About Us and Farming Practices
First off, the basics. I am a one-man operator of this small garlic farm in upstate New York. I started in 2011 as a gardener who attended the Southern Vermont Garlic Festival, egged on by my sister to check it out, after she came home with an amazing variety of garlic. I was enthralled by the world of unique varieties I found, and haven't stopped since. I warn my best customers- watch out, in a couple years you will be setting up your own booth just to support your habit, just like I did.
I have grown and will continue to grow all my crops organically. I am not certified organic due to the costs in time and money that are too large for a small farm, but I farm sustainably with recognized organic fertilizers and sustainable farming practices.
I am committed to the following:
No artificial herbicides
Only organic-approved fertilizers and rock minerals
Sustainable farming beyond the labels
To explain what I mean by these terms, here is some more detailed info.
No artificial herbicides- I control weeds with a deep layer of straw and/or leaves that improve the soil over time and create a healthy environment for worms and microorganisms. Straw prevents most weed seeds from getting the light they need to germinate. When the straw doesn't do it all, I hand-weed the rest. After several years of good stewardship, the amount of weed seeds in the soil are so diminished, that this gets easier every year. I also rotate cover crops (crops that are grown exclusively to improve soil condition) to disrupt weed life cycles and improve populations of beneficial insects.
No pesticides- I believe in protecting our native pollinators. First, I rely on robust plant nutrition to keep my plants healthy enough to fight through insect attacks. Many plants have the natural ability to survive insect predation but can’t when the soil nutrients aren’t there to support them. Similar to animal physiology, there are key minerals needed in balance that significantly improve immune system functions.
Besides robust health, the next line of defense are organically-approved beneficial species. For garlic, I don’t use anything in this category, but I do use beneficial nematodes (microscopic worm-like species) to protect my squash’s roots from cucumber beetle larvae. I release various predator insects to attack adult-stage cucumber beetles and corn borers, while also doing things to encourage populations of local predator insects.
I spray nothing, organic-approved or not, that would harm any of our pollinator species which are under threat. When I can, I use cover crops like buckwheat to improve feeding opportunities for pollinators and increase living space for beneficial predatory insects that feed on the bad bugs.
Only organic-approved fertilizers and rock minerals- While not certified organic, I’m 100% committed to organic inputs only. Responsible use of low-concentration organic fertilizers prevents or reduces nitrogen runoff and other negative consequences that are more common with unnatural fertilizers. I test my soil every year for both macro and micronutrients and carefully adjust my fertilizers accordingly.
My main added fertility comes from an organic approved chicken-manure based fertilizer and a heavy application of rye straw. Sometimes, I also use bone meal, blood meal, crabshell, or kelp meal, depending on nutrient needs, and rock powders like lime or Azomite for other adjustments.
The cover crops I grow also add organic matter to the soil (besides the good things they do for pollinators and beneficial insects). Organic matter increases the CEC (cation exchange capacity) of the soil, which means it can hold onto more nutrients, for longer periods of time. This means I get more plant health and productivity out of each pound of fertilizer, than soils without that buildup.
Sustainable farming beyond the labels- Sustainable farming cannot be built around geologically temporary gluts in hydrocarbon fuels and their byproducts. I use organic mulch to build the soil's resilience over time. I try to harmonize plowing and tilling practices to preserve microbial life. I count on the total health of my soil to grow healthy, robust garlic. My goal is that my soil will be more farmable and productive than when I started.
Why am I not certified organic? USDA organic certification is prohibitively expensive for small operations- it would cost more than four times my organic fertilizer bill alone. It seems insane to me that the paperwork to be "organic" is that much more than the actual costs to farm organically.* I’d rather take that money and use it for buying higher quality inputs, more frequent, detailed soil testing, and I’ll use that saved time from laborious paperwork to talk to you guys- my customers- about my practices, and sustainable farming practices in general. I'm happy to answer questions about how I grow things, about USDA organic and other labels out there. If you're from the USDA or other regulatory agencies and here to check if I'm using the word organic appropriately, please check out this page where I discuss that idea in detail.
