A Little History About Linabella’s Gourmet Garlic Farm, LLC
Michelle and Jeff Howard moved to Oakham in early 1998. Being avid gardeners, it was important to start a garden in our new yard. We began with a few raised beds, planting herbs and vegetables. Michelle began making pesto that year for family and friends.
1999 - 2003
The garden expanded to include hardneck garlic in 2003 (13 varieties). We sought advice from garlic growers from Massachusetts to New York to Washington State. Everyone we talked with was extremely helpful. We attended our first Garlic Festival (as observers, not vendors), the North Quabbin Garlic and Arts Festival in Orange, MA and were amazed at the enthusiasm for garlic and garlic-influenced food.
Michelle continued making pesto and received much encouragement from satisfied family and friends to produce and sell pesto to the public. This encouragement coupled with the experience at our first garlic festival pushed us to start Linabella’s Gourmet Garlic Farm.
We joined the Massachusetts Specialty Food Association to learn more about the process of starting a specialty food business.
We developed our first three varieties of all natural pesto alla Genovese: Traditional, Garlic Lover’s and Honey. Utilizing our home grown garlic and basil, we produced the pesto at the Western MA Food Processing Center in Greenfield, MA.
From there it was on to the garlic festival in Orange, MA. It was our first event, we were very excited and it was memorable for a number of reasons. Everyone who tried our pesto loved it. However, the most memorable part of that festival was the 4” of rain that fell on us from 9 a.m. to noon from the remnants of Hurricane Ivan. We outlasted the elements, sold more pesto than we expected, met many interesting people and made some really great friends.
Garlic production expanded in October of 2004. We planted fewer varieties, but tripled our planting. In addition, we began making plans for our own commercial kitchen.
This was an extremely exciting year for us. We built a commercial kitchen on our property, introduced 2 new varieties of pesto, began wholesaling and attended more garlic festivals and fairs.
The commercial kitchen was a real necessity for us due to our location. Although we are grateful for the Greenfield, MA facility, the 2 ½ hour roundtrip commute was too much for us long-term. Our kitchen was completed in April 2005 and we love the commute!
We began making garlic scape pesto with our first harvest of scapes in the summer of 2004. Michelle perfected her recipe the following year and it was the first product produced in our new commercial kitchen. We named it Sole Verde (or Green Sun) after the astronomical event also known as Green Flash due to the brilliant green color of this pesto. As a result of the interest and demand of our first sweet and savory pesto variety (Honey Pesto) we began exploring a second variety. Maple was a natural fit due to the local availability and interest in maple products. It quickly became our second best seller behind Garlic Lover’s Pesto.
Our wholesaling efforts began a few months later. By the end of the summer our pesto was selling in 12 stores.
Our first festival of 2005 was the Massachusetts Marketplace at Elm Bank in Wellesley, MA. The weather was amazing, the vendors and hosts were all quite friendly, and attendance was phenomenal. We sold out of pesto about 30 minutes before the event ended that afternoon.
The season’s second event was the Southern Vermont Garlic and Herb Festival Labor Day Weekend. We had the good fortune to meet many cool folks from New York City to Florida. It was another weekend of great people and great garlic.
The Sterling Fair was another well-attended event with near-perfect weather. Many first-time pesto tasters were glad they tried it and kept coming back for more!
Our second year at the North Quabbin Garlic and Arts Festival was much drier (no hurricanes this time). The 2-day festival was a big hit and there were many new Linabella’s fans by the time it was over.
Our first year exhibiting at The Hudson Valley Garlic Festival was quite an experience. Saturday was the busiest day this festival had ever seen and only the threat of rain kept attendance slightly lower on Sunday. Over 50,000 attendees streamed through the gates that weekend. There were two or three other pesto booths and customers kept coming back to us to say Linabella’s was far and away the best tasting of the festival!
‘A Salute to New England Specialty Foods’ at the Big E was the season’s next event. Many people visited our booth that day including Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney.
The inaugural year of the Connecticut Garlic & Harvest Festival in Bethlehem, CT was reminiscent of our first year in Orange, MA (you guessed it, much bad weather). We decided to get an early start and set-up our tent on Friday afternoon for the weekend-long event. After a good night’s rest we arrived at the festival Saturday morning to find our tent (and everyone else’s who set-up Friday) destroyed by Friday night’s storm. The festival was officially cancelled (or unofficially open depending on how you look at it) that day, so we bought a new tent and started fresh the next day. The weather began to improve and over 1,100 people attended on Sunday. We had great response to those tasting our pesto and look forward to the 2006 festival.
This year begins with even more activity than last year. We are increasing our wholesale efforts, developed our www.linabellasgarlic.com website (including on-line sales), became members of the GS1 US, formerly Uniform Code Council allowing our company to use UCC codes, and look forward to increased garlic and basil production.
We have expanded our wholesaling effort into Connecticut, beginning with Highland Park Market (Farmington, South Windsor & Glastonbury locations) and the Healthy Natural Gourmet in Southington (late April / early May). In addition, we’ve scheduled many tastings at our existing wholesale customer locations through May. We will be updating this list with June and July dates in the coming weeks. Further goals include expansion into New York and Rhode Island. Anyone who has a store they’d like to see Linabella’s Pesto in is encouraged to call or e-mail us with their suggestion. At last count, we’re in 24 stores in three states and growing!
We’ve tripled our garlic production planting two porcelain varieties, German White and Music. 1,100 basil plants were started in early March, up from 700+ last year.
Of course, we are excited to see you at the Garlic Festivals this year! Don't forget to look at our festival schedule and save the dates! You are sure to have a good time!