Garlic Snakes
Andy discovers how his first-ever planting of stiff-necked garlic got it's scientific name and stumbles upon another marketing gimmick--spicy serpents.

By Andy Griffin


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

Posted August 3, 2004: The first time I saw garlic scapes they looked like question marks, and felt like them too.

A scape is the flower stalk of the stiff-necked garlic. “What is wrong with my garlic?” I wondered.

I was used to growing a soft-necked variety of garlic called California Early White that doesn’t flower. California Early White is the garlic that made Gilroy, a town close by my farm, semi-famous as the self-proclaimed “garlic capital of the world.”

California Early White is mild as garlics go, and stores well. Each bulb contains a fist full of cloves of varying sizes. Despite the hassle a cook faces in peeling all the tiny cloves California Early White garlic remains a chain-store favorite, even if a lot of it now comes from China and Mexico.

Since garlic is labor intensive, imported garlic from the Third World has made it more difficult for domestic producers to get a decent price for their crop, even in the farmers market. Peeled garlic is popular with restaurants and consumers too lazy to shuck the small cloves of California Early White garlic -- and they don’t seem to mind the canned flavor. But “value added” means capital intensive, and for small growers like myself that is not an option.

To make my way in a market increasingly dominated by importers and processors I switched gears and began selling California Early White garlic in its scallion stage as spring garlic. The large numbers of tiny cloves per head make this garlic a perfect choice for sowing densely and bunching young like green onions. But the season for spring garlic is short -- it gets woody with the longer days. Seed catalogues promote red, stiff-necked garlics as having bigger cloves packed with flavor. “This sounds like me,” I thought, “big, red in the face, and stiff necked.” The selling point would be flavor, I decided, and the convenience of peeling fewer cloves.

The eruption of flower stalks had me panicked because I feared the bulbs wouldn’t size up. I snapped the curly-que flower stalks off in an attempt to force any of the plants remaining energy into the bulb. An aroma of fresh garlic made me hungry and caused me to eat a stalk or two. They were good.

A little research taught me the Chinese had been cooking garlic stalks for thousands of years, so I began marketing my prunings as “garlic snakes.” The flower stalks do coil suggestively like serpents. My marketing gimmick didn’t turn out to be too crass. First of all, it worked. Customers lined up to buy the buds I had to prune anyway. Secondly, even the folks who were afraid to eat garlic snakes crowded around the stall to look at the weird vegetables and drew more customers in by appealing to their herd instinct. Lastly, Allium sativum var. ophioscorodom, the scientific name for the red stiff-necked garlic means “cultivated snake garlic,” so I’m not even lying.

The first curling stalks of stiff-necked garlic flowers made me question my future with garlic. Selling “snakes” gave me an answer I could taste. We will round out the year for garlic sales with scapes. Cured, dried bulbs of garlic can last through February after which we sell “spring garlic”. When the garlic scallions go to stick we can sell “snakes”. As the snakes stiffen we sell “fresh,” uncured garlic bulbs, followed again by the papery dried garlic heads. That, at least is the hope I have in selling garlic scapes.

But, as Eve found out, you can’t trust everything a snake suggests.

Previous Journal Entries

July 20
Keep Rollin' While the rest of the world savors basil and tomatoes, Andy gets pumped up to plant parsnips. It's all part of the cycle.

July 2, 2004
Keep Truckin' Stop! Put that plastic truck (or other piece of marketing swag) down and back away. Think smart promotion to keep your small farm in the public eye.

June 2, 2004
Kinky Carrots It's astounding to what uses Andy Griffin's farmers' market customers will put his kinky, crooked carrot culls. Every carrot has a home.

May 11, 2004
Ain't I smart? Carelessness, poor planning and neglect leads Mariquita's Andy Griffin to discover the true value of a strange old heirloom crop--black Spanish radish.

April 20, 2004
Hats off to the many sombreros of a farmer Quack lawyer, truck driver, fake chef, and borderline carnival barker: all in a day’s work for a farmer like Andy Griffin … and once in a while he gets to contemplate nature.

April 2, 2004
The watermelon radish: Conspiracy from the left or the right … or just a darned good heirloom daikon? Those were among the suspicions raised by this ancient veggie at a recent event in Santa Cruz designed to introduce consumers to local food producers.

March 4, 2004
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.

February 13, 2004
New riders of the purple goosefoot In Watsonville, California, the founders of Mariquita CSA discover the value of this antique cousin to spinach.

March 23, 2004
NOW is the time for shameless self-promotion He can't plant, cultivate or harvest--the fields are a swamp--but Mariquita's Andy Griffin can sell shares and hustle publicity.