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Sunday, November 14, 2010

Garlic Workshop Draws Natural Food Enthusiasts

Garlic Workshop Draws Natural Food Enthusiasts
(Appeared on Fairfield 11/13)
By Mike Lauterborn
© 2010. All Rights Reserved.

Fairfield, CT – Perhaps it was the heavenly smell emanating from the subterranean level of the library or maybe it was a love of organic foods that drew a full house of people inside and away from a glorious fall morning.

Sponsored by the Fairfield Organic Teaching Farm, a “Grow Your Own Garlic Workshop” was conducted Saturday Nov. 13 from 10am-noon at the Fairfield Woods Branch Library. It was designed to encourage families to grow garlic in their own backyards but also to educate them about garlic, its many health benefits and various ways in which it can be prepared.

Event features included a presentation about planting, maintaining and harvesting garlic by Patti Popp, co-owner of Sport Hill Farm in Easton, and a cooking/education session provided by Health and Cooking Coach Amie Guyette Hall. Seed garlic was also available for sale and books about garlic displayed.

“Right now is garlic planting season,” said Jennifer Cole, VP of Fairfield Organic Teaching Farm, with regard to the program’s garlic focus. “You break off the cloves and plant them for harvest next July.”

Cole’s topline description would make one think the planting process is simple, but there are particulars about which a new grower should be aware to realize success. Five years ago, Popp didn’t know the first thing about garlic and had been in the orthopedics field. Then she and her husband bought a forested plot of land, cleared it and initiated their farm.

“I never intended to be a farm girl. There was some trial and error at first but now we’re in our fourth year of planting and looking to expand,” said Popp. One hundred and ten families subscribe to their Community Supported Agriculture program, pre-paying for produce that they then pick up each week over a 21-week period. In effect, these families help fund operations and share in the harvest.

“This year we planted 350 pounds of garlic, which will yield four times that next year. A lot of chain stores import garlic from China. The taste difference between locally grown and imported is huge. I suggest you go to farmer’s markets for really fresh garlic,” Popp said to the gathering.

Popp explained that the first frost is usually the signal to plant and that there are essentially three types of garlic: hardneck (grows best in our area), softneck (grown when winters are mild) and elephant (really part of the leak family). German white hardneck garlic is the type Popp has always grown and she said it tastes “phenomenal”. Popp added that garlic is a heavy feeder and requires nutrients that can include fish emulsion, sea kelp or blood meal.

The hardneck variety produces a scape or flower that should be snipped off and can be prepared like a scallion and enjoyed with pesto. When it is removed, it allows the plant to dedicate more energy to enlarging the bulb. The bulb is removed, dried and bundled upon the appearance of at least three green leaves on the above-ground stem.

Hall, a graduate of the Institute for Integrative Nutrition, recent winner of RYASAP’s Homegrown Spirit Award and owner of a Fairfield-based practice called From Your Inside Out, provided both garlic health benefit information and preparation guidance. She shared that “the stinking rose” is a natural antibiotic, anti-fungal and anti-viral, and good for treating ear infections, high blood pressure, yeast infections and respiratory conditions.

Like Popp, Hall only began working with organic foods a few years ago. Her family had been unhealthy, suffering from allergies and bouts of strep throat. When she started cooking with whole foods, like garlic, their lives completely changed for the better.

Hall mentioned the different methods of chopping garlic – whack, peel and dice; grating; pulverizing -- and various additives which can include sea salt, cayenne pepper and honey. She also explained how to prepare and roast whole bulbs. “Cooking doesn’t have to be complicated. Have some fun with your food,” Hall encouraged.

Library staff were delighted with the turnout and program. Nancy Coriaty, Deputy Town Librarian, said, “We want Fairfielders to be more educated about health and local natural food choices. The library is a great space to bring the community together.”

Attendees were equally wowed. Mary Coe, a Sport Hill Farm CSA participant, said, “I want to eat healthier foods and support local farmers. This is a great way to learn more.”

Stamford resident Michelle Garcia, like Popp an Integrative Nutrition institute graduate, said, “I love the passion these people have and how healing the food is. This helps bring us back to our original farming roots.”