SAVOR THE SEASON: Wilmington garlic farmer has bumper crop this year
WILMINGTON — Last year, Rarilee Conway grew about 3,600 heads of garlic at her small farm at 1104 Springfield Road.
“That was a lot,” she said Wednesday, Sept. 28. “Then I bumped it up to 5,200 (this year), and that was too much.”
This was the fifth season Conway has grown garlic commercially. Since she does most of the work — with help from her husband and some friends — she’s decided that next year she’ll scale back the operation at Rare Farm to about 3,000 heads.
After retiring, Conway decided to grow a cash crop in her gardens to help pay for vacations.
“So that’s what I was thinking. If I made a couple thousand dollars, that would be a nice vacation, she said.
After some initial research, she narrowed down the crops to garlic and blueberries, both of which grow well in this higher-elevation part of the Adirondack Park — home of Whiteface Mountain, the state’s fifth highest peak.
Garlic and blueberries were both lower maintenance and had a high value, but they had some distinct differences.
“Blueberries take a long time to get going,” Conway said, “and you need a lot of plants. And it’s also very labor intensive all at one time. Garlic has very few pests. Deer won’t eat it. There’s a lot of reasons that garlic is easier to grow, and that’s why I went with the garlic.”
Conway grows only one hardneck variety of garlic called Music. She sells smaller bulbs for eating and larger bulbs for planting, plus scapes when they are in season.
In a couple of weeks, she’ll be planting next year’s garlic. She harvests scapes in June and bulbs in July. Then the bulbs cure for two to four weeks before they are processed — cutting off the stems, cleaning off the dirt and trimming the roots — before they are available for sale in August.
Asked what she’s learned about garlic farming, Conway points to the economics of the labor-intensive operation.
“If you calculate out your time, versus how much you’re making, you’re not making much per hour,” she said. “Even though people think that $15 a pound is a lot of money, when you add it all up, you’re not even making $15 an hour. You’re putting in a lot more time than that.”
But as supplemental income, she said it’s worth it, especially because she enjoys the farming … on a small scale.
“And I love garlic,” Conway said. “I eat a lot of garlic.”
The roadside farm stand helps.
“If I had to go to the markets and sit there all day, then definitely it wouldn’t be worth it,” she said.
There seems to be a lot of garlic grown on Adirondack farms. Many of the bigger farms grow garlic as one of the crops they offer to CSA (community-supported agriculture) customers. Then there are smaller garlic farms like Rare Farm.
For more information about Rare Farm, contact Conway at 518-524-0493.