Sunday, August 14, 2011

Interns and Garlic

photo by Bailey Schreiber

One of the more exciting things we look forward to with the beginning of the summer are the farming interns who will earn their stripes over the season. They  bend their backs and minds to learn from some of our most experienced and successful farmers, and we get to know them at the Farmers’ Market. Their enthusiasm and hard work is often so enticing that we become fast friends.

Bailey Schreiber is interning with Paul Horton and Sally Beckwith at their Foggy Meadow Farm in Benson. She, with her cohorts,  follows Caroline Kimball and Conor Falcon from last year, and our own Lindsay Arbuckle and Scott Courcelle from the year before.

Bailey hails from Jackson, Wyoming, and has been writing about her interning experiences on her blog called Turnips and Tators. She is an uncommonly good writer. I took my licks and lessons from MFK Fisher, Laurie Colwin, and Elizabeth David, to name a few mentors. When I read Bailey’s post about garlic and the process of coming to love the earth I knew that I had to be the first to introduce her to my readers.

She titles her piece,
Garlic as Legacy
Bailey Schreiber
About nine months ago, last year’s interns – who are to me just names, not faces – helped Paul and his son, Jimmy, plant about 2,500 row-feet of garlic. On a cold fall day, they threw a bunch of seed garlic in the back of the truck and headed up to the south meadow. The bed was tilled and marked, and they poked a little clove into the soil at eight inch increments. After this was done, they likely looked over their work briefly, then threw their tools and themselves back into the red truck.

If they were anything like me, as they made their way back to the barn they thought about how this was one of the few crops they will sow but not harvest, how it will be one of the first plants to reach up and greet next year’s interns, and how it will be tended, harvested and planted again by yet other hands.

These other hands are, of course, my hands. And Katelyn’s hands, Nate’s hands, Grace’s hands, Sandy’s hands, and Kayce’s hands. The garlic was there in the spring to greet us and, as we slowly and sometimes painfully learned what it means to farm, it grew for us too. Early in the summer, I’d walk the rows looking for a double shoot – a spot where two cloves had been planted instead of one. To ensure a full head of garlic, one stalk had to be removed. And eaten.
Scapes provide a welcome taste of garlic before the young garlic
is ready to be pulled. They can be eaten raw or sauteed or made
into a vibrant pesto. (photo by spnimtz)
In late June, I watched and waited impatiently for the stalks to send up scapes. When they finally started to appear, we’d walk up and down the rows, baskets in hand, snapping off the early garlic blossoms. These whimsical, green garlic curls, when removed, encourage root growth. They also provide a taste of what is to come, a little sneak preview.

After weeks of scape-snapping and -snacking, I watched as the first few leaves of the garlic stalks began to brown – an indicator that the bulb is shaping up. Paul would pull up a plant now and then to check progress. “Getting there,” he’d say as we watched in anticipation as he pulled back the outer layers of the bulb to reveal the developing cloves. We waited until one day, after he examined a head, he said, “Well, I guess we’ll be bringing some garlic to market this week.”

We were a little train of garlic harvesters: one person loosened the soil and roots with a broadfork, two people pulled the plants from the dirt, and a third cut the roots and stalk from the bulb.

We were a well oiled machine, pulling and cutting over two hundred heads in an hour.
A couple hundred heads the first week and a few hundred more the next, we piled fresh garlic on the bed of the truck and on the table at market. As I told many a curious customer, fresh garlic is milder than the garlic you find in the store. As garlic cures, its flavor intensifies. Fresh garlic, though, can be sliced thinly with a pocket knife and eaten in the barn between tasks. It is important, however, that all workers are fond of and partake in this practice.

Garlic cultivation, as I’ve discovered first hand, is very labor intensive for about two weeks of the season. This is the primary reason farmers don’t grow more of it. It is important not to leave the garlic in the ground for too long as the heads will start to rot rather than cure. As a result, lots of hands are needed for a week-long window. It took four or five of us about twenty hours to get fifteen hundred or so heads out of the ground, trimmed and set up to dry. We did it in two- or three-hour increments stretched over a week and a half, but even so, it felt good to have it all under a roof and out of the field. One day before the garlic was harvested, Paul asked if I was going to market with Sally the following day. I replied, “No, I’m staying here to make sure we get all the goddamn garlic out of the ground.”

Once harvested, we set up the stalks in a small old garage on simple yet effective drying racks. We put fans up to promote air circulation and closed the doors in the evening to keep out the dew. After a few weeks, the outer layers of the bulbs took on a papery feel, flaking off in your hands as they were cut and cleaned for market. Again, we cut a few hundred at a time as was needed for market, until yesterday, when Paul decided they were as cured as they were going to get. I clipped over two hundred pounds of garlic, setting the largest bulbs aside. We’ll sell the regular heads at market for the next few months, but the biggest heads have a different destiny as breeding stock.

Come October, we’ll separate out the cloves, sitting on buckets in the barn. I’ll probably be wearing long underwear beneath my Carhartts and my fingers will be cold. We’ll load the truck up, drive to the prepped bed and we’ll poke one hundred pounds worth of garlic cloves into the ground at eight inch increments. After this task is completed, I’ll look out over the field, hands warming in my pockets. I’ll think about next year’s interns who will watch the garlic poke up through the soil when the snow melts and the ground thaws; who will excitedly snap the scapes; who will pull, trim, dry and eventually replant the thousands of new heads these little cloves will grow to be.

I’ll feel a sense of relief knowing I will not be responsible for these tasks, but I’ll also feel melancholy. This farm now feels a lot like home. As I’ve worked in the fields, I’ve come to know and love this land. I feel a small sense of ownership and liability for its care. But, while it will be sad to leave one day, I am thrilled to know someone will be taking my place in the spring. And I’ll know, on that chilly fall day, that the garlic will be there to meet, excite, challenge and feed them.

I think you'll agree that we'll be seeing much more of Bailey's writing in the nation's food future.
For garlic lovers, scape pesto is made by chopping scapes with pine nuts or walnuts very finely, then folding in
grated parmesan cheese and enough olive oil to make the mixture creamy. Season with salt . (photo by spnimta)

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