Q&A with Adam Scharf ’01: From sod roof to bikes: Investing in a hometown, one project at a time

By Sara Klassen for Goshen Commons

Adam Scharf, a 2001 graduate of Goshen College, is a former City Council candidate, owner of Red Tail Farm, partner of Venturi Pizza Pub and owner/operator of Rethinking Buildings, a remodeling and construction business focused on aesthetic, social  and environmental responsibility.

Q: Where did you grow up?

A: Goshen is my hometown.

Q: You own the house just across Main Street from the college, the one with the sod roof; what’s the story there?

 A: As I was graduating from Goshen College I lived in the basement of that house and it was rough.

When I ended up moving back to Goshen I decided it would be a good project to take on and I thought that the building just behind it would be a neat spot. So I bought it and got it approved so I could live there.

Then I got going on a long-term project of salvaging materials and doing a green roof. I was working on LEED certification and going through checklists. The whole place is a collection of salvaged things. The Goshen High School gym floor is my floor, and I’ve used the old floor from Goshen College’s Union building as well.

Q: What did you intend to do with the sod roof house?

I wanted to move tenants out of renting into home ownership through savings programs and incentives, putting aside a certain amount of their rent for down-payment. But unfortunately the zoning didn’t go through for that.

Q: How did you become interested in remodeling projects?

A: When I was living in Seattle I got into natural building, cob building, straw bale building, and in moving back here there was a cob-and-straw-bale timber frame house going up on Middlebury Street. I saw a natural building community here that I thought was a nice jumping off point from what I was doing before in the Pacific Northwest.

Q: Were your projects in Seattle your first experience in remodeling?

A: I bought one house while I was living in that basement apartment in college. A buddy and I were looking for something to do so we fixed it up, and sold it. I had some sort of idealistic notion like “I want to do things with my hands, create things.  I have had my nose in a book for 22 years and I don’t have anything to show for my labor.”

Q: Are there other projects you’ve been a part of in Goshen?

A: I was part of Chain Reaction Bicycle Project, getting it up and going. I own Red Tail Farm just across the canal here. We have a community art show and a community garden down there.

I’ve done wetland restoration, and I’ve dabbled in some pasture-based, sustainable agriculture stuff.

I ran for City Council, organizing around trying to reroute some of the train tracks, and I got interested in the social justice issues in that, like how built environment and geography affect different groups of folks, how there literally are “the other side of the tracks.“

Q: What motivates you to get involved in projects like this?

A: I honestly think this is a pretty cool place and there are a lot of great people who have energy, are plugging in, cooperating and making things better.

I was in Mali for SST (Study-Service Term with Goshen College). That, and subsequent travels really impacted my view of urbanization and brain drain in small communities worldwide and how people leaving their hometowns is a real problem. Maybe that’s an ethic that motivates me to work in Goshen.

>> Read the rest of this article on the Goshen Commons website.