In the Field / Three Guys Garlic
Photos by kc kratt
To some, garlic is an ordinary ingredient that gets chopped up and lost in the sauce. To others, it’s a one-item food group around which meals are made—and there’s no such thing as too much of it, social norms be damned. A trio of such aficionados are the men behind Alden-based Three Guys Garlic, a fledgling garlic-growing operation that cultivated quite a bit of attention during its debut season last fall.
The idea to grow a garlic business started simply. The first third of Three Guys, Josh King, had a grandfather who grew garlic. When Josh got a garden of his own, he planted a few bulbs, then added more every year until the plot numbered nearly 350 plants. Garlic is easy to grow, has few pests, stores well, and Josh eats an unfathomable amount of it (he even minces and eats garlic raw for its long list of health benefits).
One day Josh’s friend Nick Fasciana saw a basket of garlic in the back of Josh’s Jeep, and the two got to talking about their shared allium obsession. That season, Nick planted some of Josh’s garlic in his own garden, got hooked on the homegrown stuff and the idea of selling it, and came up with the name Three Guys Garlic before he had inventory—or a third guy.
Nick met that guy, Ben Oles, when Nick’s wife sent him to the Oles Family Farm to get dill for pickles. The farm had been growing garlic to supply CSA share members for years, and when Nick saw the huge bulbs Ben had just harvested, he nearly lost his mind. Josh and Nick convinced Ben—who swears that salt and garlic are cornerstones of breakfast, lunch, and dinner—to join their venture. In 2016, Three Guys Garlic pulled their first crop from plots of land borrowed from the Oles farm, where most of the garlic is grown, and from Nick’s friends at Baumgart farm in Akron.
It turns out Josh, Nick, and Ben aren’t the only ones with a taste for garlic. The company’s first harvest of 3,500 bulbs was mostly spoken for before it even left the ground; using Craigslist, personal connections, and Facebook, the trio sold 250 pounds in twenty-four hours. Professionals were impressed, too. Three Guys’ German White garlic won a blue ribbon at the 2016 Erie County Fair and unseated seven-year champion Sweden Center Garlic Farm at the Cuba Garlic Festival (the East Coast’s second largest garlic gathering).
These hefty German White heads are Three Guys’ primary focus, numbering about 6,000 of the 7,500 plants they’re growing this year. It’s a hardneck variety, meaning that each two-to-three-inch porcelain white bulb is comprised of a woody central stem surrounded by five or six large, individual cloves that are easy to peel and packed with flavor.
With nearly 600 subvarieties, garlic growing has endless pungent possibilities. Each kind carries a different flavor profile, growing habit, storage ability, and appearance—traits Three Guys is testing with smaller plantings of heirloom seed whose origins span the globe. Turkish Red, Montana Giant, Music, Persian Star, Thai Purple, Northern Jewel, and a half dozen others are on this year’s roster.
While most of Three Guys German White garlic is sold fresh or stored for seed stock to yield next year’s crop, select whole bulbs are transformed through weeks of slow cooking and fermenting into a dark delicacy known as black garlic. According to Nick, black garlic is a rare treat that tastes like a savory, balsamic-filled raisin full of complex umami that pairs well with anything but orange juice. Its soft, spreadable, inky cloves are coveted by foodists and sometimes eyeballed with uncertainty by the uninitiated.
Josh heard about black garlic four years ago and spent months combing through sparse how-to videos and articles, trying different methods and equipment (and failing repeatedly) until he finally perfected the process. Of the first successful, five-pound test batch they made, Nick estimates he and Josh ate all but three bulbs themselves that day.
For now, the three thirty-somethings aren’t dreaming of garlic grandeur. Their plans are to grow their business slowly to keep both their customers and their crops happy. All three have day jobs—Josh is the director of IT and clinical applications training at Roswell Park, Nick’s family owns Ignition Interlock of Erie County, and Ben’s family farms 240 acres to provide produce for their 250-member Promised Land CSA. They’re just Three Guys with a tasty hobby who happen to grow a few thousand extra bulbs to spread the garlic gospel.
Three Guys Garlic is sold at the new Utley Acres farmstore on Main Street across from the Clarence Hollow Farmers Market and at facebook.com/3guysgarlic.
Devon Dams-O'Connor is a frequent contributor to Spree.