In August 1967, Gary and I headed off for Micronesia and a three-year adventure in the newly formed US Peace Corps. It was the height of the Vietnam War. We were newly married and graduated and anxious to “make peace.”
We really didn’t know anything about Micronesia except that it was an American trust territory monitored by the United Nations and consisted of a small bunch of islands stretching 3,000 miles across the Pacific Ocean. If one compressed the land mass, it would fill up one-half of Rhode Island.
We started our Peace Corps experience by training for three months on an island in Truk Lagoon. We then moved to Yap Island, the administrative center for Yap District and the home of stone money. We lived in the jungle in a tiny house -- 6 feet by 20 feet -- with two doors and two windows. I taught school and Gary worked out of the agricultural station. After eight months, Gary took a field trip ship to all of the Outer Islands (a chain of small islands stretching over 500 miles of ocean). The trip took two weeks.
When Gary returned, he raved about Satawal. It was an island, one by one-half miles, with a population of 400 people. But, to Gary, it looked like paradise! They needed a teacher and agricultural help, and they desperately wanted to host the Peace Corps. So off we went, learned a new language, and read the sky.
It was like moving into the pages of the National Geographic Magazine. Men wearing loin cloths sailed the open ocean in hand-made canoes, which they navigated using the directions passed down orally from father to son. It was based on stars, currents, and intuition. The women tended the taro patch and wove skirts from fiber made from barren trees. Everyone lived outdoors and had small thatched sleeping houses.
I and two other teachers taught 100 children from ages six to fourteen. The head teacher had three years of schooling under the Japanese, so we did lots of teacher training, too.
Everything on Satawal was done communally – everyone helped everyone. Tuesday and Thursday were island work days, when projects that benefited everyone were done; for example, replanting the coconut groves, and building new canoes, houses, or a huge covered water catchment. I learned how to teach, not through competition that separated people from each other, but through group action and concerns. The students helped each other, and they all learned quickly.
We were warmly welcomed, given a house, and provided with food every day. It was a joyous time. I helped deliver 30 babies (three were named Pam), learned to dance and weave, and how to cook on an open fire. This was a learning experience for us, too.
Since those days, we have dreamed of visiting “our island”. We learned so much about community, caring, love, and respect there. But it takes three to four months to visit. The field trip ship schedule has not improved in 30 years. Every two to three months, one ship makes it to Satawal, stays only a few hours because there is no anchorage, and steams off – not to return until the next trip.
Then, in April of this year, we got an e-mail from one of my former students, who is now Lieutenant Governor of the island chain. He invited us to a “huge celebration.” Another one of my students has been studying for the priesthood and is to be ordained on his home island. So the Government had arranged for a ship to take visitors from Truk (now called Chuuk) out to Satawal (a two-day trip) and return two days later to pick us up. Tannwen will join us. Having grown up with all of our stories, it will be a treat for her to see it for herself.
This is a year of world travel for the Mount family and June 10 is the day it all begins – this is so exciting! Reuwai and Mike head off for two months of climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro and the Kenya Peaks in Africa; Mark and Melissa leave for Germany with the US Army; and Mom, Dad, and Tannwen are traveling to Micronesia – all on the same day! Bon voyage to us all!
Luckily, the capable Terhune Orchards’ staff will hold everything together on Cold Soil Road until we return on June 23.
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After graduating from college, I felt the need for a little adventure and struck out on my own to try the other coast. After five years of living in San Francisco, I have returned to New Jersey. When I told people about my decision to move back east, they questioned my sanity. How could I possibly leave San Francisco for New Jersey? Obviously, these people had never been to Terhune Orchards and seen the real definition of “ Garden State.”
Returning to Terhune Orchards and working on the farm as an adult has given me the chance to reflect on how our farm has grown and changed over the last 29 years. The Mount family purchased Terhune Orchards when my mom was pregnant with me, so this has always been my home. As a farm kid, I got used to sharing my home with lots of visitors. One of the most visible changes is the volume of visitors – now over 400,000 annually.
But what led to such an increase? Almost every area and aspect of the farm operation has grown and expanded. My parents share a long-standing joke: my mom can sell whatever my dad grows. What they really mean is that my mother is a very good marketer and has a keen eye for what people want. A lot has changed over the years in what we offer in our Farm Store, making it an even more attractive place to visit.
The Cider Building is now a very productive Bakery, which turns out the delicious pies, donuts, cookies, breads, and apple crisps you find in the Farm Store.
We built the Greenhouse to put my mother’s green thumb to work, launching our own home-grown plants. The number of different products we now offer in our store means you can now do all of your shopping at Terhune Orchards.
