Jan. 1 2005 12:00 AM

For the first few years, Addink and Gardner worked other jobs and plowed any earnings back into the business. Addink worked for the University of Nebraska as an irrigation engineer with the extension service. He later left the university to devote more time to his investment in the sod farms, and to work as an irrigation consultant.

Addink?s irrigation consulting work included stints in Libya, Brazil, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Yugoslavia.

Over the years, Addink and Gardner started twelve sod locations in Colorado, Nebraska, Texas, New Mexico, California and Nevada. After 21 years, they parted company and split the farms between them, with Gardner?s farms becoming Gardner Turfgrass. Addink added four more farms, and A-G Sod Farms continues to be one of the largest growers in the U.S., with eight locations: the original farm in Colorado, one in Las Vegas, and six in California.

Irrigation was always Addink?s focus. About 15 years ago, while working with water districts, he realized that water, especially water used for irrigation, was going to be in short supply. He began toying with the idea of a simple, weather-based controller.

Over the past seven years, relying on his team of managers and his son Joel to run the sod farms, he pursued his interest in water conservation. One way to do that was to take the guesswork out of the hands of the homeowner or small business property owner. Addink had worked with moisture-sensing devices as well as evapotranspiration (ET), and decided that ET was a more accurate way to go. If he could make an ET controller simple and reasonably accurate, he knew there would be a demand for it.

Was it restlessness or foresight that started Addink on to the next move? In addition to working with charitable causes, he formed a new company called Aqua Conserve, to develop and produce a residential stand-alone ET controller. Some of the patents that were granted have been applied to this line of controllers.

Addink had a daunting task?getting the contractor and general public to buy into the benefits of ET. His educational background and experience provided the credentials, and he knows, in his heart, that ET controllers can be one of the tools that will conserve tremendous amounts of water.

Unpretentious, Addink is a man of vision. He saw the future of sod, and helped pioneer a market niche. He sees the future in water conservation, and is continually seeking ways to meet the challenge. With a twinkle in his eye, John Addink knows he?s making his contribution to the world.

The second of nine children, Addink was raised on a small farm in Hospers, Iowa. As with many entrepreneurs, he was restless at a young age. After his freshman year in high school he dropped out, only to return after becoming bored with working on the family farm.

Following his high school graduation, Addink went to Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michigan. It was there that he first met Betty; they married in 1960, and have three children and eight grandchildren.

He completed two years at Calvin College and then transferred to South Dakota State University, graduating with a degree in agricultural engineering. He then took a job with the Soil Conservation Service in Michigan.

After his stint with the Soil Conservation Service, Addink enrolled at Michigan State University, where he earned a master?s degree in agricultural engineering. He then signed on with the Bureau of Reclamation in Denver, Colorado, where he worked in the earth dam section.

However, this only lasted six months. Addink recalls, ?They put me behind a drafting board?it wasn?t for me.? Anxious to further his career, Addink moved to Denver and took a job in irrigation sales, where he worked on straight commission. ?If I didn?t sell anything, I didn?t make any money.?

But the entrepreneurial bug bit again, and Addink went into the watering business. He sub-contracted work from highway contractors to wet the soil for optimum compaction. He sold this company and went into business making center pivots, which he sold to farmers. A year and a half later, Addink sold the center pivot business and went back to school. He attended Colorado State University, where he received his Ph.D in irrigation engineering.

Addink met Al Gardner when they worked in the watering business. The two of them, along with a local farmer, decided to start a sod farm. In 1968, they began to farm four acres in Fort Collins, Colorado. They opened a second farm in Nebraska, then a third, and began to grow the business. The company was called A-G Sod Farms.