You haven’t truly discovered passion until you’ve had a conversation with Dick and Diana Dyer. As co-owners of the Dyer Family Organic Farm, this lively couple grows over forty varieties of garlic on their Ann Arbor farm. Yes you heard that right, forty varieties of garlic. Bet you didn’t even know that many varieties of garlic even existed—I know I didn’t.
After collectively retiring from careers in science and nutrition—Dick worked as a biochemist and Diana as a registered dietician—Dick and Diana wanted to take on a new project. They started by purchasing a beautiful farm on the Northside of Ann Arbor and planting a lofty vegetable garden in which to grow their own food. With time though, they began to crave a bigger project on their land, but didn’t know exactly what that looked like. Given their collective interest in health and local farming, they turned to the Ann Arbor farmer’s markets for inspiration. What they found was a plethora of farms carrying garlic at their stands, but a lack of comprehensive knowledge about, or real interest in, garlic on the part of the farmers. Noticing a niche yet to be tapped, Dick and Diana—who are both self-taught farmers—decided to pursue garlic growing head-on and opened the Dyer Family Organic Farm in 2009.
Throughout garlic season (ranging roughly from May-September), the Dyer’s harvest three primary crops. At the start of Spring comes green garlic, a young/immature garlic variety well-loved by chefs and customers alike for its delicate, vegetal flavor. Dick mentioned to me that between the kitchens at both Zingerman’s Deli and Zingerman’s RH, he was depleted of green garlic within mere weeks of harvest. Next, come garlic scapes, which are the curly flower stalks of garlic plants most often used in sauces like pesto or sprinkled over eggs/pasta. Unlike most farmers who sell scapes simply due to overabundance, the Dyers sell specific varietals of garlic scapes, each with their own unique characteristics. And finally, around the end of July come the fully developed bulbs of garlic, the Dyer’s crème-de-la-crème.
Given their enormous inventory of garlic varietals, the Dyers rotate specific types in and out of the market from week to week, typically selling 10-15 varieties at a time. What they didn’t anticipate when starting to grow garlic was the incredible reception they would receive from the Ann Arbor community. Diana pointed out to me how some of their customers have become “garlic geeks” of sorts, discovering their personal favorites among Dick and Diana’s extensive collection.
In addition to their weekly market sales, the Dyers also offer an annual CSA with a bit of a twist. Unlike most CSA’s, Dick and Diana don’t send out a box of product each week, but rather offer their customers a credit of $110 to use over the course of the season, tracking individual purchases with an old-school ledger system. This lump sum can be used at farmer’s markets or visits to the Dyer farm and applies to anything the Dyers harvest on the farm. The “general store model” as Diana referred to it, gives the customer a lot of purchasing freedom and allows them to indulge in the products they personally love.
While their passion for garlic perfection is a major hallmark of this couple’s success, perhaps the best thing about Dick and Diana is their eagerness to educate and engage with their customers. Whether it’s describing their farming style, sharing a recipe, or explaining the nuances of their garlic varietals, you always learn something new when talking to the Dyers.
Since they are the garlic experts, I could think of no better way to cap off the Dyer’s story than with a great summer garlic recipe. Although they have amassed quite the archive of recipes over the years, they told me that one of their all-time favorite garlic dishes for summer is boiled sweet corn (picked at the peak of its season) slathered with buttery/sweet roasted garlic. Doesn’t get much better than that!
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