Jerry Ford

Jerry Ford raised 6,000 garlic plants on his Minnesota farm last year. He keeps about a third of his crop for seed stock. 

ST. CLOUD, Minn. — As farmers scramble for any particular crop which might generate extra revenue, why not consider garlic?

Jerry Ford, network coordinator of the Sustainable Farming Association, chuckled when asked that question at the recent Minnesota Organic Conference in St. Cloud.

“Invariably, when we talk growing garlic, people tend to pinch their nose,” he said. “But when I share some of my own experiences, they listen just a bit harder.”

Yes, garlic farming is for real. In fact, the Crow River SFA is doing a project called the “Minnesota Premium Garlic Project” which is funded by a specialty crops grant through the Minnesota Department of Agriculture.

“Over the next 30 months we’re going to encourage people to start growing garlic,” said Ford. “We’ll be training people how to do it; we’ll direct them to local seed sources; and we’ll tell them about expanding markets for Minnesota-grown garlic.”

Minnesota already has a few garlic growers. “Since we started promoting this project, garlic growers have been coming out of the woodwork. Some tell me they’ve been growing garlic for 20 years,” said Ford.

Ford said most Minnesota-grown garlic is direct marketed meaning locally grown for local purchase. Some is sold through food stores, some through specialty stores, and some direct from the grower.

Ford has a 113-acre diversified farm and his garlic patch occupies about one-fifth of an acre. He has 6,000 plants on his mini-garlic farm. One bulb is one plant. Ford is finding garlic farming is a very positive cash flow.

“On that two-tenths of an acre, I clear $6,000 even while holding back 25 percent of the crop for my seed stock,” he said. “I sold only about 4,000 bulbs. It makes financial sense with premium garlic to grow your own seed stock.”

Conceivably, one acre could handle 30,000 garlic plants. Even with 25 percent of your harvest retained for seed, a $30,000 revenue potential might be generated from that single acre!

Ford admitted growing garlic is labor intensive, but only twice a year during fall planting (October) and a July harvest. Northern garlic varieties are perennials, but you replant each fall.

“If you don’t, it becomes what we call a weed,” Ford explained. “So you dig it up each fall and grow next year’s crop from your own seed stock. Which is good, because garlic seed stock is very expensive.”

Big catalog seed companies are pricing garlic seed at $22 per pound. “But if you buy locally from Minnesota growers, we’re averaging about $14 per pound. Get seed stock that acclimates to your soil, and you can be growing your own seed stock every year,” Ford said.

So who’s growing the garlic for today’s market? Ford said most garlic sold in the United States today comes from China.

“The United States has a source in California, but it is a different kind of garlic than what we grow here. There are over 100 varieties of garlic. I would encourage new growers up here in the northland to grow northern garlic.”

Garlic originated in the mountain region of Uzbekistan in Siberia. Thus it acclimates very well to Minnesota’s environment Ford said. He suggests growing the hardier Porcelain and Purple Stripe varieties.     

For more information on seed sources, growing garlic, population and fertility requirements, visit www.sfa-mn.org. Another excellent garlic source is Carol Rosen, University of Minnesota Soil Science Department at  rosen006@umn.edu.       

The Land Staff Writer​