Garlic farmer savors smell of success

Julia Hollister/For the Capital Press Ian Teresi, farm manager of George Chiala Farms in Morgan Hill, says garlic is temperamental and hard to grow but the reward is in the enticing taste.

For the Capital Press

When you drive 30 minutes south of San Jose, Calif., and open your car windows, the pungent, tantalizing scent of garlic fills your senses.

Garlic is king here and George Chiala Farms is one of the biggest players.

“I am the fifth generation farming in Santa Clara County,” said farm manager Ian Teresi. “When I was a teenager I wanted to try some other path but farming is in my blood.”

He admits he didn’t know schools offered crop science and other agricultural classes. His family convinced him to go to California Polytechnic State University-San Luis Obispo and after graduation his first job was with Chiala Farms. He said he knew how to farm but didn’t know why. The farm worked 150 acres then and now the acreage has grown to 1,700. The fresh and the processed sides of the business grew as well.

“Green beans are easy to grow, peppers are a little harder and garlic is very hard to grow, but it is my favorite,” Teresi said. “It’s a winter crop and it’s very ancient and temperamental. It needs water when it needs it.”

Ninety-five percent of the garlic will go the processing plant to be sold as powdered, chunky, roasted garlic and water and garlic and olive oil. Chiala Farms also sells to pizza operations. The farm also grows a variety of peppers.

“We use a big machine to plant the crushed garlic cloves in October and into November,” he said. “We harvest the crop in July; this fits perfectly in our rotation. We use micro irrigation that ‘spoon feeds’ the crops.”

Teresi said he’s concerned about the drought.

“That concern brings me back to the reality that it is something we can’t control,” he said. “Although we have rivers, canals and reservoirs, if it doesn’t rain, those don’t work. You have to take it day-by-day.”

Teresi said farmers are up against so many conditions that they can become “stressed out maniacs.”

“On top of all these regulations are the people — on the federal, state, county and city levels — who think they should tell us how to farm,” he said. “On one side I can understand it; but on the other side I think they should mind their own business and be happy for the food they get.”

Looking five years into the future, Teresi said he sees growth in the industry for several reasons. Consumers are more interested in food and how it is grown. When there is a choice between Chinese garlic and domestic garlic, people choose the latter because it tastes better and it is grown in California. Garlic is unprocessed and a healthy choice.

Teresi hunts with a bow and arrow in the fall but doesn’t eat or touch garlic from July to September because he said the deer can smell him “from 20 miles away.”

However, he said the garlic smell does keep the mosquitoes away when he is bass fishing.

“I love what I do and when I get up every morning I think about my wife and family and then think about my farm,” he said. “I never get tired of growing garlic or eating it.”

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