Partnership with Local Growers: Willow Garlic Growers

If you’ve never tasted an entire clove of raw garlic, I know just the place to do it.

It’s a small family growing operation in Northwest Illinois called Willow Garlic Growers. The farm is run by Dan Metzger and his wife Joan. You can find them selling their garlic braids, garlic scape pesto (yum!), and multiple varieties of garlic at the Logan Square Farmers Market on Sundays. On our visits to the farm, the Big Green team leaves with more than a generous garlic donation for all 200 schools in our network. After a day of farm work, we’re often treated to a tasting tour of Farmer Dan’s garden, a close look at his solar panel operation, and a brief hello with the dairy cows that live on the land adjacent to the farm. On one extremely hot day last summer, we discussed the different garlic varietals over icy cold fresh watermelon. For our team, a visit to Willow Garlic Growers is more than a volunteer day for a very generous partner of ours; it’s a brief retreat from our bustling urban lives and a reminder of the benefits of connecting people to real, delicious, fresh food.

When it comes to providing materials and seeds for our schools, Big Green sources high quality products from vendors that align with our values and mission. As an organization, it’s important for us to support local growers when we can. The garlic we get from Willow Garlic Growers is suited for the climate of Illinois and has been grown using organic practices. It’s a key component of our planting plan for Chicago Learning Gardens in the winter. Each year, our team provides a short day of work on the farm. Our tasks have included planting garlic and mulching the newly planted cloves with straw, harvesting, cleaning the bulbs, and bunching and hanging freshly harvested garlic so that it can cure.

Tyler Beth, a member of our Associate Board, gardener, and homemade hot sauce enthusiast, joined our team on a visit to Willow Garlic Growers this October. It was a beautiful sunny day and we worked together to prepare the garlic that we’d later distribute to schools. Tyler said of his experience, “It’s nice to get your hands dirty, but it’s even better when you’re able to work with a local Illinois farmer that is donating his time, passion, land and produce to help Chicago Kids!”

On our car ride back to Chicago that afternoon, bellies full of Dan’s homemade elderberry syrup and hazelnuts from his tree, our team talked about the value of getting away from the city and participating in labor together. Just like the students we work with, we’ve practiced experiential learning through a collaborative educational opportunity in the field. We’ve all learned something, and in addition to delicious garlic, have stories to share with our students, teachers, and friends. Partnerships are essential to Big Green’s work, and we’re grateful to Willow Garlic Growers for partnering with us to provide our students with the best garlic around.