From the Back Pagers … Garlic and the Economics Thereof

The Economics of Garlic

by SB SM

[This appeared in November, just after the garlic went in the ground. Now it’s April and it’s green chutes have appeared. We’ll come back again in late July, when it’s time to harvest.]

Photo by Karolina Grabowska on

There are lots of reasons to grow and eat garlic. But now we’ve found a new one … money!

When it came time choose a visual symbol for Green Living Journal, a magazine that I published for 15 years, we considered the ubiquitous leaf, a stylized version of the earth, and even a frizzy-haired hippie who we were going to name “Natural Grace.” But instead, we chose garlic.

Here are a few reasons why:

  • Garlic is the first green you see in the spring. Even while the crocuses are rubbing their eyes, garlic is pushing its way skyward through the mulch that kept if warm through the winter. Garlic is delightfully quirky. You plant in the fall, harvest in mid-summer, and enjoy all year long.
  • Garlic is a model of efficiency. The young, green shoots are edible, as are the corkscrew “scapes” that the plant shoots out as it reaches maturity. At a recent workshop I learned that the root tendrils from freshly picked garlic are highly prized by knowledgeable chefs. This year we made pesto from the scapes. Delicious. We’ve got a few bags in the freezer that we are saving for a cold night in February.
  • You can cook garlic nearly every way, from the frying pan to the grill. The classic start to nearly everything I cook is garlic cooked to translucent perfection in olive oil. You would be amazed what you can elevate on the culinary scale with this bodacious beginning.
  • Garlic has powerful, slightly mysterious, medicinal qualities. On one hand it boosts the immune system, and yet it is also a pest deterrent both in the garden as well as on the body. Eat raw garlic and you will not have to worry much about mosquito bites. Or vampires.
  • But you may not have to worry about being kissed, either. Garlic, especially eaten raw, produces notoriously malodorous breath that is undetectable by other garlic eaters. Ironically, the clove’s sulphurous compounds are released only when it is crushed.
  • Human beings are the only species in the natural world that eats garlic. That tells you something, but I’m not sure what.
  • Garlic preserves well and can be dehydrated, stored in vinegar.
  • Garlic is a most sensuous creation. Its shape evokes the graceful curves of the female anatomy, and it is covered by layers of delicate skin that peel away like filmy negligee. Ooo-la-la. (We’d publish pictures, but this is a family blog.)
Photo by PhotoMIX Company on

Garlic has now gone big-time. The grand daddy festival in Gilroy, California draws over 100,000 people annually. Fifteen years ago, it was unthinkable for a home gardener in the Northeast to grow garlic. It was too exotic, too California, too French. But the truth was, we were just too ignorant. Now, there are numerous garlic festivals in this part of the world, and even a rank amateur such as me can have a dozen varieties in the back yard garden. I treat it as precious cargo, and I delight in giving prize bulbs to friends as little gifts.

There is only one reason I can think of NOT to grow garlic is that it is so darn cheap. When I go into a supermarket and see these huge, white bulbs, often imported from China, for about fifty cents each, it makes me feel like a piker. What kind of gift is a fifty-cent bulb?

Photo by Daria Shevtsova on

But things are changing. At Farmer’s Markets now I regularly see “fresh, local, organic” garlics going for $2/apiece, and I’ve seen it fetching up to $10/pound. I’ve started doing the math: Garlic is not grown from seed, but by planting the individual cloves that collectively comprise a bulb. It’s the quintessentially sustainable crop. With each bulb having 4 to 12 cloves, depending on variety, you can easily double the size of your crop every year and still have plenty to eat.

Most recently I entered my garlic in the agricultural competition at the Tunbridge World’s Fair. The results speak for themselves. $9 in prize money, including a blue ribbon for my braid of a variety I call “Randazzo Red.”

The possibilities are endless. I can keep expanding the crop, giving it as gifts, and entering it in competitions.

Garlic has never been afraid to be controversial. Throughout history cultures have either violently opposed it (Victorian England) or ardently embraced it (Native Americans). In America we disdained it for decades, but now have had a complete change of heart. At Green Living we know which side of the garlic fence we are on.

Now, I must call my financial advisor to see what she thinks I should do with my nine bucks. Don’t tell me I’m not a rich man.

SB Stephen

(PS–In braiding my garlic I discovered that is an incredible source of how-to videos on every possible subject. If you are, like me, someone who learns best by seeing, try this wonderful reference the next time you need to glaze a window, or change a washer, or sharpen a knife, or build a strawbale compost pile …)

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