The garlic comes first at Sunshine Farm |

The garlic comes first at Sunshine Farm

Marilyn Gleason
Staff Photo |

Pat Vigil called the other day to remind me the Christmas Bazaar is coming up in December at Sunshine Farm. Ed took the call. She mentioned she had a migraine and Ed said, “Pat, you’d better go to bed and nurse that headache.”

“No,” Pat retorted, “I can’t. I have to go cover the garlic.”

Sunshine Farm is just west of New Castle, and gardeners in the know go there in the springtime to buy tomatoes and peppers and raspberries and seed potatoes for the garden. The brave young seedlings come with expert advice from Pat, a master gardener if there ever was one.

Later on in the summer, you can buy fresh produce. It’s the only farm stand where I’ve shopped that I can pick my meal right off the plant. I point to the green pepper or cantaloupe that looks the best, and Pat snips it off and sells it to me.

Now that’s service. Try that at your supermarket chain store.

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For 22 years Pat and her family have operated Sunshine Farm. Garlic is a specialty.

Consulting her records, Camille confirmed that she planted exactly 7,528 garlic cloves this year, representing 19 soft-neck and stiff-neck varieties. Each clove, separated by hand from its bulb, will produce a new head of garlic. They plant the cloves in the fall in rows, prep them with organic fertilizer, salt them with chicken droppings, and finally cover them with a thick mat of straw for protection from the ravages of winter. By February they begin to sprout.

Every year I buy one of Camille’s beautiful garlic braids, and they are my favorite gift for any cook. She weaves the long, dried leaves of a dozen or more garlic plants together with sprays of dried flowers, colorful peppers and attractive grasses. The arrangement decorates my kitchen wall, and I can trim off heads of intensely flavored garlic all winter long as I need them.

On two weekends in October every year, the Vigils offer classes for anyone who wants to learn to grow garlic.

“People think farmers work only six months out of the year,” Pat confided.

But every season has its labors. In November the Vigils clean up the fields and plant garlic. January is the time to order seeds. By February, “You wouldn’t believe how much has started,” she tells me. “Artichokes, geraniums, pansies, petunias, snapdragons, perennials.”

When I stopped by Sunshine Farm this week, Pat was busy preparing for the Christmas Bazaar, an annual sale of local handcrafts and food. Hand-woven baskets, jewelry made with marble quarried in Marble, locally crafted soaps — in all, 20 vendors will peddle local handiwork at Sunshine Farm weekend after next.

Laurie Kolecki’s mouthwatering sweet zucchini relish and hot Hungarian pepper relish made from vegetables she grows in her garden plot in Silt add character to any sandwich.

Laurel Astor shrinks wool sweaters in the dryer, then cuts and sews the felted wool into toasty warm, flattering hats and mittens. That’s recycling!

Pat Vigil will sell 17 flavors of jam. Her favorites are raspberry apple and jalapeno peach. Besides garlic braids and pickled garlic, Camille makes origami ornaments.

The other day I asked Camille if her white tom turkey survived another Thanksgiving. The turkey lived next door to Colby Farm two or three years ago when the neighbors suddenly acquired a whole barnyard of poultry. The chickens and turkeys roamed the large, unfenced yard freely and happily.

I’ve mentioned before the safari kingdom of predators that prowl this neck of the woods. Before long they discovered the free-range buffet. First the ranks of hapless chickens dwindled. Then they started picking off the turkeys.

A tom turkey with snowy white plumage and a purple snood started hanging around as I tended the garden or hung laundry to dry. He’d spread his fan with a sound like an umbrella popping open. “Stop snapping your tail at me,” I’d snarl. “And anyhow, why are you on my property?”

Then I learned that of the entire flock, he was the sole survivor. He was lonely and scared. My resentment dissolved into pity. I spoke to him in soothing tones.

A few more days passed, and I saw him no more.

This summer Camille told me how he’d appeared at her gate across the county road. Night was falling and a winter storm loomed. The white tom paced and gobbled.

Camille took pity. She cracked the gate and he slipped inside to roost with the rest of her turkeys. And that’s where he remains to this very day.

Marilyn Gleason writes Eating Local periodically for the PI’s Good Taste pages.

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