03 December 2008

Elephant Garlic Takes Over!

This past weekend, Craig and I (and some folks from Alfalfa) got a chance to visit some of the organic farmers that supply the co-op with fresh, diverse, beautiful produce. The co-op benefits from these farmers so much; we get to enjoy fruits and vegetables that no grocery stores ever carry, things like lemonades, like mangosteens, jerusalem artichokes, yakon, and they grow everything organically. They are like Joe and Judith, small organic farms, but they do it all even further from the city, further from their markets, without any employees. I'm going to cover this past weekend in a few posts over a few days, because there's just too much amazing farm content for only one post!

We saw Gary Branch's farm first. Gary's got style; if you met him off his farm, I don't think "farmer" would come to mind. He's got a ponytail and does everything EVERYTHING with a cigarette in his hands. He is also a brilliant organic farmer, a mentor to young organic farmers. It's a contradiction I can't help but enjoy, and he's got one of those real smokers' laughs, which he's willing to bust out for anything even slightly funny. He's friendly and generous with his time, generally what you'd call an awesome old guy. He showed us around his farm, as well as two other farms, and we spent the day talking about food and seeds and why farms are so vital.

He's hoping to harvest organic tea tree oil in the next few years, he harvests his own seed. He used to make hybrids of gerber daisies, to obtain new colors. Have you ever seen lettuce while it's producing seed? It's incredible.

Gary also has an orchard and an enormous greenhouse. His farm is big, but it seems manageable...it's idyllic and feels planned, careful.

We helped him harvest garlic--there were seven of us, and it took over an hour to pick and cut just one row. He had at least five rows...of just this one variety of garlic. In case you're wondering, it was "elephant garlic," which isn't actually garlic at all. It's in the leek family!

Hey Nicolas, get a load of this! Look what Craig's doing in Australia...seems like he was doing the same thing back home, huh?

By the end of just the one row, we were all so hungry, it was ridiculous. Farming is so hard. Craig considered eating the garlic we'd just picked.

Clearly, though, this garlic needed some prep...too much soil and earthworms. Before he can get all this to sale, Gary has to clean it and let the garlic dry for three days. It's worth the effort, and the Alfalfa price--look how gorgeous the finished product becomes!

And this is what one whole row of picked elephant garlic looks like when it's all piled into a hatchback. Can you even imagine how good this smelled?

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