MOGADORE, Ohio — You reach into the cupboard, searching for garlic. It’s your favorite recipe. You’ve made it hundreds of times.
Instead of grabbing for that same old bottle, you’re stopped in your tracks. Instead of one bottle of garlic, there are now 20 different varieties.
No, you are not imagining this. It could really happen.
BJ Gourmet Garlic Farm is the result of Budd and Judith Leisenring working to develop the perfect garlic for the past 30 years — and that meant growing 20 different types.
Now, he has customers as far away as Alaska and Italy wanting the farm’s garlic.
Budd, who learned to grow garlic with his grandfather, started growing garlic in his garden. Then his love for the plant developed, and he didn’t stop with just a garden. As he found more varieties and markets, he began to grow more.
Garlic was a crop Budd could spend time growing and marketing while working as a contractor.
As his life path changed, so did where he would grow garlic. He moved from the Cuyahoga Falls area to Carrollton, in Carroll County. Years later, he rekindled a romance with his high school sweetheart, Judith, after a high school reunion. After they married and had built their farm in Carrollton, Ohio, they decided to move back to the Cuyahoga Falls area to be near their grandchildren. They moved to the Mogadore area and continued their garlic business.
There, they started developing a market and were soon selling the garlic at farmers markets and online, and realized their property near Congress Lake didn’t meet their needs. But they knew they didn’t want to move from the Congress Lake area again, so they kept their eyes and open, and in November 2015, they sold their house and bought a house on Swartz Road. It has five acres and a barn that they could renovate into a commercial kitchen.
Even though it was tough, the couple managed to get their first crop of garlic planted on the new property while moving into a new home and selling their old one.
Budd said he and Judith planted around an acre and half of garlic in November. That may seem like it’s not a lot of garlic, but it’s more than you think, because of the intense labor that is involved in growing garlic.
Every stage of the garlic process is done by hand to guarantee quality at BJ Gourmet Garlic Farm. Not only does he plant and harvest by hand, but the packing and shipping have to be handled by hand, too. The processes include separating the garlic seed cloves, planting each individual clove, mulching, weeding and cutting the scapes.
When it is harvest time, the bulbs are removed by hand, tied into bundles and hung in the barn to dry and cure. After curing, the bulbs are individually cleaned, trimmed and sorted by hand.
The other reason that the crop is being kept to one and half acres is because the crop has to be rotated to avoid nematodes from invading the crop. The farm features three locations on the property where the crop can be rotated. This means that the current crop area will not be replanted until 2019.
The couple pride themselves on having garlic that is nematode free. Nematodes can quickly damage a garlic crop, triggering stunting, yellowing and collapse of leaves, and premature defoliation.
The Leisenrings test their garlic by sending it to Cornell University in an effort to prevent the pest from inhabiting their farm. By letting fields set while they rotate the garlic crop into other fields, they say it stops nematodes from spreading.
Certified naturally grown
The couple’s garlic isn’t certified organic, but they are growing it organically, and their garlic is certified naturally grown. CNG is a national certification organization that assures that food labeled was produced without synthetic chemicals or genetically modified organisms.
Budd said the standards are similar to organic standards, but is less strict with the primary differences being the cost to farmers and paperwork requirements.
As part of the certification, a group of fellow farmers visit the farm to determine if the crop is being grown by those standards to be called certified naturally grown, said Budd.
Judy said farmers visit their farm and they visit other farms to ensure they are following the protocols for being certified naturally grown. She said they visited a farm in Sugarcreek, Ohio, and one in the western part of the state as well.
When the couple started growing garlic for sale, they were selling it the traditional route in bulbs. It wasn’t long before Budd and Judith realized there was a bigger market for garlic than just bulbs. They also realized that garlic had a limited shelf life, which meant they needed to find ways to make the produce last longer.
This is where Judith became an integral part of the operation. She has worked to develop garlic seasonings that can be sold when fresh garlic is not available.
She has developed her own recipe of balsamic vinegar with garlic and cilantro, garlic grilling spices, garlic pasta seasoning, garlic salt, garlic nuggets and extra virgin oil with garlic. She has also developed a market for garlic cooking chips and garlic dips as well as garlic rubs.
This is why the farm needed a commercial kitchen to develop their seasonings.
Budd explained there are two varieties of garlic: hard neck and soft neck garlic.
The soft neck garlic varieties have to be hand planted. It is also sold in stores, but has a shorter shelf life.
Another market that has developed over the past several years is the scape market. It is similar to a chive but with a light garlic taste.
Budd said that 20 years ago, “the scapes were thrown in the compost pile,” but now four buyers are ringing the garlic producer’s phone off the wall.
BJ Gourmet Garlic grows 20 varieties of garlic but there are only 10 true garlic types. What determines the varieties is often where the garlic was grown. Budd said that the garlic can take on the taste of the soil where it was planted.
This is why many of the varieties have names related to the areas where they generated, like German White garlic, Russian Red garlic and Italian Red garlic.
Harvest will begin in mid-July and once it is complete, the Leisenrings will plant a cover crop. Budd said he will plant buckwheat and then plant rye in the field to protect the soil over the winter months.
Budd said the goal of each crop is to grow the biggest bulbs since they make the most seeds for the next crop. The farm also sells garlic seed for others to plant, which has helped the farm to diversify and create another revenue stream.
The company started accepting orders in early May and the product will ship in September. The products are available online and in Giant Eagle stores. The products are also available at Local Roots Market and Cafe in Wooster and Ashland, Ohio. In addition, the garlic and garlic related products are also for sale at the Medina Farmers Market and the North Union Farmers Market.
The couple will also be attending the Cleveland Garlic Festival at Shaker Square Aug. 27 and Aug. 28.
It’s at festivals like this one, that Budd and Judith find ideas for different products. The festival will feature products not commonly found, like garlic ice cream.
This fall, the couple plans to plant another 60,000 garlic plants in the second one and half acre plot and start the process over again.
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