Orchardist’s new book ‘a lot of fun’
LAWRENCE TOWNSHIP — The learning process involved in the ways crops are grown and adapting to changes in technology has always fascinated Gary Mount, owner of Terhune Orchards.
He’s been in love with learning new things all his life.
With the publishing of “A Farmer’s Life,” a collection of columns and stories from over the years as a farmer and leader in the New Jersey agriculture industry, he’s gathered a lot of what he’s learned to share with others.
“Putting this book together has been a lot of fun,” Mount related in the office of his wine barn, noting he’s been writing his stories and columns for 35 years for the Terhune Orchards newsletter.
He also wrote new columns — all are short vignette-style chapters — specifically for “A Farmer’s Life.”
“One of my college classmates, Jim Merritt, encouraged me to put out a book, so he was my editor,” Mount explained of the Pennington-based Merritt, a veteran journalist who writes a lot about fishing and for outdoor magazines.
“Jim got me going on the idea of doing the book,” Mount said. It took me a while and I was not as diligent as I might have been, but people are always so interested in what we do here. They keep asking questions. Why are you doing this? How are you doing that? So I liked the idea of sharing all the information that we’ve acquired over the years and I include a lot of reminiscences from when I was growing up on an apple farm in West Windsor and working on the farm. I’ve written about that because farming was a whole different world back then.”
Most recently, he’s become fascinated with growing grapes and making wine.
Four decades into his fruit and vegetable growing career, he shifted focus and built a wine barn and grape processing and bottling facility on his property.
Themes emerge when reading through “A Farmer’s Life,” which covers fruit and vegetable pests to integrated pest management practices to the vagaries of growing different vegetables and fruits to drilling for water to irrigate the 250 acres he and his family and staff oversee.
One near-constant theme is how humble one becomes as a farmer. Just when Mount figures he’s got the fundamentals of growing some certain fruit or vegetable down pat, he discovers some new pest has nearly ruined that year’s crop, or the old ways of managing a particular crop are no longer working.
A lifelong student, he’s insatiably curious and stays on top of emerging ag technologies.
He has invested in a sophisticated apple storage system that allows his fall-picked apples to stay fresh and be ready for consumption the following spring.
The apples are stored at a constant 52 degree temperature and oxygen levels in the apple vault are brought down to 2 percent for winter storage.
Mount was asked to consider becoming Secretary of Agriculture at one point in the 1980s — the position is appointed by farmers from the State Board of Agriculture and not a political appointment — and he decided he’d be happier working at his farm with family and friends, seven days a week during the season.
Mount is a 10th generation farmer whose great-grandfather and grandfather grew a variety of vegetables, but his father Bernard grew apples for wholesale with no retail operation.
The Mount family’s apple farm was located on Route 1 in West Windsor where Carnegie Center hotel/office complex is located today. He attended West Windsor schools, Princeton High School.
He graduated high school in 1962 and from Princeton University in 1966.
Mount’s father passed away at age 56, several months after Gary graduated from Princeton, where he majored in Physiological Psychology.
“The day before I was going to register for graduate school, my father died.” Mount, one of four brothers in the middle of the birth order, said, and he decided to come back to the family farm.
He added some columns in the book with reminiscences about his time on the State Board of Agriculture and time spent developing the state’s important farmland preservation laws.
He also worked with then Agriculture Secretary Art Brown and then Gov. Thomas H. Kean on developing the state’s now nationally recognized Jersey Fresh marketing program.
“Art Brown was very innovative and always willing to try new things,” Mount said. He also included about having been a farm boy and getting accepted to Princeton. My thinking at the time was, I didn’t want to go Princeton, I wanted to go to Penn State or Cornell, an agricultural school. When my father found out I was accepted, he said I had to go.”
As one example of how things have changed, Mount offered his library of reference books in his home office beside his desk which looks out on a window yards from the entrance to the farm’s retail store.
Some of the newer reference books are still there, but now, one just gets on the internet, as so much good information is posted online from Land Grant schools like Cornell, Rutgers and Penn State.
“Over the years, one of the running jokes on the farm when we’d have meetings was, I’d tell everybody to hold on while I go look it up in the library,” Mount said. “I’d come back and say, ‘OK, well maybe we need to do this a little different than what we were doing.’
“After all, many of our farm workers have worked here a long time, and change is hard sometimes.”
Mount’s self-published book is available for sale at the Terhune Orchards’ retail store and is available via Amazon and other internet websites as well.
At a book signing at the wine barn over the winter, Mount said he was surprised when his former Princeton High School English teacher showed up. Cecilia Hodges “was probably the most influential teacher I had in all my time through school. She came in and said some nice things about me, and I related my thinking of her as my favorite teacher.
“She went on to be quite a famous person and taught at Douglas College for eight years and taught at Princeton University for 18 years. It was all very interesting to me and I just loved the fact that she was there. The thing I realized afterwards was she had no idea of her impact on me, because I just had her that one year and then we never really crossed paths again. I never forgot her but she probably had forgotten me. It turned out she lives right next door to one of my good friends and he brought her over here for the book signing.”
To be sure, the learning process never stops at Terhune Orchards. For Mount and his wife Pam, two daughters, grandchildren and the extended farm family and crew, the operation has come a long way from apples and cherries to now include nearly 50 different types of vegetables and fruits.
Their 55-acre initial farm now includes nearly 250 acres of working farmland, thousands of apple and peach trees, dozens of hoop houses, expansive vineyards and a whole new section of acreage being converted to organic production.
“There’s just nothing else I’d rather do,” Mount said before heading off to a birthday party for his grandchildren, who share his May 14 birthday.
“We’ve been lucky enough to travel around the world and been to almost every continent, yet being here is just the best.”