When Adam Cottrill moved home to his parent’s farm in 2005, a sweeping 150 acres in Campbell County, he joined them at farmer's markets to sell their produce. For years they did this, and for years, Adam felt unsatisfied, like there was a better use of their land and time.
“We sold what everyone else was selling – broccoli, potatoes, stuff like that. You’re in a closed market, so everyone is competing with the same product and trying to beat prices,” he says. “We sold there for many years. Then, I started getting to know local chefs and linked up with Jeff DeAlejandro of OliBea, which was a popular breakfast spot. He bought from me and said he’d buy everything I had left over from the market. For a farmer, it was like hitting the lottery.”
By 2017, Adam knew it was time to go in a new direction. On a hunch, he went straight to local chefs and asked what they wanted. He took seed catalogs to meetings and had them point out the produce they’d like to have.
“It was so simple. That’s all it took,” says Adam. “That’s what I’ve been interested in any way, being able to have things that others don’t or can’t get readily. There are only so many vegetables in the world. I grow mustard greens, but not the kind you see in the grocery store. I grow potatoes, but not the Yukon potatoes. I grow things that light up a plate.”
By 2018, Adam started to develop a good reputation among local chefs, connecting via text or through Instagram. Today, Sugartree Curated Goods delivers to about ten restaurants in Knoxville, Maryville, and Walland. And there’s all manner of relationships, be it dropping off a week’s supply at Blackberry Farm or delivering to Chef Trevor Stockton at RT Lodge and hanging around to chat. It’s business, but it’s also personal.
“Chefs are so happy to see me. Most chefs get things from local purveyors, but my stuff is on a different level,” he says. “Any greens or anything fresh, I pick it day-of. It’s picked that morning and delivered that afternoon. They’re jovial about the delivery.”
It’s like giving artists the best supplies. The produce Adam grows and forages are as Appalachian as can be. From paw paws and muscadines to foraged mushrooms and Autumn Olives, he is providing local chefs with flavorful and local ancestral food.
“People lived off this land for years. I like foraging because it helps dispel the cultural mythos behind what’s edible in the wild and what’s not,” says Adam. “I mean, I’m not a chef. I just tell them what I have, and they say yay or nay. There’s a type of sumac that’s red and it’s used in Indian spices, but it’s native to the area. So, I sold a fair amount this year. It grows on the side of the road, so people pass it all the time.”
Though Adam’s parents moved to East Tennessee from Florida in 1972, his heritage is deeply Appalachian. He spent many summers and holidays visiting family in West Virginia, where his ancestors landed in the 1800s.
Over the years, as Sugartree Curated Goods grew, so did Adam’s curiosity about other foods he could grow, forage, or curate. He took to the internet and connected with like-minded farmers and growers, which ultimately led to curating truffles and caviar. With partnerships all over the world, Adam built a unique supply business that benefits every patron who dines at these local restaurants.
“I sell everything I raise, and it’s just me for the most part,” says Adam. “This year I grew cabbages on request, and then I grew some wax beans, which were a fun project. I grew them just for fun, so I didn’t put them on the list. I just asked a chef if he wanted them and he said yes without even asking the price. They know it will be good.”
Follow Sugartree Curated Goods on Instagram @sugartreecuratedgoods
"I grow things that light up a plate."