I've always loved veggie varietal names, but garlic breeders must take the prize. I mean, Estonian Red? Georgian Crystal? Can it get much better than a garlic varietal named Music?!
And those are just some of the unique, heirloom varieties that Debra Green and Tom Scanlan grow at Salt River Garlic in north central Kentucky. Debra tells us their town of Taylorsville, is "right along the Bourbon Trail, by the way, in case you get the urge to drop in and say hello!"
What do you produce? We specialize in growing heirloom garlic--those incredibly flavorful varieties your grandparents grew that aren't grown by large commercial growers who cater to grocery stores.
What are your markets? My garlic partner and I sell wholesale to local nurseries and restaurants, and we sell direct to home gardeners, home cooks and others who want to experience what garlic should really taste like. We often tell people that once you've tasted heirloom garlic, you'll be hooked for life. It's that good.
Do you farm full-time or have any other jobs? I have a full-time job in Louisville (I'm in the corporate education field. I work as a consultant), and Tom Scanlan, my garlic partner and best friend, is at the farm full time. It's a good combination.
How long have you been farming? We've been farming garlic for the last three years.
How did you get into farming? I grew up in a rural area where everyone farmed or had big kitchen gardens of a quarter acre of more, plus my grandfather and great-grandfather farmed, so I guess farming's in my DNA. I absolutely love growing on a small farm. I'm thankful every day for this opportunity.
Why did you get involved with CNG? Being Certified Naturally Grown allows us to give customers the assurance that they're purchasing garlic that's grown without harsh chemicals, pesticides or herbicides. And it allows us to spend most of our time farming instead of being bogged down by unnecessary bureaucracy.
What is special about your farm? The farm's very biodiverse. There's a 20-acre habitat for deer, wild turkeys, heron, and other wildlife, in addition to 10 acres for agricultural use. We also have Shetland sheep, Toulouse geese and Pekin ducks to help us manage the pasture and growing areas sustainably.
(When) have you wished you hadn’t become a farmer? When I have to wade through a cold, mucky sheep enclosure in winter to check on our Shetlands after it's rained for a few days. That's so not fun. But it comes with the package.
What was your most positive farming experience? Getting to know our customers. Social media really lets us connect to people and share our love of farming and garlic with the public.
How do you further your farm learning? I read constantly, and I've met some terrific garlic farmers on Facebook who are a great resource. Online webinars from ag nonprofits are another great resource.
Most unusual farm tool: The homemade garlic seed spacer Tom made with leftover scrap lumber. He's still perfecting the design, but it does a pretty good job with thousands of seeds to plant. I would include a photo, but I think he’s already deconstructed it and is working on version 2.0. He tends to do a lot of McGuyvering :-)
Favorite vegetable: Heirloom garlic, with heirloom tomatoes a close second.
What’s your favorite dish to cook at home? Roasted heirloom garlic. A head of fresh garlic, a little olive oil and some foil, roast at about 325 degrees for 45 minutes, and voila, you have an easy appetizer that will have company singing your praises.
What advice would you give to a farmer just starting out? Research your market thoroughly. Start slowly. Control for as much as you can, and give the rest to God.
Who is your mentor or hero in the farming world? Wendell Berry's my farming hero. He's a writer, a poet, an academic, and a sustainable farmer all rolled into one.
Favorite season? I love spring. Everything starts to take off--flowers, vegetables, baby animals, bees and garlic.