It’s a blustery autumn day in central Illinois. Adam Carlson, 32, hops out of his silver GMC pickup and ambles toward the two-story whitewashed barn where he spent countless hours helping his dad repair inherited farm equipment during his childhood.
“I could never have predicted that I’d wind up back here,” Carlson says, sliding one of the large barn doors open to reveal a jumble of machinery, a couple of tractors, and a combine.
“Back here” is Ford County, home to the 360-acre Carlson Centennial Farm, which has been passed down through the generations since it was established in 1919. Adam Carlson left Ford County right after he graduated high school, first for the Naval Academy, then on to South Carolina, Hawaii, and Virginia. But after more than a decade across the country, and very much without intention, he’d landed back in his hometown.
“We’re not just contributing to the nation’s food supply, but also to the energy sector. Ford County is a very special place considering its ability to do both of those things.”
So much had changed—the farmhouse he grew up in was torn down and the family moved to town. His dad eventually stopped working the fields and leased the acreage to a tenant farmer. But most notably—and suddenly—the generations before him were gone.
“At 32 years old, I’m the oldest Carlson left,” he says. “This past year, my dad and grandma passed away of lung cancer eight months apart. It’s been a tough year to say the least.”
For Carlson, two silver linings accompanied the overwhelmingly difficult year. First, the precious months that his dad spent with his first grandchild, Carlson’s now 2-year-old son Drew. And second, a job that brought Carlson back home to Ford County during this particularly poignant season.
Building a Legacy
Carlson had had an eye on Apex Clean Energy since he was stationed at the Virginia Military Institute in Lexington as an ROTC instructor. Apex, headquartered an hour away in Charlottesville, was growing rapidly, and Adam’s expertise and military experience fit right in. But it wasn’t until a couple of years later, during an interview, that he realized how perfect a fit the company truly was.
“The vice president I interviewed with mentioned that he was on a work trip out in Ford County, Illinois. He had no idea I grew up here, and I didn’t know Apex was developing a project here,” says Carlson. “Of all the rural counties where Apex could have a project, and of all the renewable energy companies I could have been interested in—how do you explain that? It was truly a full-circle event, especially at this moment in my life.”
Fast forward a month or two, and Carlson is back in Ford County, serving as project manager and overseeing the construction of the 120 MW Ford County Wind farm. Over the past six months, more than 250 people on-site have helped raise dozens of turbines out of the corn and soybean fields.
“We’re not just contributing to the nation’s food supply, but also to the energy sector. Ford County is a very special place considering its ability to do both of those things,” says Carlson.
He has a strong belief in striving for energy independence—ingrained from his years of military service—but this accomplishment also resonates personally. For Carlson, Ford County Wind represents even more than the shift to a clean energy future—it’s his personal contribution to the community that raised him and instilled the value system that continues to guide him to this day.
Over its lifetime, the project will contribute more than $36 million in new revenue to the local government and generate approximately $45 million in lease payments for landowners—sums not often seen in rural communities.
“More than a century ago, my family established an agricultural legacy that’s been passed down through generations here in Ford County, where I’m now committed to doing my best to support those same values through my work in renewable energy,” says Carlson.
For decades to come, through both the centennial farm and the wind farm, the Carlson family legacy will live on in Ford County—the first of many communities that Adam Carlson will leave his mark on as Apex leads the shift to a clean energy future.