HOWELL — Andrea and Jay Sydor have always enjoyed growing their own food, now they're setting their sights on something much grander, and maybe a bit more pungent.
"We had sights set on doing something as a side business," Jay Sydor said of their new venture.
The couple has begun growing and selling "premium" garlic through their farm, Half Fast Homestead. They have lived in Howell for 10 years, but moved to across the city to their current homestead three years ago where they have enough land to do some small-scale farming.
"I don't think we would have seen this happening … that's what makes it exciting," Andrew Sydor said.
This summer, they harvested about 6,000 garlic stalks from an acre of their 20-acre farm.
Andrea Sydor said they consider the garlic premium because they are farming on "virgin soil" and use organic compost and seed. They also hand plant and harvest everything, without using herbicides or pesticides.
The couple grows Northern White garlic, which has very large heads or bulbs, and is white. They also grow Chesnok Red, which is slightly smaller and has a purplish-red tint. Each serves a different purpose in the kitchen.
The Northern White is good for recipes that call for an entire, uncut clove of garlic, like roasted garlic, Andrea Sydor said. The Chesnock Red is good for recipes that require chopped or minced garlic, such as soups or chili.
"We love garlic," she said. "I probably overuse it."
The couple always had a smaller garden at their house, but neither of them had any extensive experience working on a farm, Andrea Sydor said. They grew garlic in their garden and thought if they ever had more space they would like to increase the amount they grew.
When they began growing garlic on a larger scale, Andrea Syder explained, they wanted to have two different flavor profiles. Chesnok Red has a milder flavor and the Northern White provides a bolder flavor. Jay Sydor researched which garlic varieties were most successful in northern climates and then consulted other garlic farmers to determine what was best for the climate zone.
The family does most of the harvesting on weekends because both Andrea and Jay have jobs outside of the farm. She works in medical sales and he works as a DTE electrician.
While building up the small business, the Sydors also have been teaching their children — Ben, 6, Sam, 5, and Norah, 1 — how to harvest the stalks. Jay Sydor said he wants to give his kids something to look back on later in life while giving them an activity they can enjoy now.
In addition to helping harvest, Ben really likes to eat garlic, Andrea Sydor said, and he also enjoys the scapes, which are the flowering part of the plant.
"They're interested in cooking and making things with it, which is really cool," she said.
After the family harvests the garlic, the stalks hang in the garage for two to three weeks to dry as they prepare them for individuals and restaurants to buy.
After the plants dry, the Sydors remove the outside covering and cut the stems off.
Then, they box the garlic and take it to farmers markets where they sell bulbs.
With leftover garlic and some of the largest bulbs, Andrea Sydor separates the cloves to plant them for the next season.
Growing for the community
Recently, the Sydors attended the Brighton and Howell farmers markets and sold 400 bulbs.
It went so well, that they plan to attend the market Aug. 14, and then both Brighton and Howell Aug. 20-21.
Aside from the farmers markets, they are selling garlic to local restaurants, including Cleary's Pub in Howell.
Cleary's bought 125 bulbs from the Half Fast Homestead, and decided to bring back a roasted garlic and goat cheese toast appetizer.
"We figured we'd give it a try," Kristy Cleary, who helps manage the restaurant, said. "It's definitely popular."
Andrea Sydor said the couple are focused on the community interactions they can have through selling their garlic at local farmers markets and restaurants.
"Our big life thing is just to live as simply as we can," she said.
Sophia Lada is a reporter for the Livingston Daily. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or 517.377.1065. Follow her on Twitter @sophia_lada.
This article originally appeared on Livingston Daily: Half Fast Homestead in Howell sells garlic at farmers markets