The other half of my parents’ joke is that my dad can really grow anything. He likes the challenge of a new crop, especially one that might not be quite suited for our soil. Our blueberries are a good example. Recently, he added asparagus to our ever-growing list of vegetables.
For me, who considers herself a bit of an apple snob, to return to the farm this fall and find new varieties of apples was a bit of a shock. When we bought the farm, the previous owners only grew apples, peaches, and pears. We now have over 30 different crops, many with numerous varieties.
Even more so than it was when I was young, Terhune Orchards has become a destination spot. Many visitors still come to buy a gallon of cider, but many come for the whole farm experience. With many more pick-your-own crops, fun farm festivals, and a barnyard full of farm animals, many families, grandparents and grandchildren come together to the farm just for the experience.
It also seems that we have lots more programs just for children – now that I’m too old to take advantage of them. The Boo Barn has changed and matured into the Johnny Apple Seed Barn and the Barn of New Jersey Legends, a fantastic educational journey for “children” of all ages. Visits from storytellers, Molly dancers, and school tours keep our farm bustling with children. Now that we three children are grown, my parents have turned to educating the masses about agriculture, sharing their love of the land with the next generation of school children.
All the changes have led Terhune Orchards to become more diversified both in production and sales. I continue to be amazed at the incredible amount of hard work, creativity, marketing savvy, and dedication it takes to run our operation. Although there have been many changes to Terhune Orchards over the years, the core remains the same. It is our family’s business. One that we take pride in and happily share with the public. I am reminded of my father saying that even after almost 30 years, he loves what he does every day. It is an inspiring place to be. It’s good to be home.
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After having endured 5 weeks of political unrest in the Ivory Coast, Reuwai and I returned to the farm in late October to seek refuge until the current crisis stabilizes. This decision to leave the country came after the U.S. and other embassies and organizations such as the U.N. ordered non-essential personnel to leave the country. While one may think this would not be a very difficult decision to make, we were reluctant to leave the students who remained at the school, roughly 30% of our school’s population. We waited a little more than a week after the U.S. issued the order to leave to see what would happen to the school. Within 2 days of the ordered evacuation, class sizes dropped drastically and the remaining students could not focus on their studies as they said their good-byes to their friends.
What first appeared to be a coup d’etat on September 19, is now perceived as a civil war. There were absolutely no warning signs or building tensions leading up to the coup. Although many of our colleagues were awakened by gunfire on the streets, we learned of the situation when our school activated its ‘phone-tree.’ Once awake, we could hear machine gun fire and explosions from mortars on the streets of Abidjan, right outside of our apartment complex. The situation stabilized quickly within Abidjan, and government forces secured the city; however, much of the northern part of the country remains in rebel hands to this day.
What next? Our return to the Ivory Coast depends on peace, or rather a statement from the U.S. government that lowers the security warning for the country. It remains difficult to predict what will happen to the Ivory Coast at this time. Ethnic tensions run high. Government troops have harassed many foreign Africans and have even destroyed some of their homes. Peace talks ensue; however both sides are unwilling to meet the primary demands of the other – the rebels want new elections for a new president, and the government wants the rebels to disarm themselves.
As we watch the news and surf the net for updates, we simultaneously continue our work as teachers with those students remaining at the school, a concept called “distance learning”. Lest you think the two of us will be picking cookies off the Farm Store shelves for the next few weeks, we will instead be hunkered down over our computers creating curriculum and emailing lessons and graded work back and forth with our students.
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I came to Terhune Orchards in the fall of 1991. I responded to a hand written sign Pam Mount had posted on the bulletin board: “tour guides wanted.” Since I had just finished a summer internship at the Stony Brook-Millstone Watershed and was a regular volunteer at Howell Farm, I felt I could be a tour guide at Terhune Orchards.
Pam agreed to bring me on board for that fall, but there was a small “catch.” She said, “By the way, my Apple Day festival is this weekend. Could you spare a few hours to help out?” That’s how spent my first day at Terhune Orchards -- pouring apple cider for 8-plus hours. I went on to lead the school tours that fall, and 13 years later, here I am still doing farm tours each fall.
Over these 13 years, Pam and Gary have encouraged my personal growth and professional development and to follow my interests. As a result, I have expanded the education program offerings at Terhune Orchards to include those in the spring, summer, and fall. We have yet to find anything other than our Wassail the Apple Tress that draws people to the farm during the winter. After all, leafless trees and barren meadows are not very exciting.