A quick note about the farm name- when I first started I wanted a unique name to reflect the spirit and goals of the farm. "Grá den talún" /graw dehn tah-loon/ is the phrase "love of the land" in Irish Gaelic. I farm because I believe good land, under careful stewardship, is the true way of the future in farming.
Learning more...some useful sites
As for learning more about garlic, I hope you learn something here, but I encourage you to look at some other great websites that can teach a thing or two about the different families of garlic. These are some of the ones I originally found as I first started.
For a summary of the major families within garlic, I recommend this website by Ted Jordan Meredith, who wrote The Complete Book of Garlic, which is essentially the holy book of all garlic nutjobs, which I highly recommend.
Garlicana.com is who I bought my first true garlic seed types from, and the farmer Avram Drucker has helped me in learning the ropes of true seed production. He breeds and trials new types each year, and his site is very helpful not just on this topic, but very knowledgeable of the different families of garlic.
Also, this site is the most comprehensive listing of heirloom garlic I've found, with hundreds listed. While not totally up to date, it still remains one of the more comprehensive lists I've been able to find.
More on the history of how I got started…
After that first time I attended a garlic festival, I started a garden of about 500 plants. My original five- whose descendants are still with me, were German White, French Pink, Continental, Turkish Red, and Carpathian. I continued for a couple years expanding my garden, until I had just enough extra to sell seed stock to other farmers. Finally, one year, I worked up the courage to grow about 7,000 bulbs and apply to my first festival. I had about 20 varieties back then.
By 2018 I had eighty varieties, and for 2019/2020, I added another forty or so. For the 2020 - 2021 season, and the 2021-2022 season, I now have over one hundred and twenty varieties in the ground. At my small scale with about 16,000-20,000 plants, I typically have anywhere from fifty to several hundred bulbs of each type- truly a small scale endeavor. I also grow a seed crop of Hopi Blue flour corn and Iroquois Skunk beans, in a traditional Three Sisters plot (learn more about what that means here.) For the 2022 grow-out, I will be switching the corn to Tuscarora White, and my goal is to alternate corn varieties each year, allowing them to pollinate naturally in their isolated plot. Since corn seed keeps quite well, both varieties will be available each year- one variety from the current year, and the other variety from the previous.
I sell garlic through this website, at a limited number of regional festivals in the Northeast United States (check them out here), and through my wholesale partners Moses Farm Stand in Eagle Bridge, NY and Perry's Orchard , in White Creek, NY (where you can also get their amazing grass-fed beef, cider, and apples, along with other locally sourced farm goods). I grow everything I sell on this site, as it’s the only guarantee I can put on quality control. From January decision-making about soil fertility, to what bulbs go in the box on mailing day, I’m on it.
*Speaking of certifications costing far more than actual practice-changes, I’ve had some interesting conversations with other producers in the food industry. I had an email exchange with a direct-trade chocolate company that explained that increasing cacao farmers’ gross income by 50% would cost something like 15-30 cents per typical bar of chocolate. In contrast to direct trade, typical “fair trade” certification commits to far less of a pay bump/premium to the farmers (maybe 10-15%), and has astronomical certification costs (often a bureaucracy of developed-country back-end office work) that make the bars of chocolate cost far more than that additional 15-30 cents (if it were actually about farmer wages). This goes to show that we have much to learn in how to structure for the changes we want in the world. When you buy fair trade items, you are quite likely supporting more developed-world office jobs than actual pay increases to the farmers around the world.
The story I got from this chocolate company is that a 50% pay increase is the difference in how many of their children can attend school, for how long throughout the year. It increases the farmers’ ability to hire adult wage labor and not need the free labor of family members. Seeing how a huge amount of global health and wellbeing outcomes stem from levels of education (especially girls’ levels of education), that seems a small price to pay. Would you pay $3.30 for a bar of chocolate, instead of $3, if you knew it could change the direction of rural communities around the world, far more than the average top-heavy NGO’s plans?