The bowtie set has no business raising earthworms. This is the patchouli-scented passion of neo-hippies, the apex of dedication for dirt lovers from California to Katmandu. You’re about as likely to find an executive fingering a steamy, organic porridge of humus and worm manure as you are to see Birkenstocks in the boardroom. No, a compost bin is no place for a corporate suit.
But don’t tell John Distad (p. 23). Apparently he didn’t get that memo. The bowtie wearing VP at a local financial firm—indeed, not just a corporate guy in a bowtie, but one who works in the hidebound financial sector—alternates between the dung-rich world of big money and a backyard that screams, as writer Andrea Kitay puts it, “closet beatnik.”
While John is in many ways an ideal profile subject for Ventana, this piece almost didn’t make the editorial cut. The pitch came looping at us from an odd angle; we didn’t swing at it for months. What ultimately gave the story legs wasn’t his bowtie or the incongruity of his buttoned-down professional life and his rustic passions, but the comprehensiveness of his approach to do-it-yourself gardening.
Quite simply, when it comes to backyard gumption John Distad is doing everything right, from breathing new life into worthy old machinery to farming worms, chipping yard waste into mulch, and collecting rainwater. And in that sense he is, as I mentioned above, a perfect character for a Ventura County lifestyle magazine: local, successful yet decidedly down to earth, clever, casual, quirky with a unique sense of style. I have mixed feelings about guys like John. They are an inspiration. They’re also a wakeup slap—a stinging reminder that I don’t do nearly enough around my own home.
If you’ve read this section with any regularity over the years, you know I have a pet aversion to the mundane. Mark Storer’s article about stone (p. 34) is a direct product of that aversion. Rather than flood the book with a sprawl of typical Home & Garden features, we rolled the dice on a subject whose layers of depth penetrate to the earth’s core and rise to Himalayan peaks.
The plan was to build an article around two extremes, counterbalancing the polished stonework in a contemporary house with the rustic, ancient feeling sculptures of Ventura artist Paul Lindhard. To be sure, it would have been easier to fill pages with boilerplate Nesting stories. Stone, after all, is no light subject. Volumes of books have been written in its honor, from geology to poetry. It is a symbol and one of the most overplayed metaphors in all of literature: rolling through the ages, a timeless cliché that gathers no moss.
I often compare the editorial process to construction—building a magazine. There’s a culinary parallel too, particularly within each story. Like the John Distad profile, the stone article has a certain yin yang appeal, an element of contrast that adds to its complexity. Of course, like food, balance and presentation come into play as well.
Yes, it would have been considerably easier to fill the pages ahead with architectural imagery and descriptions of home interiors. But we like to think you appreciate a bit more flavor.