EDEN — You could call Pete Rasmussen the Garlic Whisperer.
He grows more than 50 different varieties of these pungent bulbs at his Sandhill Farms in Eden. This season, he’s expecting a 5,000- to 6,000-pound harvest — “literally, tons of garlic,” he said.
He grows both culinary garlic for cooking and seed garlic for gardeners to grow their own.
When his son, Jorro, was born, Rasmussen named a variety of garlic for him — “Baby Love.”
“Observing garlic’s growth cycles in the mountains is one of the most rewarding parts of farming for me,” he waxed poetic on his Sandhill Farms website.
“The plump, dense, hardy cloves planted during the crisp days of fall; winter’s quiet blanket of snow; then green emergence in the spring; and tall, symmetrical, proud emerald green plants by June, ready for a nighttime harvest during the hottest days of late July.”
Rasmussen grew up in Washington state, with no farming experience until he took a class at the University of California-Santa Cruz’s 20-acre organic research farm.
“I remember the day very clearly. We were transplanting romaine lettuce. The fog was backing off the Monterey Bay and the soil was so dark and loamy. It all just felt right to me, that this is what I want to do.”
He majored in environmental studies with a focus on agro-ecology — applying ecological principles to farming, with hands-on experience at the research farm.
Then it was time for a farm of his own. Luckily, in 1999, his parents, Mark and Marsha Rasmussen, had moved to Utah, settling on a four-acre parcel with horse property near Pineview Reservoir.
“Little did they know it would end up as a farm for garlic and carrots and beets,” said Rasmussen. “We have the most beautiful deep top soil I’ve seen in Northern Utah.”
Cultivating it took time. The first year, it was a 20-by-60-foot plot next to the house.
“Now we have two acres of cultivated beds serviced by an irrigation system,” he said. “All that infrastructure has been in a decade of our stewardship here. We also lease another acre.”
Besides his affinity for it, Rasmussen chose garlic as a staple crop for practical reasons. Storability is one.
“We harvest early- to mid-July, it cures for two to three weeks in the barn, and we start selling it in early August,” he said. “We sell out of seed garlic by October, and our garlic braids can be sold as late as December. That’s a pretty wide window. If you’re growing lettuce, it must be picked and sold within a few days.”
Another reason: Rasmussen and wife Kati Greaney live and work in California in the winter.
“Garlic is planted in the fall and doesn’t need to be weeded, watered or cared for from October to March. So it works nicely into my personal schedule.”
CSA shares for sale
Besides garlic, Rasmussen grows a variety of vegetables for his Community Supported Agriculture members. They buy a weekly share of the farm’s harvest during the season. A 16-week membership is $525.
You can find Sandhill Farms garlic and other produce at Hearth on 25th and Roosters in Ogden; Liberty Heights Fresh, Pago, Finca and Caffe Niche in Salt Lake; and Zoom in Park City.
The garlic can also be ordered on his website, Sandhillfarms.org.
“To maintain diversity and expand our clientele, we grow crops like salad greens, baby zucchini, golden beets, purple carrots, kale and basil,” Rasmussen said. “It’s the whole picture that makes the farm viable. Garlic isn’t paying the bills 100 percent, but it’s definitely our signature crop, and one we’ve found ways to be creative about, such as our garlic scapes.”
Scapes are thin green stalks that grow from the bulbs of garlic plants. They are harvested in June before they can flower, so the plant can channel all of its energy into producing bulbs. Scapes taste similar to chives or scallions, but with a garlicky flavor.
One would expect a potent garlicky aroma to linger on the farm.
“When we’re harvesting, you can definitely smell it. But the smell doesn’t release until the cloves have been punctured,” he said. “So while it’s growing, you wouldn’t smell it unless you were to pull it out of the ground and smell the roots. But maybe animals can smell it, with their acute sense of smell, because they tend to stay away. We don’t have problems with deer eating our lettuce.”
Through spring and summer, 16-hour workdays are the norm. Harvesting is often done at night with headlamps, to avoid July’s daytime heat.
Training new farmers
Rasmussen has always used organic methods, without chemicals or pesticides. But this is the first year he applied for the federal organic certification program.
“The inspection fees are costly, and the record-keeping is time-consuming,” Rasmusen said. “We want to see if it will give some added value.”
He and his wife recently began leasing a five-acre dairy farm across the street from the Eden Park.
They want to develop it a training ground for new farmers, “where they can spend a growing season from start to finish and see what it entails.”
“After 10 years of learning by doing and making mistakes, we want to explore ways to make it profitable while provide a learning opportunity for the new wave of young farmers.”
Recipe follows photo
Sandhill Farms Scape Pesto
This recipe comes from the kitchen of Kati Greaney.
8-10 garlic scapes, cut into 2-inch pieces
Juice of 1-3 lemons or limes
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/2-1 cup olive oil (depending on desired consistancy)
Combine and mix in food processor.
Serve fresh as a dipping sauce for veggies, crackers or toasted french bread; add to omelets; use as a sandwich spread or on pasta. There are endless options for this garlic delicacy.