in Watsonville and Hollister
Years farming: Andy has farmed for
the last 20 years in various capacities from farmworker
to owner, from large farm to small.
Total acres farmed: 25
Key people: Andy, farmer and rave king;
Julia, farm wife, CEO, mom, email elf, etc.; España,
foreman, tractor driver, all around repairman; Jose
España, head harvester; Lourdes Duarte, head
Range of crops: greens, root crops,
tubers and herbs, berries, peppers, tomatoes, garlic,
melons, artichokes, and more besides that.
Marketing methods: CSA and 1 farmers
market, with a small number of carefully selected restaurants
that pick up at the farmers market
Soil type: silty loam
Regenerative practices: cover cropping,
crop rotation, fallowing
Length of season: all year
March 4 , 2004:
We grow garlic near Gilroy. Will Rogers once said that Gilroy, California,
was the only town in America where you could marinate a steak by
hanging it outside on a clothesline. Gilroy styles itself the Garlic
Capital of the world. You can buy garlic ice cream there during
their annual Garlic Festival. A big factory at the edge of town
processes garlic into garlic salt, garlic powder and peeled garlic.
At one time the town was even surrounded by fields of garlic.
Nowadays the garlic industry in our area is almost as dead as Will
Roger’s steak. A lot of the garlic that gets processed here
is trucked in from other growing regions. Increasingly, America’s
appetite for garlic is even satisfied by garlic from other countries,
like China. We survive as garlic growers only by “thinking
outside the box” and using “appropriate technology.”
The box we are outside of would be the big box stores that are
casting such a shadow over retail these days. Big boxes are happy
to buy their garlic from overseas where land is cheap and labor
is dirt cheap. Even if the retail giants wanted to buy from little
farms like ours we couldn’t meet their price. So, instead
of competing to supply a market that no longer wants us, we grow
spring garlic. If you harvest garlic at the scallion stage the tender
stems are flavorful, but garlicky. Spring garlic can’t be
shipped in from China easily because it’s perishable. Spring
garlic can be used minced raw in salads, salsas, or marinades. Cooked,
it goes well in a lot of provençal and Italian dishes. The
restaurants we deliver to love it.
The appropriate technology we employ to save costs is a piece of
sewer pipe we found in the weeds. Last fall, while farmhands Claudia
and Lourdes broke up bulbs of softneck early white garlic into loose
cloves, España cut the tube in half. Then he straddled the
planting bed with a Kubota. He affixed two cultivating knives to
the tool bar behind the tractor. Then he wired the three foot lengths
of plastic pipe behind them with old baling wire. He put the tractor
into a creeper gear, got it going down the row and dismounted.
España’s cousin José came forward with buckets
of loose garlic cloves and together the two of them walked behind
the advancing tractor, trickling a stream of cloves into the sewer
pipe. The pipes conducted the cloves into the grooves in the soil
cut by the knives. Sweeps attached to the tool bar covered the two
rows with soil. At the end of the rows, España turned the
tractor around for another pass.
One irrigation brought the cloves to life. We burned the beds with
a handheld propane burner to kill any weed sprouts before the first
garlic leaves were up. Rain did the rest. Now and through April
it is harvest time, and the cash is flowing just when we need it.
By July when the tourists crowd into Gilroy to eat the garlic ice
cream and celebrate the historical garlic harvest, our garlic crop
will be safely stored in the bank.