A Word about Chester Aaron
The nights are getting longer, there has been a little rain, and the morning mists have been cool and refreshing. In a few short weeks (October 22) we will be hosting our annual garlic stewarding event whereby we continue to ask people to grow out some of the many varieties of garlic that we have, some of which is from the collection of Chester Aaron.
But who was Chester Aaron and why do we honor him in our stewardship of garlic varieties? In searching through various articles, a few facts seemed to emerge about this prolific writer and farmer. Aaron, sometimes referred to as the Guru of Garlic, the Elf of Alliums, or Grandpa Garlic was important to us not only because he lived locally in Occidental, but that he amassed a collection of more than 60 different varieties of garlic from 20 countries that he grew organically in raised beds. Aaron, a gregarious storyteller, came to this calling later in life after he had already worked as a medical technician, a published author, and English professor at St. Mary’s College.
As a garlic evangelist, Aaron brought about a detailed and nuanced appreciation of garlic diversity and flavors to a greater audience, much in the same way that Robert Mondavi did with wine grapes. He introduced different varieties as unique personalities—each with its own characteristics in the garden and usefulness in the kitchen. His passion for garlic inspired him to write books about the bulb, including Garlic is Life (1996), which is a personal memoir that includes growing information from his family roots in Soviet Georgia as well as garlic recipes. An award-winning documentary film, Clove, was made in 2007 by Andrea Young when Aaron was 84 and shows him at work at his farm in Occidental as well as recounting stories to the interviewer. The film can be found on YouTube.
A few garlic varieties we have been lucky to have at the CSE (click photos for a closer look!)
According to an article written in 1998 from the National Gardening Association, “Partly because of Aaron, gardeners today can choose between more than 300 different varieties of garlic, each distinct in some specific way: bigger or smaller, hotter or milder, pale white to glorious red, more or less pungent, more round or more elongated, more or fewer cloves, and on and on. The plant is, after all, thousands of years old and has moved with and adapted to pretty much wherever people have gone.”
Aaron died in 2019 at the age of 96, having farmed garlic for more than 40 years. The loss of his knowledge and charm is no doubt, missed by the community. His garlic collection was dispersed locally to farmers and gardeners and at CSE we were lucky enough to get some of his varieties and were given permission to use his name to honor our garlic stewardship program. Chester Aaron was one of a few people who kept many of these varieties going for many years. Each one of us can help keep diversity alive and the amazing varieties that have been gifted to us from ancestors everywhere by stewarding a variety or two. We invite you to join us in caring for our community collection and building resilience in our food system. Garlic, unlike seeds, needs to be grown every year and we need you to help us do that. Please click here to see which garlic varieties in our grouping are from Aaron’s collection.
For more information on how to grow garlic, please click here or come attend our garlic class on October 22 at 10:00 at St. Stephen’s Church before the garlic stewarding give away from 11:00-12:30. Join us to celebrate the local legacy of Chester Aaron and the allure of the different varieties that we are privileged to share and grow out in our community.