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The Garlic King and Queen of Loudoun County

The Garlic King and Queen of Loudoun County

Written by Carlo Massimo | Photos by Kaitlin Hill

The harvest was over, but on Virginia’s only major garlic farm the work was only halfway done. Garlic takes at least two weeks to cure, and Peter and Kathy Durand of Snickers Run Farm, in Bluemont, had laid out some 35,000 bulbs on wooden racks in an extension of their barn. The air was heavy with the loamy smell of fresh garlic, less like garlicky breath than like certain red Burgundies, and no one could quite hear each other under the roar of three attic fans. But Peter Durand looked ecstatic. He walked through the racks, indicating the five varieties he grew: the spicy Asian Tempest, sometimes called Seoul Sister, small and ruby-toned and especially popular with Asian customers; the Elephant, with its massive cloves and mild flavor, which is in fact a kind of leek and not really a garlic; the ruddy, aromatic Chesnok, a variety from the republic of Georgia; the German Hardy, with its eight clove bulbs, a bestseller at farmers markets; and a variety of Music garlic that Peter has dubbed Bluemont Music, ideal for slow cooking. These are hardneck varieties, with a long, hard stalk like a shoot of bamboo. 

When these bulbs are dry, the Durands will scrape off the outermost layers of paper and brush off the remaining dust and carry them to farmers markets like EatLoco in Ashburn, where return customers brave long lines for whatever product is in season: the delicate, scallion-like green garlic of April, the tendrils known as garlic scapes in June, traditional garlic in July and August, Yukon gold and other potato varieties in October, and a variety of garlic products, like garlic powder and pickled scapes, year-round. (Snickers Run has a Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services-certified commercial kitchen on the premises.) A few shops around Loudoun County carry their products as well, like the store at Great Country Farms and (starting in August) the Lovettsville Coop. 

It’s a brisk business. This year, Snickers Farm made finalist in the vote for the Best of Loudoun County in the Farmers Market Vendor category. That customer loyalty is all the more remarkable given the cost of good garlic. Snickers Run’s goes for about $3 a bulb, or $24.95 a pound — considerably more than what you would pay in a supermarket. But just three years into this adventure, the Durands are netting a profit. The difference between the cheap, familiar, softneck garlic and Snickers Run’s hardnecks is quality. 

“It was hard to find good garlic in Virginia,” Peter shares. “Most of it was grown in China, and none of it was all that good.” This created a strange gap in the market. Consumers wanted good garlic, particularly in Northern Virginia’s foodie scene and in the East Asian community. The local soil is well-suited to it, with a pH of about 6.7, as is the climate, with its winter freezes and hot summers. Why not start growing it? You wouldn’t guess it from his working hands, but Peter was an executive in the tech industry before he started planting garlic, and Snickers Run Farm is a proper start-up, run by an expert.

“I grew up in Hillsboro, basically on a farm,” Peter explains, “and I always wanted to do this.” Until the pandemic, he commuted every day to downtown D.C.; the 63-acre property he and Kathy had purchased in Bluemont in 2015 was uncultivated. The switch to remote work freed up his day by several hours. It was about this time that Kathy, an animal rescue veteran, discovered an escaped cow on the property. (Her children’s book “Vegan the Cow” describes the incident in detail.) The Durands liked this unexpected new pet enough to start developing their property to accommodate it: a new barn, a field of orchard grass (the 13 round bales around the property are all homegrown and baled), and several new rescue cows and pigs, among them a Limousin steer. It was a hobby at first; Peter found that with the right headset, he could conduct business meetings while driving his 1952 McCormick tractor. The idea for a garlic farm became a solid plan toward the end of 2020. 

Only an acre and a half of the Snickers Run property is given over to garlic, but that’s more than it seems. An acre of garlic will yield about 50,000 bulbs, and the plants thrive in their 80-foot rows, reaching about two feet in height. Snickers Run doesn’t hold an organic certification, but the Durands don’t use chemical pesticide, and only fertilize with the manure of their own cows. A wheat cover crop, probiotics, regular soil rotation, and testing (with the assistance of Virginia Tech’s agricultural extension) keeps the soil healthy, evidenced by the abundance of earthworms and marauding turkeys who feed on them. 

“During harvest,” Peter says, “this is a seven-day-a-week job, 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. You really have to love it to do it.” It’s rough work, too, with lots of crawling and stooping. Although the Durands are tough and visibly fit, they generally hire about three helpers for the harvest. Loudoun County’s Economic Development Department has been instrumental, Peter adds, in making Snickers Run viable. 

So what’s next for Virginia’s foremost garlic farm? “We’re definitely giving more seminars for local groups about gardening and growing garlic. Local restaurants have been asking about possibly working together,” he says; and then, after some thought: “And so has a major hotel chain, for the restaurant in its Washington hotel.” The Durands will probably be planting an acre or two more of garlic come October — it sounds like very little, but that’s almost double their current acreage — and investing more in outreach: Instagram, advertising, T-shirts. Is a “Garlic King of Loudoun County” T-shirt in the works? Peter and Kathy laugh. It’s a warm laugh — the Durands are warm people — but it’s not much of an exaggeration. As far as garlic goes, the Durands are the king and queen.

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Published in the August 2023 issue of Middleburg Life.

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