By Lesley S. King
At Stanley Crawford’s El Bosque Farm, the focus is on garlic. One of the region’s legendary growers, Stanley is also a novelist, but he’s most known for his nonfiction writing contained in The Garlic Testament, Mayordomo, and The River in Winter. As well as garlic, he grows onions, shallots, broad patches of acorn squash, and long rows of sunflowers, lettuce, spinach, arugula and turnips. But garlic is his fieriest passion.
Today Stan sits atop an orange Kubota tractor, its engine rumbling, barely drowning out the sound of Embudo Creek, where every day in the warm months, he takes a dip. Blue-black clouds shift above, the sun lighting their edges silver, while summer breezes swirl about. This land is different from much of the high desert. Here you get a sense of water taking solid form—thick and towering cottonwoods, grape vines winding over fences, and neat rows of maturing crops—and yet the desert’s threat remains close in the form of barren, powdery white cliffs above. Attached to the back of the tractor is a special tool, with disks which cut underneath the garlic heads, so that Stan can remove them easily from the soil to take them to market.
Stan had many adventures prior to his encounter with garlic. He lived an expatriate life in Europe before coming to New Mexico in the early 1970s and settling outside Dixon, at the time, a traditional agricultural village. He and his wife, Rose Mary, hand-built a two-room adobe home, planted a farm and proceeded to raise a family. Early on, they started growing garlic. “Things that prove difficult to grow attract your attention,” he says, as he climbs off his tractor to walk with me among the rows, with their green stalks pointing skyward. “You try to figure it out,” he says. In fact, over all these years he’s come to not only understand garlic but to be a garlic philosopher, writing about it with a loving eloquence:
“…the bulb reposes three to four inches beneath the surface, like other members of the lily family and most other bulbs, and stays in the ground from the time it is planted until it is harvested in the early summer. At my altitude garlic will spend most of its life under the ground, a good nine months of the year, and if the bulbs had their way they wouldn’t come up for air at all.”
Clearly Stan’s wisdom comes from his intimacy with growing. “Plants talk to you in ways you’re not entirely conscious of,” he says. And when I ask him why he farms, he holds up calloused fingertips. “I do it because it’s beautiful.” He looks around while he walks, taking it all in, as he does in the morning and evening when hiking along the river.
He has known the Santa Fe Farmers’ Market as long as anyone. He’s written about the politics, which he describes as a whole technical show going on behind the beauty of what we see. “It’s easy to become sentimental about markets, but they’re pretty tough places,” he says. Still, after years of rising at 4:25 on Saturday mornings, he likes to go. “One of the exhilarating things about going to market in the morning is watching the moon come up,” he says. While he’s there selling, he visits with the vendors, with shoppers and chefs. “You come back with a bit of money and it feels good.”