Garlic farm specializes in diverse strains

Steve Brown/Capital Press Shoppers choose from among the 60-plus varieties of garlic Ashley Creek Farm brought to the Chehalis Garlic Festival. In 2011, owner Mark Sand said, he sold out of product on the second day of the three-day festival; in 2012, he grew 30 percent more and still didn't expect to be taking much home.

By STEVE BROWN

Capital Press

CHEHALIS, Wash. -- Garlic filled the air amid the dozens of booths at the annual Chehalis Garlic Festival, but the bulbs could be found in only one place: the Ashley Creek Farm store.

Mark Sand has brought his signature product to the Aug. 24-26 festival for the past 16 years. This year he brought 80 percent of his total production of about 10,000 pounds, which was grown on 2 acres. The remainder is sold online.

At the festival, the sprawling display of 60-plus strains of organic garlic attracted at least 2,000 shoppers, he said.

"Last year we sold out on the second day, so we grew 30 percent more," he said. "I don't think we'll take much of it home."

The family-owned farm, southwest of Olympia, also produces cattle, pumpkins, herbs, corn, squash, onions and gourds.

Sand also works full-time as an engineer at an exercise equipment manufacturer in Woodinville, Wash.

About 15 people work during the festival, Sand said. But his father, a retired veterinarian, is the only full-time worker at the farm, which he bought in 1962.

Garlic is planted starting in September. It comes up in November and grows to between 2 and 6 feet tall. The plants are harvested in July, immediately tied with twine and hung up to dry. The air-drying, with the roots and stalks intact, gives the bulbs a longer shelf life, Sand said.

The following spring, pumpkins or corn are planted in rotation.

The pungency of the varieties is different every year, he said. As they become acclimated to the climate, they differ from the same varieties grown elsewhere.

"We try to guess how hot they will be, then provide charts indicating that heat index and how best to use them," he said.

The festival is important to the family, Sand's sister Lisa said. "We come back home every year for this. It brings the whole family together."

She has started growing garlic in South Carolina.

There aren't many garlic growers in Western Washington, Sand said. Most are east of the Cascade Mountains.

California dominates U.S. garlic production, accounting for 97 percent of the 4.2 million hundredweight grown in the U.S. in 2011. Virtually all the rest is grown in Oregon and Nevada, according to the USDA National Agriculture Statistics Service.

Besides raw garlic, Ashley Creek Farm also sells salsas, dipping sauces, pickled garlic, Chardonnay garlic stuffed olives, mustards, basting sauces, organic herbs, garlic braids and its own "Garlic Lovers' Cookbook."

Around the fairgrounds, garlic can be bought in chocolate, fries, corn, beer, Swiss cheese, fudge, ice cream, soup mixes, pastas, jellies and as deep-fried garlic.

Online

www.ashleycreek.com

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