Over the years, I have learned much by working with Pam and Gary. Observing their involvement in the community and their active roll in New Jersey Agriculture is infectious – it must have rubbed off on me! I was asked to apply to and was accepted into the New Jersey Agricultural Leadership Development Program, a two-year program sponsored by the NJ Agricultural Society.
My class, the fifth in the organization’s ten-year history, became graduates in June 2005. When we began the program, two years sounded like a long time. But I think my classmate Tannwen Mount would agree that those two years just flew by. As I look back on my experiences, the program truly surpassed my expectations.
Our first seminar was held at the Fairview YMCA camp in northern New Jersey, a meeting that set the groundwork for our future. Here, 22 strangers came together with one thing in common, agriculture in New Jersey. The fruit and vegetable growers were joined by nursery men, a chemist, a member of the USDA Natural Resource and Conservation Service, a master gardener/freelance writer, a Future Farmers of America official, a 4H [youth group] officer, a bank loan officer, and farmers of oysters, dairy products, rabbits, and turkeys. Also present was a Rutgers University research scientist, a chemist, a high school teacher, and the director of the NJ Farmers Against Hunger program. An interesting collection of people, to say the least!
After the first hours, we knew everyone’s name -- really all 22 – thanks to a few tips and techniques on remembering names and how to make ‘small talk’ at social events. The revealing results of the Myers-Briggs Personality Test showed itself as we participated in team-building exercises on the outdoor challenge course. We also got our first taste of public speaking as we shared our stories with our classmates. The proverbial molehill for some, and a mountain for most. We did, however, discover that we were as diverse as the garden state is itself, with only the “garden” in common.
Our seminars took us all over the state to investigate a variety of topics. We studied land issues in the Highlands, and bio-terrorism in Hamilton, to oyster farming in Cape May. A visit to the State House in Trenton and a three-day trip to Washington, D.C. gave us insight into the ways politics can shape public policy.
We also participated in the NJ State Agricultural conventions to see the agricultural infrastructure at work – how the state Department of Agriculture interfaces with the Farm Bureau, the NJ Agricultural Society, and the NJ Grange, and how they all support the efforts of Rutgers University.
As part of one convention, NJ Secretary of Agriculture Charles Kuperus challenged us to research renewable resources, such as wind and solar power, and bio fuels such as ethanol. A special task force was formed to research and write the report. As a member of the task force, we described the research and outlined the economic advantages and possible funding sources available to farmers interested in pursing renewable energy. With the high cost of energy, this was a timely topic. The report was presented to the Executive Board of the NJ Department of Agriculture and to the NJ Agricultural Society.
Farm visits were something I expected that we would do; visiting internationally competitive fisheries was not. Our group visited Export, Inc. as well as the Viking and Lund Fisheries in Viking Village at Barnegat. We were lucky to be able to board a Lund boat just returning from the open sea. A tour of their largest boat with a hull full of squid gave me a new appreciation for our fish industry (Is it calamari or is it bait?).
One seminar was dedicated to social issues took us to the city of Paterson, NJ, which provided us with a very different view of our garden state. While in Paterson, we learned about its rich history and importance during the Industrial Revolution. We visited two high schools, Eastside High and Panther Academy, and walked through the Passaic County jail to hear the inmates’ stories in a ‘scared straight’ session. To be honest, I felt more unsettled in the Eastside High School than I did in the jail.
While in Paterson we were laborers who helped Habitat for Humanity finish the landscaping on a new house in Paterson. At Eva’s Village Halfway House in downtown Paterson we observed a grassroots commitment to community improvement. What did this have to do with agriculture, you might ask? Nothing. But it had everything to do with culture.
To gain further insight about agriculture as citizens of the world, we attended an international seminar in Spain. Our first stop was Madrid. We visited Madrid’s Town Hall, the Plaza de Mayor, and other places of interest. From there we traveled south and east stopping in cities along the way. We saw miles and miles of greenhouses, saffron and dairy farms, an agri-tourism fish farm, made a 3am visit to the fish market, the Goya Company, an evening of Flamenco, and so much more. Our focus on this trip was the same as at home in the USA. Spain is the land of El Greco, Don Quixote, and olive trees. According to information we were told, Spain has 380,000,000 olive trees. We believe we saw all 380,000,000 of them!
All-in-all, it was a memorable trip, but even more, a very memorable two years. During these two years we built a network of friends and business contacts. Saw the beautiful, and the not-so-beautiful, side of New Jersey, and experienced personal growth. So what’s next for the Fifth Graduating Class of the NJ Ag Society? When an agri-cause presents itself, we will be ready and able to take the lead and respond to protect the wonderful features and activities that truly make New Jersey “the Garden State.
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