Have you met The Garlic Man? He's a regular at the Hastings Farmers' Market - regular enough to have earned the nickname.
His real name is Scott Marshall, and he runs Marshall Farms in Denmark Township.
It's a family farm, built on the corner of a field that used to be part of his parents' farm. Now Marshall operates a small farm of his own there, but instead of planting wide fields of crops, he raises garlic and rabbits, primarily.
He got started with garlic about 12 years ago. He and his wife, Bonnie, had their own gardens and made a lot of dishes that required garlic. The garlic they bought in the store wasn't up to their standards, he said, so when he met a man at the Renaissance Festival who was selling fresh garlic, Marshall had to ask about it. He didn't realize at the time that garlic could be grown in Minnesota.
Upon learning that it could, he set out to grow his own - 28 varieties of it.
Garlic is a bulb, so each October Marshall plants his garlic.
"I plant each clove by hand," he said.
If he doesn't, there's too great a chance that the plant won't grow the way it should.
The bulbs stay in the ground over winter, and like tulips, they're one of the first things to sprout in the spring.
"Fresh garlic shoots are a nice thing to have on your salad," Marshall said.
By July, they're ready to harvest. He pulls them out one variety at a time, so they don't get mixed up with each other, ties them in bundles and hangs them in the barn to dry. Depending on the conditions, that takes anywhere from four to six weeks, he said. Once dry, he can cut the stalks and roots off and take off the outer shell, leaving him with the beautiful, white bulbs we're used to seeing.
Marshall has been selling garlic from the farm and at the farmers' market for about five years. In that time he's developed quite a following of customers.
"They've learned what it's like to have fresh garlic," he said.
Last year he sold 350 pounds of garlic in just six weeks, between the farmers market and orders he takes throughout the year.
"By this time we have a list of people who want our garlic," Marshall said.
This year he cut back a little, growing only 14 varieties. The difference between them is their "spiciness." They can be hot as horseradishes or smooth and mild, Marshall explained.
Garlic is Marshall's main crop, but it's not all his farm does.
When he was 10 years old he started raising rabbits as pets, but soon started wondering what else he could do with rabbits. The natural conclusion was to raise them for food, so he did. He got a couple customers who bought rabbits from him, but he didn't raise them for money.
"It was a hobby for me," he said.
As he got older, he kept supplying rabbit meat for his family, and the hobby grew. Rabbit meat, Marshall said, is easily digested and low in fat, and when ground, tastes much like turkey burger, but more moist.
His family came up with clever names for the dishes they made: bunny burgers, sloppy hoppies, and bunny nuggets, for example.
These days, Marshall is becoming known for his rabbits, and a number of restaurants buy his rabbits for their dishes.
Before the rabbits took off, Marshall Farms was home to a herd of meat goats, which got the family into raising Great Pyrenees dogs. They first got the dogs to protect their own herd.
"These dogs, they'll give their life to protect the animals," Marshall said.
While some in the breed are raised to be pets or show dogs, these are much different. Puppies were raised in the pens with the goat kids and spend their time with the herd. They get to be so close to the animals that they'll even help a birthing mother clean and care for her babies.
The dogs have proven effective. While a neighboring sheep farm has lost a number of lambs to coyotes, animals on the Marshall Farm have been safe.
"We've never lost an animal due to other animals or predation since we got the dog," Marshall said.
Marshall and his wife both work full-time jobs off the farm. While their work on the farm is getting bigger, it's still not their primary source of income.
"You could say it's a hobby," Marshall said. "It's a lifestyle. It's a life."
Eventually, he said, they hope to be able to work the farm full-time. They'd like to expand their garlic crop again, expand their rabbit production and delve deeper into other specialty crops where there's a high demand.
Marshall Farms can be contacted by calling 651-485-3512.