When grasshoppers and drought laid waste to many specialty crops in the Mancos area of Southwest Colorado in 2021, one crop managed to pull through, providing some local farmers with hope, fresh ideas, and a cooperative pivot.
At a meeting to discuss improving their economic and mental health, four neighbor farmers quickly agreed that garlic was faring better than most crops under water stress and insect pressure and the market for specialty varieties looked promising. Mike Nolan and Mindy Perkovich of Mountain Roots Produce, Dave Banga of Banga’s Farm, Duke Jackson of Sol Vista Farm and Max Kirks and Megan Davey of Outlier Farm had a mere 5-6 weeks of irrigation water to work with in 2021, yet all harvested premium garlic bulbs that year.
Garlic is one of the oldest domesticated crops in the world and originates in the rugged and arid lands of central Asia—a near perfect climatic match to the conditions of Southwest Colorado. The crop is generally planted in the month of October and will set roots with minimal fall moisture from late rain or early snow. It is generally harvested in July, depending on the variety. Yet, despite its rugged character, because the crop is widely propagated by re-planting cloves (clones), garlic is susceptible to disease in temperate regions. Ever the pragmatist, Mike Nolan points out that the aridity and elevation of Mancos are actually competitive advantages for garlic. It is much easier to produce disease-free garlic in these conditions and there is a stable if not growing demand for seed garlic.
With a good laugh, and in support of their own mental well-being, the neighbors embraced the dreaded grasshopper as their symbol of over-coming adversity and ability adjust their production plans. Resiliency, however, is often a set of approaches, and in the case of the Grasshopper Collective, it is also a commitment to a cooperative business model. Nolan believes that cooperatives are optimally suited to diversified crop producers and “offer economic and social resilience through their democratic structure”.
The Grasshopper Collective was incorporated in late 2021 by the RMFU Cooperative Development Center. The group plans to initiate operations during the summer of 2022. Sales will be limited for a year or two as the farmer members increase seed supplies and evaluate adding new varieties. By 2023 they plan to have at least 12 distinct varieties for sale through a webstore. Target customers will be gardeners, homesteaders, and small farms.