Celebrate Local Garlic

Last week, I shared my tale of exasperation over Chinese garlic in the supermarket. Why, I wondered out loud, at the height of local garlic season, was I only finding garlic from the other side of the world?

Local garlic has arrived at farmer's markets. (Kim O'Donnel)

In particular, I was concerned about the supply of Chinese garlic at my local Whole Foods, which touts itself as a steward of sustainability. If a woman in Austin, Tex. can deliver 17 heads of lettuce a week from her farm to a nearby Whole Foods store, why can't a similar relationship be arranged among garlic growers in the Maryland-Virginia-West Virginia region and Washington area Whole Foods locations?

I have not yet given Whole Foods a chance to respond to this question, but it's at the top of my to-do list and I will keep you posted on my progress. In the meantime, get your garlic where it's good and local -- at the farmer's markets. I've seen it at Arlington Courthouse, Columbia Pike and Clarendon markets, selling for about $1.50 per bulb. Its bulbs are still slightly soft and faintly sweet (think sweet onion) in flavor.

As a regular garlic user, I stock up on four or five bulbs at a time, to have at the ready for mixing into sauteed veggies, sauces and marinades. If you want to celebrate its arrival and go for a full-on garlic experience, try your very own Caesar salad, with a garlicky vinaigrette that will send you to the moon. It stinks up the kitchen (and your breath), but so what. It's so good you'll lap up the bowl.

By the way, as part of my garlic investigation, I am heading out to garlic country at the end of the month. I'll be attending the Gilroy Garlic Festival, in Gilroy, Calif, and will be blogging on my adventures there. Stay tuned July 31!

Talk to me. I'm all yours, today at noon, for a whole hour. What's Cooking is where the kitchen kids hang out, every Tuesday.

By Kim ODonnel |  July 18, 2006; 10:13 AM ET Food Politics , Seasonal Produce
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How do you know that the garlic in your grocery store is from China vs. anywhere else? Here in Ithaca there are plenty of opportunities to buy from local farmers, but I've always wondered how consumers can understand the "provenance" of grocery store produce, as it were.

Posted by: Ithaca | July 18, 2006 12:28 PM

They have it at the Dupont farmer's market, too. We love it! It's so fresh.

Posted by: DC | July 18, 2006 12:49 PM

But I'm here in MD instead, so I get my local garlic at the College Park Farmers Market instead.

Posted by: Wish I was in good ole Ithaca | July 18, 2006 5:57 PM

Thanks for bringing up such a timely topic! Farm organizations have long been lobbying for a "Label of Origin" law that would require retailers to indicate where the produce they are selling comes from. Here in Oregon, many of the markets already do this because shoppers have requested it.

Shopping at your local farmer's markets is great, but also make sure the produce managers at your favorite markets know that you want locally-grown produce. Then, put your money where your mouth is, support your local growers, and buy what they're growing (even if it costs a wee bit more)!

Posted by: Anne | July 18, 2006 6:16 PM


If you read Kim's tale of exasperation, she goes into great detail about how she knows it's from China! Pretty interesting discussion, actually.

Posted by: Corey | July 18, 2006 6:38 PM

If you are LEBANESE you will want a garlic creamy paste , made of extra virgin olive oil and sea salt and garlic , with your grilled or barbecued chicken .
It's very hard if not impossible to make with chinese garlic the reason soon as you finish the paste in 5 mn. it will break down or separate . Yesterday a urika came over my brain ! And I added a litle bit of corn starch to the darn thing , and guess what ? it perfectly worked , and this is how I became a cheater. Till I find a better local mature garlic I gues I have to keep on cheating

May the lord of garlic be with you

Aurevoir Cheater

Posted by: Cheater | July 18, 2006 7:00 PM

Kim, maybe you should grow your garlic yourself. Then, you can stop whining!

Posted by: OK? | July 18, 2006 9:13 PM

Most of garlic in the US is grown in California's Central Valley, where the heat is dry and the garlic thrives. Gilroy was once home to 90% of the US' garlic processing capacity, but that's dropped in the last decade, as one processor closed and others opened up in the US as garlic's popularity grew. Many of the local growers (who run some of the operations in the Central Valley) have complained that China has dumped the garlic at below cost.

Have fun. I grew up in Gilroy, and the Garlic Festival not only brings the small city together but also truly benefits local charities. After Proposition 13 decimated property tax revenue for schools, kids and parents volunteered at the Garlic Festival to raise money to keep many of the extracurricular activities. It's a great cause and great fun. I'm envious.

Posted by: GarlicGirl | July 19, 2006 11:52 AM

Corey, thanks so much for the tip - I will definitely check out the other article. :^)

Posted by: Ithaca | July 19, 2006 2:54 PM

Garlic, including a bit of elephant garlic, was available at the Takoma Park farmer's market (TPFM) last week. As were the most beautiful white onions I've ever seen.

If you go, the folks next to Waterpenny Farm (where I buy all the chard they'll sell me) have the best.

And have you tried the plums? TPFM has a couple of growers that sell these med-sized yellow plums called Shiro and some other green/red/blush. So. Good.

Posted by: Melissa | July 19, 2006 5:13 PM

$1.50 for one garlic bulb? That is very expensive, regardless of where it was produced and whether it is organic. Eating with a conscience must be for the uber-rich (or at least not for the frugal) because I refuse to buy garlic even at $4.99/lb and have gone without my much-loved garlic for a long time now. I'm not a fan of Chinese garlic either, but it does seem fresher and hold up better than the Christopher Farm garlic I get at Costco. The Christopher garlic usually sprouts within a week of my purchase despite being in a cool dark corner of my pantry. And most of the cloves are so dry that I can't even use a garlic press on it.

On a similar note, I am fully supportive of local farmers. However, I don't think the produce is less expensive than grocery stores. What gives? They are selling directly to consumers, so shouldn't the prices be at least the same as Giant/Safeway?

Posted by: RF | July 25, 2006 12:56 PM

Apparently Whole Foods is responding to pressure to buy locally, at least to some extent. Here's a link to a S.F. Chron online article 7/26/06, title Whole Foods, Taking Flak, Thinks Locally
Q: How is this playing out along the East Coast?

Posted by: Jay | July 26, 2006 1:25 PM

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