Ralph and Cindy Edwards sell garlic at the farmers’ market in Cove and at other local festivals. (Courtesy photo)
A little folly and a whole lot of garlic. Christmas 2009 found Ralph Edwards of Folly Farm in Cove holding a head of Thai Fire garlic. It was a gift from a friend.
The taste was incredible.
The ground had not yet frozen; Ralph, a horticulturist by training, planted five cloves.
“Those five cloves gave me these great big, beautiful heads of garlic,” Ralph said. “I said, ‘Wow, that was easy. Let’s do that again.’”
That was the beginning of the end: this fall, the garlic-growing duo harvested 1,096 cloves.
“We grew eight varieties,” said Ralph’s wife, Cindy.
What started as a kitchen garden has grown into a gourmet garlic farm with a dream of establishing a local seed bank for heirloom vegetables.
An architect by trade, Ralph Edwards talks about another era where wealthy lords built huge extravagant buildings — decked out with ornamentation — that did not have an intended purpose.
“Is it going to be a library? Is it going to be a bank? No. It was something he built for his own pleasure and basically had no function whatsoever,” Ralph Edwards said.
So people started calling those buildings, “follies,” and the saying was born, “It is his own folly.”
Not built for a purpose, just for pleasure.
One of Ralph’s professors used to say, “Design without purpose is just folly.”
In 2006, Ralph and Cindy were sitting in what is now the La Grande Inn. In front of them lay a real estate contract to buy one acre in Cove.
“We were 700 miles from where we both grew up,” Cindy said.
Ralph had doubts. He remembers thinking, “We don’t really know anyone here except a few relatives.”
A Fat Tire Beer commercial on TV caught their eye. The commercial had no words, just music and footage of a guy out riding a bicycle he restored following a country road. Text flashed on the screen: “Follow your folly. Ours is beer.”
Ralph and Cindy signed the papers. Folly Farm was born.
The Edwards call their garlic farm a self-supporting hobby. At first the Edwards offered a U-pick.
“We’ll get the neighbors to support our ‘seed habit’,” laughed Cindy.
Now Folly Farm sells garlic at the farmer’s market in Cove and at other local festivals. Each garlic variety has a written descriptor akin to wine tasting.
At the markets, the Edwards offer tastings both raw and roasted.
Garlic cloves are usually planted toward the end of October. The ground soon freezes over, but the soil below is 55 degrees and the roots keep growing all winter, developing a huge root mass with hair thin roots running out in all directions. These fine hairs deep in the soil pull up trace minerals. Trace minerals add to the famed medicinal qualities of garlic.
“That is why garlic is such a magical thing,” Cindy said.
Some customers buy garlic for purely medicinal purposes. Recently a customer bought one-half pound of garlic to make a poultice for a wound. Others have used the juice for bee stings or worming goats.
“If you had a little good garlic with your food on a regular basis, you’d know you were getting all the trace elements you need,” said Ralph.
Cindy is passionate about their work to develop a seed bank of heirloom vegetables.
“The overall goal is to develop a secure seed source of non-GMO seeds that grow here locally,” Cindy said. “Just like garlic, things adapt locally over time.”
Ralph points to the large heirloom tomatoes sitting on the wooden table in the kitchen. They are various shades of red, one is even purple.
“People grow the same tomato grandpa grew,” Ralph said. “They’ve saved seeds religiously.”
The Edwards hope to form partnerships to preserve heirloom seed and potentially co-op growing garlic to develop a bigger marketing scheme.