We had the good fortune of connecting with John Ferguson and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi John, can you talk to us a bit about the social impact of your business?
Recycling organic waste into compost and mulch saves valuable landfill space and it reduces greenhouse gasses. Additionally, the products reduce water requirements of plants, they help plants grow healthier eliminating need for toxic chemicals, the products produce more nutritious food from vegetables to fruits and with better flavor.
The products reduce the need for artificial fertilizers which are a major generator of greenhouse gasses. Microbes in the products produce aromatic chemicals that make people feel good, using these products help promote conservation of pollinators and other wildlife, the products help eliminate erosion, and the microbes in the products help biodegrade many toxic chemicals, etc.
Can you open up a bit about your work and career? We’re big fans and we’d love for our community to learn more about your work.
In college my major professor would not let me write a negative thesis, hence to keep the fellowship money coming I had to keep taking classes in many disciplines that resulted in multiple degrees and study of several scientific fields. I spent the first 15 years of my career in the oil industry traveling internationally. I became tired of the travels and was fired because I refused to lie and cheat a customer. This led me to start my own business where I would be free from such negative pressures. I then had a dream that I later was able to interpret as composting. With that dream it gave me the courage to start a new type of business in Houston. The world was in a different place back then, I would try to get a bank loan for equipment and was repeatedly told “I am not going to loan you money to recycle, put it in a landfill or burn it” hence financing was hard in the early years. Nature’s Way Resources (NWR) evolved out of a series of events that John Ferguson experienced, some of which were life changing. Over 40 years ago he experienced an allergic reaction to a common fungicide that almost cost him his life and took six months to recover. As a result, he started intensively studying the new research that was emerging on biological methods in horticulture and agriculture sometimes referred to as “organic”. Researchers have found that these methods work better and at lower cost than traditional toxic chemical rescue methods. Many of these new methods require large amounts of organic materials processed into compost, mulch and related products. John left the oil industry in March of 1993 with the plan to start a landscape company that provided low maintenance and environmentally friendly landscapes using the newer methods. This type of landscaping requires lots of organic materials, so he visited all the suppliers in Houston. He could not find a single supplier of high-quality soils or mulches and no one had compost of any quality. This led John to find out what it would take to produce a few thousand cubic yards of compost annually for use in his landscape company. He spent the next few months doing intensive research into large scale composting. It was not long before he realized that this was an emerging new industry with lots of research on the benefits of compost occurring around the world. As a result of his findings, which indicated the growth and benefits to society of a composting company, the idea of a landscaping company was immediately dropped. Since John had a strong background in soil science, during the next 18 months, John studied everything he could find on compost technology, attended national and regional conferences on composting, and visited commercial and public operations all over the United States and internationally. The visits included operations that were having problems as well as those that were very successful. To test John’s ideas, a 20-acre tract of land was leased on the Sam Houston Tollway on the west side of Houston and operations commenced in November of 1994. The original business plan projected that 2,000 cy (cubic yards) of material would be received each month after an initial 12-month start-up phase. The company started receiving “tipping” (dump fee) revenue at its Houston facility in mid-November of 1994. By August of 1995 the volume of raw material received had increased to 12,000 cy per month. In 1995 revenues greatly increased which allowed for the purchase of the needed equipment which was very expensive. This convincingly confirmed John’s idea of the great need for this service in the Houston area. As a result of the much larger than anticipated success, the type, size and amount of the required equipment had to be revised. At the same time, Waste Management of Texas (WMI) approached NWR about operating a small facility in Montgomery County to allow the recycling of grass and leaves from The Woodlands community. In December of 1995 a second location was established on FM 1488 just north of the Woodlands to collect and process grass and leaves. This site was an abandoned illegal dump site for woody waste from land clearing materials, hence a favorable lease was obtained to clean up the site and process the material. Also, the City of Oakridge established a recycling program for grass and leaves and contracted with NWR to recycle their green waste material in addition to the Woodlands. In the summer of 1998, a developer made NWR an attractive offer to buy the Houston property. The proceeds from the sale of the land allowed NWR to purchase the additional equipment that was required to be a fully equipped composting facility. As a result of the sale of the Houston property, in December 1998 the operation was relocated to the small four-acre collection site in Montgomery County to start over. The majority of 1999 was spent in site preparation, finding new sources of feedstocks, redeveloping inventory, etc. This relocation allowed John to continue to develop and enhance processing and operational techniques to improve the quality of the products. NWR was quickly recognized as the leader in the Houston area for high quality compost, mulches, soils and potting mixes. NWR has been recognized in many publications from The Houston Chronicle to The Wall Street Journal for the quality of its products. John’s personal yard and garden has been featured in several garden books and in Better Homes and Gardens. Over time an assortment of sands, decorative gravels and rocks were added to the product line to provide for the needs of our customers. Additionally, NWR now carries several lines of organic fertilizers, trace mineral packages, and other organic supplies. In January of 2004 the business was relocated to a 42-acre tract of land near the previous location across I-45, at 101 Sherbrook Circle. To allow NWR to continue to grow and provide for our customers, NWR added a bagging system and now has all of its products available in bags as well as in bulk. Bagged products are available at several retailers around town that specialize in organic products and customer service. In 2006 Natures Way Resources won the Houston Chronicle Ultimate award for the finest and best quality Compost in our area.
Any places to eat or things to do that you can share with our readers? If they have a friend visiting town, what are some spots they could take them to?
Myself and my friends are lovers of nature, hence depending on the season it might be a hike in the forest, canoeing down some river or just go fishing, Camping was usually the preferred method of lodging. When I was younger, I was a registered canoe guide in the Canadian lake country. Food might be bar-b-Que, some Tex-Mex or even a home grill and smoke some meat and wash it down with some good dark ale. To hang out, home theater and high-end audio is a hobby hence maybe put on some good music or watch some sci-fi movie.
The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
Company values are based on God’s word to be stewards of the environment. These also include honest weights and measures, quality products that help others, in God’s natural kingdom nothing is wasted and everything is recycled in some form or fashion. The company promotes modern gardening methods based on soil biology that copies how ecosystem works in nature.
Instagram: my staff takes care of the rest of them I do not have the names
Youtube: Several groups have doem videos on mybusiness a few are: 1) November 2013 – 23 minutes https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TuvmXjFJhQY 2) November 2017 – 54 minutes https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6nVnKMoPgl4 3) December 2017 – 31 minutes https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t33azPJVRME
Other: We publish a free organic gardening and environmental newsletter each week called “Lazy Gardener and Friends” One can sign up on my website.