Chris Thaxton snaps a garlic clove from its neatly wrapped bundle, peels away its tight skin and exposes an oily, white, aromatic flesh. It’s one of 12 varieties she and her husband, Fred, grow at their organic garlic farm in Hudson.
Every inch of the Thaxtons’ acre farm embodies environmental sustainability. Alpaca manure fertilizes the soil. Rainwater hydrates the plants. Leaves blanket the garlic during winter and spring.
As Fred and Chris Thaxton, both science teachers, practice what they teach in the classroom, they introduce home cooks and professional chefs alike to a world of garlic delights: fiery bogatyr, nutty pskem, peppery heirloom Spanish roja.
On this Sunday morning, Chris slips me a glass of freshly blended garlic and greens — a snappy shift from my standard swig of orange juice — while she and Fred take me back to their farm’s beginning in 2000. Then, local arborist and friend Curt Van Blarcum offered the couple a handful of garlic bulbs, barely enough to establish a rug-size garden patch, ultimately not enough to satisfy family demand.
“We planted 500 bulbs the next year, just to feed our habit,” says Fred, describing how the small garlic bunch grew into a 20,000-bulb certified organic farm over the following 11 years.
A loosely stitched patchwork of rotating gardens comprises the boutique farm. Wearing a short-sleeved white T-shirt silk-screened with a peace hand sign, a heart-shaped globe and a garlic bulb, Fred towers over neat rows of strappy sprouts, each hand planted, mounded and nurtured.
“You’re only as good as your soil,” says Fred, who nourishes the plants with a compost diet and alpaca manure from neighboring Canterbury Farms. The long-bearded urban farmer doesn’t use a tractor and prefers to work the land by shovel and hand.
Though Fred recently retired from his 30-year post as a Cleveland Heights High School science teacher, he says environmental sustainability is his lifelong lesson. “We need to take care of our water and soil,” he says. “Kids have to be stewards to the Earth for future generations.”
Chris, who teaches AP environmental science at Hudson High School, says she has inspired a few of her former students, now urban gardeners, to follow in her carbon-minimalist footprints. “The best way to save the planet is to educate youth,” she says.
The Thaxtons keep their farming operation intentionally small, preferring to yield high-quality garlic over high-profit. Their broadening band of customers include Jonathon Sawyer, owner and executive chef of The Greenhouse Tavern; John, Kevin and J.J. Altomare, chefs and co-owners of Hudson’s Restaurant; and home cooks who revere the couple’s passion for and knowledge of garlic.
They offer bulbs for $1.25 to $5 each, depending on size, at their Ravenna Road farm by appointment, at the Hudson Farmers’ Market Saturday mornings and at the Red Rock Farmers’ Market in Aurora on Wednesday evenings. No matter the venue, customers can expect to munch on samples and explore flavors. “When you go to a farmers’ market, you’re doing a lot of educating,” Chris says. “People learn what they like.”
Chris’ favorite garlic variety, Georgian Crystal, embodies a rich, hot, enormous flavor that mellows when roasted. Fred’s top pick, the rare Bogatyr, delivers bold spiciness with a punch of heat at the end. Khabar, hottest at first bite, accents Indian dishes, while Music’s consistent flavor puts pasta on a pretentious playing field all its own.
The bulbs’ distinct flavors present a profusion of culinary possibilities, but garlic scapes, the Thaxtons say, whet connoisseurs’ appetites. Fred and Chris clip scapes, the curly tips of mature garlic shoots, just before they harvest their bulbs in July. Tender at the start, these swirly greens intensify in heat and density over time. Sautéed with asparagus, crushed in pesto, minced in butter or nibbled raw, scapes steal the spotlight in summer dishes. Hudson’s Restaurant in Hudson and Fairlawn, for example, features the Thaxtons’ scapes in its seasonal garlic scape pesto pasta.
Next month, the Thaxtons’ farm will be the setting for Ohio’s only Outstanding in the Field North American tour stop. The outdoor dinner, prepared by Greenhouse Tavern chef and partner Brian Goodman, reconnects diners to the land and the origins of their food while honoring the local farmers and food artisans who cultivate it.
Foodies from near and far settle at linen-dressed tables that are topped with courses prepared with local ingredients, such as Mackenzie Creamery cheese and garlic sticks for appetizers and an Ohio sweet corn and garlic flan for dessert. The Aug. 25 event begins at 3 p.m., and Chris says the $180-per-person dining adventure is worth every penny. “The food is to die for,” she says.
To make an appointment to visit Thaxton Family Farm, or to schedule a garlic tasting, call 330-283-6137.