Backyard Garlic is a Portsmouth-based company of two women who, you guessed it, grow garlic in their backyard.
Backyard Garlic is a Portsmouth-based company that grows, sources, and processes New Hampshire-grown garlic. They’re also September’s NH Made member spotlight, the state-wide organization that champions New Hampshire-made products by providing the support programs that local businesses need to grow. Here, Backyard Garlic’s co-owner Margaret Witham talks about the birth of the company, the growing and harvesting process, as well as the final product – dried minced garlic – that is sure to become a staple in your spice rack.
“Backyard Garlic began because it fit into our schedule – ‘our’ referring to myself and Rebecca Hennessy, my good friend, neighbor, and co-owner of this Seacoast-based business venture. Well, I guess I shouldn’t say it was solely because it ‘fit into our schedule.’ Both Rebecca and I love to garden and are passionate about fresh, homegrown food (I’m actually on the board of Gather, a Seacoast-based food pantry that focuses on providing nutritious food to local families). And since both of our husbands travel for work and our kids spend most of their days at school, we were looking to find something that let us do just that without it impeding too much in after-school activities. After some insight from a garlic farmer that we met at a UNH Cooperative Extension workshop in 2014, the light bulb went off: growing garlic could be our thing. That’s because you plant it in October – again, when the kids are in school – and tend to it in early spring when its shoots begin to grow, then harvest it in July. Plus, it’s an extremely tolerant and tenacious plant. You don’t have to fret too much over it.
That first year – also 2014 – we grew all the garlic ourselves in the backyard of another neighbor, who kindly offered up their land for us to cram as much garlic as we could in that 1/8th-of-an-acre plot. After that first harvest, we brought all our product to a culinary rental facility just over the border in Maine, wherein the following weeks – between August and October – we cured it, hand-cracked all the bulbs, peeled the cloves, as well as chopped the raw garlic. After dehydrating it, we funneled our first garlic into grinder jars and readied them to be sold. That first year, we produced 600 jars….and they sold out in 2 months.
Since then, we’ve more than doubled our production and, in 2017, we also built our own food manufacturing space in Rebecca’s home, which includes a dehydrator that holds up to 50 pounds of wet chopped garlic. Yes, we still continue to grow in our neighbor’s backyard, but we also now source garlic from other New Hampshire farms – Fat Peach Farm in Madbury and Willoughby Farm in Kensington are a couple of our regulars. We wouldn’t be able to keep up with the demand without them. In fact, there’s a lot we wouldn’t have been able to do if it weren’t for this unique community of local farmers and fellow small-business owners who offered guidance and advice every step of the way.”