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  • Writer's pictureJere Folgert

The Perfect Farm Combo: Garlic and Mountains

Updated: Jan 18

Montana Farmers are busy harvesting hardneck garlic.

Under the crisp Montana sky, a symphony of clangs and laughter plays, punctuated by the crunch of frost beneath boots. It's harvest time for garlic, and the fields are teeming with stooped figures pulling plump bulbs from the rich earth. This state, known for its rugged beauty and hardy spirit, harbors another secret—it's an Eden for garlic.

Montana's cold winters, while sometimes daunting, are garlic's secret weapon. The deep freeze stuns pests and disease, giving bulbs a pristine start. Then comes spring, with its days bathed in long sunshine and nights cooled by mountain breezes. This temperature dance is music to hardneck garlic, the prized variety flourishing here. Its sturdy neck, immune to the winter's bite, allows it to focus energy on forming massive, intensely-flavored cloves.

But Montana's magic extends beyond climate. The soil, nurtured by glacial melt and ancient rivers, is a gourmet buffet for garlic. Layers of fertile loam and sand provide perfect drainage and aeration, encouraging healthy root growth. Then there are the people—Montana farmers, weathered and resolute, whose dedication is as deep-rooted as their garlic. They've learned the whispers of the wind, the secrets of the soil, and they coax forth their crop with a blend of sweat, calloused hands, and quiet pride.

So, as the harvest dance continues, remember that each bite of Montana garlic carries a whisper of the land. It's a taste of frosted mornings, sun-drenched days, and the unyielding spirit of a people who cultivate not just food, but community, under the endless Montana sky.

The air is filled with optimism for a big harvest in the county. There are a number of reasons why crops grow well in Montana. First, the state has a long growing season, with an average of 150 frost-free days per year. This allows crops to mature and produce well. Second, Montana has a variety of soil types, which allows farmers to grow a variety of crops. Third, Montana has a temperate climate, with hot summers and cold winters. This climate is ideal for many types of crops. Fourth, Montana has a lot of land that is suitable for agriculture. About 18 million acres of Montana's land is used for cropland. Fifth, Montana has a strong agricultural infrastructure, with a good network of roads, irrigation systems, and storage facilities. Finally, Montana has a skilled workforce that is dedicated to agriculture.

This year he reaped more than 1200 pounds of hardneck garlic. Hardnecks (Allium sativum ssp. ophioscorodon) are closer to wild garlic, with complex flavors. These are the garlic that reflect the regional soil and weather patterns. Virtually all cooks and chefs state that hardnecks have a superior flavor to softnecks.

Some local garlic growers celebrated the harvest with a fresh roast of venison and elk roasted with 15 bulbs of garlic. Fresh sweet peas were combined with kale and swiss chard to make a scrumptious salad. The celebration was highlighted with homemade roasted garlic ice cream treats. "Czosnek! It's harvest time, and having fresh garlic is an auspicious practice that expresses our wish for a surplus harvest," said one Bozeman resident (with Polish heritage) who was helping with the harvest. Czosnek is the Polish word for garlic. "It is a fun way to gather together and celebrate our gains," she said.

Jere Folgert seems content with the garlic harvest from his family farm of two acres not far from Bozeman.

As the Bozeman area continues to grow, more and more farmland is being converted to housing. This is a trend that is being seen across the country, as cities expand and suburbs encroach on rural areas.

There are a number of factors that are driving this trend. One is the increasing demand for housing in Bozeman and other cities in the area. The population of Bozeman has grown by more than 20% in the past decade, and the demand for housing has outpaced the supply. This has led to rising housing prices, which have made it difficult for some people to afford to live in the area.

Another factor that is driving the conversion of farmland to housing is the availability of land. In Bozeman and the surrounding area, there is limited land that is zoned for development. This means that developers are often looking for land that is currently being used for agriculture.

The conversion of farmland to housing has a number of implications. One is that it reduces the amount of land that is available for agriculture. This can have a negative impact on the local food supply, as well as on the livelihoods of farmers. Another implication is that it can lead to increased traffic congestion and air pollution. As more people move into Bozeman and the surrounding area, there is more demand for roads, schools, and other infrastructure. This can put a strain on the local economy and environment.

Finally, the conversion of farmland to housing can change the character of the community. As more and more housing is built, the area becomes less rural and more suburban. This can be a positive or negative change, depending on one's perspective.

The conversion of farmland to housing is a complex issue with a number of implications. It is important to weigh the pros and cons of this trend before making a decision about whether or not to support it.

The fertile land, rich water resources, and climate make things ideal for growing garlic in Gallatin County, Montana.

"Hardneck garlic requires a cold period, called vernalization, to divide and form into bulbs. When garlic is planted in the fall, Mother Nature takes care of vernalization over the winter," said Jere Folgert. "We get the perfect combination of cold winters, spring moisture, and beautiful solar radiation," he concluded.

Ah, Bozeman, our quaint little mountain eden... except everyone else got the memo. Our once-sleepy college town is now a toddler with a caffeine addiction, buzzing with new residents faster than a hummingbird on Red Bull. Don't get me wrong, the growth is exciting – the downtown hums with hip coffee shops and artisanal pickle emporiums, and the ski hill gets trampled with joyous shrieks. But there's a catch, bigger than a rodeo bronc after a tequila shot: our beloved open spaces are shrinking faster than a wool sweater in a hot tub.

Imagine Yellowstone bison stampeding through a subdivision, elk serenading with bugles from the second-floor balcony, and grizzlies chowing down on compost bins instead of juicy salmon. That's the future we're facing if we don't curb the concrete sprawl. Thankfully, like a pack of determined prairie dogs, local groups are digging their claws in to protect our farmland, open space, and sanity. They're hosting farm-to-table dinners where you can meet the farmer who grew your kale (and learn his preferred composting technique), lobbying for smarter development, and reminding newcomers that "YOLO" doesn't mean "let's pave paradise and put up a parking lot."

So, the next time you're sipping a latte in a former hayloft, remember, we can have our trendy cafes and mountain vistas too. But it'll take some collective elbow grease, maybe a few barn raisings, and a whole lot of love for this quirky, growing, occasionally bison-besieged corner of Montana. Because Bozeman may be bursting at the seams, but there's no place else we'd rather be... unless maybe a slightly bigger Bozeman with more open space. But shhh, don't tell the developers!

Unfortunately, our beloved college town has a problem: It’s too popular. Bozeman and surrounding county lands close to Yellowstone National Park, with Montana’s busiest airport, has been one of the country’s fastest-growing micropolitan areas. As more people move to Bozeman and Gallatin County, more open space and farmland is converted into homes, townhouses, and condos. Numerous groups are working together to try and save as much open space, agriculture, and farmland, but it is not an easy task.

"Nothing lasts forever, so I'm holding onto this moment," said Jere.
development vs rural farmland. bozeman montana

Bozeman Montana Garlic Farm. Hardneck Garlic. How long before the development (condos and townhouses) of our Gallatin Valley will destroy the fertile grounds, all in the name of greed and money?

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