Boyhood Gives Root to Exec’s Weekend Hobby
For John August, time spent in home gardens as a boy gave root to a growing love of gardening that he pursues today.
“I spent time in the gardens with both my parents,” says the RailWorks executive vice president. “My father handled most of the upfront digging the garden and planting everything. My mother would take it from there with weeding, cultivating and ultimately picking and canning.”
Today, John raises primarily vegetables of all kinds and has modified his methods along the way. “When I started out, I had about a 20-foot-by-50-foot garden – about a thousand square feet. That was hard to manage, so I went to raised beds. I probably have about 200 square feet of raised beds that I get just as many vegetables out of as I did out of the old garden.
“My wife and I try to focus on things that taste better out of the garden. So I don’t grow potatoes or green peppers, because I think those taste about the same from the store.
Among the food John raises are beets, onions, carrots, tomatoes, Swiss chard and other greens, and “any herb imaginable.” He also produces fruit: “There’s a raspberry patch … a strawberry patch … We have apple trees and peach trees, and one cherry tree.”
John says his family eats most of what they grow and give away whatever they can’t eat themselves.
“We were getting creative with pickling about a year ago with beets, beans, carrots, etc. We made a lot of roasted tomatoes with garlic, herbs and boursin cheese this summer as a snack. We’ve done some creative stuff with Swiss Chard this year – putting it in casseroles, soups, frittatas, etc. Right now I am trying to think of things to do with carrots, because I had a bumper crop this year. I grew cipollini onions this year which we added to a lot of roasts, they were delicious but were a pain to peel!”
John finds that spending time off the clock in his garden is therapeutic after time on the clock at his job, which for him involves a high degree of travel to offices, work sites and industry events. “I’m on the road all week. Gardening is generally a weekend thing. To get out there and get your hands in the dirt, and grow stuff your family can eat, it’s just relaxing. I usually do it very early in the morning. I get up same time I would if I was on the road, and I go out and pick weeds.”
While John isn’t a purely organic farmer, it’s important to him to employ sustainable practices. To conserve water, he collects rainwater in barrels for use in the garden. He is also careful to minimize runoff; his porous driveway of crushed oyster shells allows water to drain into the soil. At the same time, he guards against groundwater contamination. “My water table is only 28 feet down, so you start to think a lot more about the chemicals you’re using. I’m not 100 percent chemical-free, but we have been able to reduce (chemical use) to only where we need it. I only fertilize the raised beds.” In addition, John has reduced the amount of chemical fertilizer used, because he provides natural fertilization through composting.
John loves sharing the garden with his grandchildren Sam, 5, and Charlotte, 1, passing along the knowledge he learned from his parents.
“I spend a lot of time with my grandson out there teaching. He probably knows more than most people about what’s edible and what’s a weed. I’m passing down to him where our food comes from.”
And passing down a love of raspberries straight off the plant.
“Very seldom does a raspberry make it into the house,” John confides. “Sam has taught the dog to also eat them right off the bush. And I did eat those raspberries right after we took the picture.”