Farm Horizons, Sept. 2004

Old Howard Lake farm grows new crop: garlic

By Darla Swanson

One of Howard Lake’s century farms is turning out a different kind of crop – gourmet garlic.

Husband and wife team Jerry Ford and Marienne Kreitlow live on a four-generation farm with Kreitlow’s father, Willard.

The Kreitlow homestead is a land of plenty, if not a land of variety.

The family grows crops common to the area, but Jerry and Marienne have added some new business ventures to the farm as well.

Ford and Kreitlow have a joint business called Living Song Gardens. The business, which is home based, is the core of the couples’ many interests.

Both musicians, the couple performs at churches all over the country. Kreitlow composes the music they perform, and is now publishing both her fifth and sixth albums.

In true Kreitlow family tradition, the couple also dabbles in farming. They grow a tremendous quantity of food and herbs for their own table, and then some. Kreitlow has plans to get into growing asparagus.

But most recently, Ford added a crop of his own to the family farm: gourmet garlic.

Ford, a Texan, moved with his wife to her Howard Lake home place just over two years ago.

And not long after he sunk his feet into the soil. Ford began planting garlic.

With literally hundreds of kinds of garlic to choose from, Ford is currently growing four different kinds, one soft neck variety, as well as three hard neck varieties.

Ford’s personal favorite, Armenian, is an uncommon variety of hard neck garlic. He finds it to be the tastiest, as well as the largest, of the garlic he grows.

A member of the lily family, garlic is no delicate flower.

It is a powerful plant in fragrance and in taste, packing a punch to many favorite dishes. But garlic is useful for much more than adding aroma and flavor to food. It has been used for thousands of years for medicinal purposes.

Recordings show that garlic was used medicinally in ancient Egypt, first century AD and during the plagues of Europe.

Ford raised about 300 pounds this year – that’s more than 1,000 bulbs – hand-planted and hand-harvested. The maximum amount he thinks he can produce on his own is about four times this year’s crop, which he hopes to accomplish next year.

Ford insists on this traditional method of tending to garlic because it doesn’t do when planted by machinery. He chooses to produce less, rather than compromise his yield, he said.

There is 98 percent germination from hand planting. And Ford reports that one-third of the garlic planted by machines is unusable because the bulbs do not go into the ground correctly, producing a product that is not “gourmet” quality.

Ford’s garlic is being sold through various avenues.

One such avenue is the Internet, from which sales have him sending out garlic nearly every day. He currently sells at three stores, including the Good Earth Co-op in St. Cloud, Cattail Corner in Howard Lake, and Dan and Becky’s Organic Market in Cokato.

Ford is a huge advocate of selling locally through people who are very loyal to the community, he said.

According to reports from local stores, the sale of the garlic is going well.

Perhaps next year the garlic will be sold at farmers markets.

“For me, it’s got to be fun,” Ford says, regarding a venture into that market.

Restaurant sales are another option, and Ford is currently working on sending a shipment of his gourmet garlic to a Greek restaurant in Texas.

The restaurant owners are not the only Texans who take interest in the Minnesota garlic.

Friend, writer, and Minnesota native Betty Malisow Potter (now living in Texas) was so inspired by Ford’s garlic that she has plans to write a cookbook about it. Ford hopes to make the books available wherever he sells his product.

As a grower of garlic, Ford seems to have a good knowledge of caring for and producing the crop.

But that is not to be out-matched by his knowledge as a connoisseur of garlic.

He warns not to refrigerate it because it will either begin to grow, or turn to mush.

He recommends keeping it in a ventilated clay pot on the counter, in an area with low humidity.

As for eating it, Ford recommends adding it to food raw or cooked, or roasting it and using it as a paste. When roasted, “all the burn goes away,” he said.

For medicinal purposes, Ford has no claims of expertise, but does recommend the garlic be crushed and exposed to air for 20 minutes before using to maximize the medicinal properties of the bulbs.

And as for the smell, fresh parsley may help to neutralize the garlic odor. Or, as Ford points out with a laugh, the smell won’t be a problem “just as long as everybody eats it.”

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