We are asked quit a lot why we chose to grow garlic. It’s a fair question, so let me take a stab at the answer.
We knew when we moved to the farm that we didn’t exactly want to just be hobby farmers – we wanted something that had the potential to bring in some income. I like to think of ourselves as micro farmers even though we have enough acreage to be doing some serious farming if we were so inclined. Joel and I also wanted what we called a ‘family project’. Something he and I could do together and that the kids could easily contribute to. We wanted to have something more satisfying than regular house chores for the boys to take up. This is something they could get their hands dirty with. There are some tedious aspects to it that will help teach focus, perseverance, and patience. A little hard labor is good for the soul.
We had thought about growing garlic before we even found and moved to our farm. Joel had read “Growing Great Garlic” by Ron Engeland which is the bible in the garlic growing world, and he became enthralled with gourmet hardneck garlic. How come nobody knew that most of our garlic comes from China? If not China, then California. Those were the two choices. How come, when everything else was moving local and organic, nobody had heard of premium, Minnesota grown, gourmet garlic? Did chefs use this garlic in their dishes at the hot restaurants in town? We didn’t think so…
When we told people last year that we were going to grow garlic they were generally just as fascinated. But also they thought it was a little weird…. and like, why? Both Joel and I have careers off the farm that we have no plans of giving up. Day to day we live a traditional suburban life with a few odd farm chores thrown into the daily mix. Sometimes I’ll catch myself daydreaming about having a more traditional farming life. But I ponder what traditional, in either sense, really means. We fit right in the middle of the two- seeking nontraditional in both worlds. And we are pretty happy with where we sit right now.
But back to the garlic. We are growing to love this crop! It’s unique and supported by a tight knit little community of MN gourmet garlic farmers. We don’t need to use pesticides or tons of water for it to grow well. It’s hardy and it’s good for you. Last year was experimental and fun. This year, we are getting serious. We will be planting around 6,000 cloves with the hopes of having around 500 lbs to sell, either as seed garlic or culinary/table stock. We attended the Minnesota Premium Garlic Project Workshop a few weeks ago where we heard from experienced garlic farmers and the MN Dept of Agriculture. We learned about land rotation, cover crops, fertilizers, going organic, diseases and pests, dirt pH, market prices, places to sell, resources and groups to join, tools and implements, and finally, taxes, insurance, marketing, selling and shipping. We left feeling like there is room here for beginners. Perfect.
Our top 5 reasons for choosing Garlic:
- It’s hardy as heck. A beginning farmer can make a lot of mistakes here and they will find a way to prosper!
- Because the final product that you sell is dried, it’s non-perishable and therefore easy to ship (no refrigeration and lighter in weight).
- It’s unique! As I mentioned above, it’s a unique crop to grow and is far superior to what you’d find in a typical grocery store.
- There’s a growing market and demand for it, especially with the current trade uncertainties with China and climate change hardships affecting California (drought and wildfire)- the two major markets for garlic currently.
- There is a really decent return for a lb of good-sized gourmet hardneck garlic- both as seed and table stock.
So there you have it! We are not selling any garlic this year but instead replanting all that we grew (of a good size) so that we will have enough next year to be able to both sell and hold onto enough to replant for the following year.
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It should be an exciting year!