February 23, 2022

Gary Mount Publishes “A Farmer’s Life,” Stories From a Half Century on the Farm

“A FARMER’S LIFE”: Gary and Pam Mount have owned and operated Terhune Orchards for almost 50 years. Gary will be reading from his new book, “A Farmer’s Life,” and signing copies on March 5 at 1 p.m. at Terhune Orchards on Cold Soil Road in Princeton. (Photo courtesy of Gary Mount)

By Donald Gilpin

At Terhune Orchards on Saturday, March 5, at 1 p.m., Gary Mount will be reading from his new book and signing copies. A Farmer’s Life: Notes from Terhune Orchards is the book’s title, and Mount, who, along with his wife Pam, has owned Terhune since 1975 and has been farming for more than 50 years, knows what he’s talking about.

“I’m one of the luckiest people,” Mount said in a February 17 phone interview. “I get up in the morning and still look forward to work every day. On the farm I’m doing something that gives a lot of satisfaction.”

Mount described some of the changes in farming in the past 50 years. “People are really interested in the farm,” he said. “We have 700,000 people a year come here. We’re just after Princeton University as a popular destination in Mercer County. It’s all changed. The whole nature of a farm has changed and people’s relationship to farms and where the food comes from.”

Mount was born in Princeton Hospital and, except for three years when he and his wife served in the Peace Corps in Micronesia, he has lived in the Princeton area his whole life. He grew up on his father’s farm on Route 1 in West Windsor, and he’s the ninth generation of his family to be a farmer in this area. His two daughters, who live nearby with their families, are fully involved in the operations of the farm and are preparing to continue the tradition.

“My two daughters have paid the ultimate compliment of valuing what we do, and they want to continue,” he said. “We’re having a good time.”

Mount graduated from Princeton University in 1966 with a degree in physiological psychology, which probably would be called neurobiology now, and was enrolled in graduate school at the University of Virginia. “After I had already moved into my dorm room at graduate school at UVA, my father died, and I came back to the farm, and I never went back to grad school,” he said. After a year working on the farm he and Pam got married, “and she said the only way she’d marry me is if we went into the Peace Corps, so we went into the Peace Corps.”

After three years in the Peace Corps, which Mount described as “a game changer,” they returned to New Jersey. “We felt different about a lot of things when we came back, about a lot of the things that were important to us,” he said.

In 1975 they purchased the Terhune farm. “We were lucky to find this place,” he said. “It was the right size, the right place, and the right community. Buying a farm to farm it just wasn’t done then. Farms were being sold for development. That was the end of it.” There were only six farmers in the immediate area then, but there are about 12 or 14 now, he noted.

“Buying a farm was an expensive proposition, and back in 1975 we didn’t have any money,” he continued. “We had to borrow it all, and I don’t recommend it, but we used our credit cards to finish the sale. It was nip and tuck for quite a few seasons, and quite a few years before we really got our feet on the ground. There were hard times with not having enough money to pay all the bills, and my dear wife got the worst of it because she was near the phone and I’d be out in the orchards.”

In addition to financial stress there were also weather calamities, he added, “but somehow you manage to keep going and if something gets destroyed, you just start again. If you have faith in what you’re doing it just works out.”

One of the important decisions that helped the Mounts to thrive and expand the farm from 50 to 250 acres over the past 50 years was the decision to stay open year-round, all but two days of the year. Mount emphasized how important their employees have been to the continuing success of the operation and how helpful it has been to employ many of them year-round.

“Another thing I really like is when we decide to grow a new crop,” he continued. Terhune Orchards now grows some 45 different crops, including asparagus, the very popular first crop of the season, and grapes, with the planting of a vineyard bringing “not just a new crop, a new business,” along with a winery and many music events.

Mount described some of the sources of his ongoing delight in farming. “There’s such variety in what we’re doing, and to me everything is always new,” he said. “You’re growing your crops, but each year it’s different. You have to adjust. There’s no boredom. It’s different every year.”

It’s not the huge apple and pumpkin harvests in the fall, but springtime that Mount likes best. “The planting, I love planting apple trees,” he said. “Whenever we plant apple trees, I make sure my grandchildren are here.”

Each of his daughters has three children, “And I make sure those kids are there and helping to plant those trees,” he added. “That’s the future. It’s always a renewal process. In 2021 we planted 1,000 trees from a popular apple called Fuji. I was so thrilled because my niece’s son was about 8. He came and rode on the tractor with me to help plant.”

A Farmer’s Life includes articles written by Mount from Terhune Orchard’s newsletter, published four times a year over the past 35 years. The subject matter ranges from reminiscences of boyhood experiences on his father’s farm to tips on the growth of farming, how-tos, and the use of modern technology.

“I’ve shared the intricacies of farming,” he said, “and I can’t help it, but they get to see how much I like it and how delighted I am to be a farmer.”

Sharing the farm with the public has always been a high priority for both Gary and Pam Mount. Gary has served on the New Jersey State Board of Agriculture, the State Agricultural Development Committee, and on the board of directors for the International Fruit Tree Association. In 2005 he was named Apple Grower of the Year by American and Western Fruit Grower magazine, and was recognized for distinguished service to New Jersey Agriculture in 2008. He was inducted into the International Fruit Tree Association Hall of Fame in 2012.

“It’s a lucky thing to be farming in New Jersey,” said Mount. “Everything will grow here. We have good soil and a moderate climate, and at Terhune a lot of nice customers. That works out for us.”