NEWS FROM MARIQUITA: A CSA Journal

Guerilla garlic
Battling the influx of cheap Chinese garlic—even in to Gilroy, the “Garlic Capital of the World”—Mariquita Farm grows green spring garlic, and banks its garlic dollars long before the garlic festival in July.

By Andy Griffin

Farm-at-a-glance

Mariquita Farm

Location: Land 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 vegetable packer
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.