’d bring to school, and all of a sudden his lunch box was famous.”
About four years ago, Adam became interested in his own nutrition, Morine said, and the family decided to put up a greenhouse to give him the chance to plant and grow his own vegetables.
“When the greenhouse got up and running, Adam decided he wanted to sell vegetables,” she said. “He now has a following of loyal customers.”
In his greenhouse Saturday, Adam proudly showed off the sprouting greens as he plucked weeds from the rows.
“Those are my onions,” he said, pointing to several orderly rows. “But that’s a weed, and I don’t want that here.”
Adam has onions, spinach, lettuce, bok choy and celery coming up in the greenhouse. Tomatoes, cucumbers and green peppers will be available later in the season.
Several feet away, behind the family’s home along the St. John River, two coops house Adam’s flock of egg-laying hens — he also sells the eggs — and two resident roosters.
“That’s Spike and Mr. White,” Adam said, pointing to a the two roosters. “Did you hear that? That was a rooster [crowing]. I can tell it’s one and not a hen because of the way it sounds. That was Spike, by the way.”
Two brooding hens cluck contentedly as Adam gently strokes them.
“That’s a mom and her baby,” he said. “These chickens lay smaller eggs, but I don’t see any in here now.”
When vegetables and eggs are ready for sale, Morine uses social media to get the word out.
“I’ll put a post up on Facebook, and people get in touch with us to let us know what they want,” she said. “Then Adam picks it, packages it up and we deliver.”
Morine said Adam also supplies the Market Street Co-op in Fort Kent with fresh vegetables during the summer months. More recently, according to his mother, Adam has become interested in the area’s wild edibles.
“We are surrounded by food here,” Morine said. “You don’t need to spend a lot of money to eat good food.”
Adam has a difficult time learning in a traditional setting, Morine said, but that does not stop him.
“He’s as smart as a whip,” she said. “And he is really proud of what he has done with the greenhouse and learning about wild edibles.”
To learn how to build and properly set up his 20-by-48-foot greenhouse, Adam watched online instructional and YouTube videos, Morine said. The family also worked together to secure a small U.S. Department of Agriculture grant to fund the greenhouse construction.
From his mother, a former nutrition educator, Adam gained an appreciation for healthy food.
“For a kid his age, he eats really well [and] is not afraid of vegetables,” his father, Jeff Jandreau, said.
“I’m not afraid of dessert, either,” Adam said with a grin. “I like a whoopie pie.”
At the same time, he enjoys teaching his peers about good nutrition and sharing his newfound knowledge of wild edibles.
“He really enjoys sharing information on how to grow, find and eat fresh food,” Morine said. “It’s great to see him interacting with other kids doing that.”
Morine credits that attention to a nutritional diet and working in the greenhouse with helping her son’s mental and physical health.
“It has built up his confidence,” she said. “I can see where he could become a hermit so easily, [but] this business is teaching him social skills, and he will walk up to anyone and ask how they are doing. He is really good with people of all ages.”
A believer in helping in any way he can, Adam points to a section of his garden that is reserved for vegetables planted for Katie’s Krops, an initiative started by Katie Stagliano of South Carolina aimed at encouraging youth around the country to plant food to feed the hungry.
In 2013, Adam received a four-year, $400 grant from Katie’s Krops to expand his garden.
“He donates all the food from that part of the garden to the local food bank,” Morine said. “Food waste really bothers [Adam] so he even takes old canned tuna or salmon and we make dog and cat snacks out of it to sell.”
Adam said he has no intention of stopping his fresh vegetable business and looks forward to making his living as a gentleman farmer as an adult.
He dreams of sharing his love of food and nutrition with the community, or as he puts it “his people,” and loves talking to anyone, young and old, about food, wild edibles and ways to prepare them.
“After I turn 18, maybe I can grow all of my own food,” he said.
“He has a lot of farmer friends,” Morine said. “He loves to talk tractors and crops with them anytime he can. That is wonderful to see happen.”