I didn’t learn of Fred Thaxton of Thaxtons Garlic through the markets or his strong relationship with several local chefs and restaurants, including The Greenhouse Tavern. No, it was oddly enough through my neighbor who is Fred’s oral surgeon. My neighbor knew he’d make a great Q&A for Cleveland Foodie and went on and on relaying stories he learned and sharing his new-found garlic knowledge. And after learning more for myself, I knew my neighbor was right.
1. How did you get into organic garlic farming? Our friend, Curt VanBlarcum, was growing garlic and would give us a few bulbs off and on. Then he taught me how to plant it and we put our first garlic in a little 8’X5’ area in 1998. Our farm got more sunlight then his land, so we tilled up some land, ordered several varieties of garlic off line and grew garlic together for a couple of years. We got up to around 2,000 plants. My wife Chris’s family is Italian and lives near by and every time they came to visit they would want a large bag of garlic to take home. So every year the size of the garlic field got larger just to meet the needs of the family and friends. Then four years ago Chris read that Hudson was going to start a farmers’ market. We applied and sold out of crop in four weeks. So we tilled up more land and planted more crop. We have been expanding every year. To date we have a little over a ½ acre in garlic. We plant organically because the produce is healthier to consume and it’s better for the earth (soil, water, and organisms in the soil.)
2. How much garlic do you grow each year? How many varieties and what’s your favorite one? Every year we expand a little to try to keep up with demand but maintain the quality of our garlic. This year we have 14,000 in the ground. We will take 12 varieties to market and have a couple others varieties we are still working to increase their numbers so in the future we will be able to take to market.
3. I understand you teach science – do you incorporate farming into your lesson plans? Do the students have any interest in knowing where there food comes from? Both Chris and I teach science. She teaches AP environmental science and ecology at Hudson High School and I teach biology and nature studies at Cleveland Heights High School. We both incorporate farming into our lesson plans. We both show the video Food Inc. and Diet for a New America to our students. Both videos do an excellent job of showing how our food choices affect the earth and the animals. I try to stress that what we eat effects both our external and internal environment (the earth and your body). Some of our students live on farms and understand where their food comes from. Others don’t know what goes on before it gets to the store. After teaching this unit some of the students want to come and visit our farm, others want to taste the garlic and a few of them want to help with the planting and harvesting so they can learn more.
4. Favorite use for garlic – other than cooking? In the winter when I feel a cold or sore throat coming on, I eat raw garlic and also make a garlic tea. I dice up a couple cloves of garlic and put them in a tea cup, sometimes add I bullion cube and pour hot water over it. Then I drink the fluid and eat the garlic. This seems to reduce the symptoms.
5. Favorite way to enjoy garlic? Garlic dip with ciabatta bread with a salad and a good beer or glass of wine.
6. What’s your favorite restaurant in Cleveland? The Greenhouse Tavern. It has great food, neat, friendly staff and an interesting space.
7. What chefs do you work with? John, Kevin and JJ Altomare – they are the owners and chef of Hudson’s Restaurant on 80 N. Main St. Hudson, Ohio. They buy garlic scapes and make garlic scape pesto pasta. Also Jonathan Sawyer from The Greenhouse Tavern buys scapes and garlic.
8. Where can we buy your garlic? At the Hudson Farmers Market on Saturdays from 9 am-12:30 pm from June until the 2nd of October. Also at the Chagrin Falls Farmers’ Market on Sundays from 10 -1:00pm until the 22nd of August. Also most Saturdays and Sundays after the market at our farm. Please call 330-283-6137 to make an appointment.
9. Best way to grow garlic at home? You should buy quality seed stock (bulbs to separate into cloves). Garlic is a winter crop. Should be planting in the fall, around the third week of October in good, fertile soil. Shoots will appear through the snow in the spring. Usually harvest in early July and hang to dry.
10. Favorite thing about Cleveland? The new restaurants, micro breweries and entertainment that keep popping up all around town.
11. If you were mayor for a day, what’s the first thing you’d change or what law would you establish? If I were mayor for a day I would have people spend a couple hours outside, so they would get more in touch with the environment that we so depend on as a population. Thus we would become better stewards of the earth. If Chris was mayor for a day, she would establish a law to get rid of all the fast food places so the kids would be healthier.
12. Biggest challenge or misconception about organic farming? Biggest challenge about organic farming is the time and energy spent hand weeding since no herbicides are used and garlic doesn’t like competition (weeds).
13. If you could be any other person for a day, who would it be? If I could be any one for a day I would like to have been Lewis of Lewis and Clark, so I could have explored the virgin forests.
14. Last meal on Earth? Garlic dip with ciabatta and an IPA beer, my wife’s spaghetti and meatballs with a salad and red wine followed by a piece or two of my mom’s homemade pies (one peach) finished with a nice porter or stout.
15. Best way to store garlic? How long does it keep? Cool, dry place so air can circulate around it. Hard necks will store 6-8 months and soft necks will store up to 9 months.