The story of the Reinhart Family Garlic is actually a continuation of a story that Keith Stewart has been telling for decades on his farm in upstate New York. (You can check out more about him in his two books: It’s a Long Road to a Tomato and Storey’s Guide to Growing Organic Vegetables.) His neighbor once offered him a handful of hard neck Racombole garlic to see if he could make anything of it, and Keith proceeded to cultivate some of the northeast’s tastiest garlic.
Eight years ago, shortly after moving to Colorado, John and I planted our first crop of Keith’s Farm garlic. We were living in my in-law’s backyard– in a shed turned studio, but mostly still shed, next to a donkey pen. Looking back I cannot quite recall why it was so important for me to have this garlic. At the time I suppose I was just so excited about growing anything. My time at Keith’s had awoken within me a sleeping giant of stewardship, and I could not help but bring life to the world around me, be connected to the ways in with the earth nourishes us. All these year later, I would not likely question why I planted that garlic in the dry silt of my in-laws’ backyard. Coaxing the food my family consumes into existence has become like breathing—a cornerstone of our lives.
As life goes, I could hardly imagine that one day I would be harvesting the offspring of that first crop with three little people we shepherded into life. Even in years when the arrival of a baby in April prompted us to let the garden rest for a season, or a move left us eating green garlic and hoping my in-laws (who have also grown Keith’s garlic on occasion) would have enough to share come planting time, this garlic has been a constant in our lives. It has looked on as two individuals became a family. Planted a home. Birthed a child. Then another. And another. This outward streaming streak of green leaves and pungent bulbs has stood sentinel to what the natural world accepted long ago, but man fights to avoid: we evolve through the ever-present, objective cycle of change.
This year, those three little people were big enough to do more than tug wet-earth-smelling-bulbs out of the ground in mid-July. My eldest, Mattheus, helped in the measuring and planting. He watched in anticipation as the green shoots emerged too early (as we are prone to early warm-ups and late frosts here in Denver), and asked many nights if we needed to cover the garlic, then dug through the garage for old feed bags and moth eaten blankets. And, when, after a few years of Mama pondering, “maybe we’ll plait it,” I actually had time to watch the five minute Youtube video to learn how to do it, he eagerly prepared the harvest for me—cleaning the bulbs and cutting the roots, exploring their unique balance of tender toughness (okay, yes, sometimes banging them against the table to see just how tough) When I watch him, really watch him in these moments, that part of me that laments his urban existence heals an infinitesimal amount.
The story goes that, seeing the success of the garlic, the neighbor returned to Keith with a handful of pennies. “Think you can do anything with these?” For Keith it was a few cloves of garlic and a farm was born. For the Reinharts, we unwittingly set our roots as a family into the ground when we planted our first crop. Where will be the next time we pull in a harvest? Only the ever-present cycle of change could guess.