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Spring at home - Not your everyday heirloom crop

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by Leah Dobbs/Spencer Magnet Freelancer

 

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When Tom Scanlan and Debra Green met, Tom had 30 acres of farmland off of the Salt River, and Debra thought he should do something with it.

Tom agreed. The pair discussed several options. They wanted to grow a unique crop that they and others would love.

Finally, they settled on growing organic heirloom garlic.

Five years ago, Salt River Garlic started with thirteen pounds of garlic. Now, they grow between three and five hundred pounds, around 25,000 plants. Each year, they grow roughly thirty different varieties.

“At any one time, we have what we call our staples. Those are things that we know are going to sell. People like it, we like it, it grows really well. And then we also have varieties that we experiment with because we love to see whether or not a particular variety will do well in Kentucky,” says Green.

They enjoy growing different types of garlic because they each have a unique flavor and use. When asked to choose a favorite, the pair protests. Debra compares choosing a favorite garlic to choosing a favorite child, while Tom compares it to picking a favorite cookie. They both agree that it depends on what you want to do with it.

Some customers buy from them to plant and grow the garlic themselves. Other customers, including chefs from Louisville and foodies from all over the country, buy heirloom garlic because of its stronger flavor. Some customers even buy it for medicinal purposes, eating a raw garlic clove every day. Tom and Debra recommend one of their more mild varieties for that.

Tom and Debra grow their garlic organically for a number of reasons, including their location on the Salt River, where their pesticide, herbicide, and fertilizer use is closely regulated. Debra likes to eat organically herself and believes it adds value to what they do to offer people a product without harsh chemicals added. Luckily for them, garlic has a natural resistance to several standard pests. However, they still have other obstacles, like persistent weeds, which Debra describes as the bane of her life.

Growing garlic can also be a labor-intensive process, from orienting the plants just right for planting to storing them after harvest. To help with the work load, Tom and Debra hire locals, including students from the high school. They laugh as they admit that they’re not as young as they once were.

Tom quips, “Hiring someone that can bend and lift and not feel like their knees are going to give out is helpful.”
One of the things that Tom and Debra love most about Salt River Garlic is the opportunity it gives them to preserve rare garlic varieties.

Says Debra, “I think the thing that I love most about what we do is that we’re growing things that are rare and hopefully making the public aware of it and helping to preserve these amazing varieties of garlic. That’s one of the primary reasons that we grow heirloom varieties and grow them organically. We want to preserve these varieties, and we also want to offer them to other people so that they’re part of preserving something that’s wonderful and a part of all of our heritage.”

They encourage home gardeners to pop garlic into their flower beds. It only needs about six inches between plants, and it’s a good partner for things like rose bushes or herbs because it keeps away common pests. They encourage growers who might like to start larger farming operations to start small, like they did.

Going forward, Tom and Debra plan to continue experimenting with new garlic varieties. They’ve also added Shetland sheep to the farm, selling the wool to hand spinners.