James D. “Jim” Martin ’86
A relationship with the land
“Choose a job you love, and you’ll never work a day in your life.”
For Jim Martin, Charleston Parks Conservancy program director and James Island farmer, no saying could be more apropos.
“I’ve always known I wanted to garden. Even as a tiny child, my parents always let me have a little garden plot of whatever I wanted. And I knew I wanted to study horticulture at Clemson when I was in the tenth grade,” Martin said.
Martin has spent his entire working life acting on his childhood impulse to make things grow. He has worked in public horticulture throughout South Carolina for more than 25 years. At Riverbanks Zoo, he played a pivotal role in conceptualizing and developing the zoo’s 90-acre botanical garden. He was instrumental in master plan development for the Mepkin Abbey Botanical Garden. He has also been vice-president of horticulture for Brookgreen Gardens on Pawleys Island.
In 2007, S.C. businesswoman Darla Moore invited Martin to help launch the nonprofit Charleston Parks Conservancy, which partners with the City of Charleston and local communities to renovate and maintain the city’s parks and greenspaces through its Charleston Park Angels program.
“The Park Angels program is founded on the concept that if you give people the opportunity to help with their parks and greenspaces, they will make it happen,” Martin said. The group is currently filling bare patches of dirt with lush plantings and replacing decades-old playground equipment with the latest and safest at 27 sites.
But Martin’s life wouldn’t be complete if he didn’t also grow vegetables as he did when he was a child, so in 2012, he started a small boutique farm on Johns Island where he leases 1.25 acres through Lowcountry Local First’s incubator farm program. Martin sells his seasonal vegetables and herbs to local restaurants by focusing on what each restaurant’s specific needs might be and what he as a small farmer can grow for them. Martin says that the evolving “foodie culture” in Charleston has resulted in the understanding that buying fresh, locally grown, high-quality produce results in a better product.
“I’ve had a great career. I love what I’m doing. And what I did at Clemson helped get me here,” Martin said.
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