A clove of garlic. (Photo by Søren Holt, via Creative Commons)

By Monica Roman Gagnier, The Albuquerque Journal

DIXON, N.M. — Among the residents of Dixon, New Mexico, Stanley Crawford has long been known as a gentleman farmer and a thoughtful man of letters.

He’s the author of such books as “A Garlic Testament: Seasons on a Small New Mexico Farm” and “Mayordomo: Chronicle of an Acequia in Northern New Mexico,” and teaches creative writing at Colorado College.

Crawford is such a personage in the sleepy village that a stop at the Dixon Cooperative Market for directions to El Bosque Garlic Farm quickly brings the reply, “Follow the bend in the road and make a quick left after the bridge.”

But Crawford’s image has shifted in recent years: He has become a lightning rod for controversy. The 82-year-old brought on the change in 2014 when he agreed to file a complaint against Harmoni International Spice, an American company that is owned by Chinese exporter Zhengzhou Harmoni Spice.

Crawford maintains that Harmoni enjoys a unique advantage in the U.S. garlic market because it sells product being “dumped” by its parent at below-market prices without having to pay any anti-dumping duty.

The ensuing years of litigation between Crawford and Harmoni and its allies in California, garlic wholesaler Christopher Ranch and the Fresh Garlic Producers Association, have unleashed vitriol and a complicated legal saga that few could have foreseen.

The dispute spawned “Garlic Breath,” an episode in the 2018 Netflix series “Rotten” chronicling the worldwide supply chains of six commodities.

Crawford has been accused of being “bought off” to join in the litigation. Christopher Ranch has denied allegations in the Netflix documentary, including claims about price-fixing and worker mistreatment.

“Millions of dollars have been spent fighting over this little piece of land,” said the lanky farmer on a recent fall day as he stood on one of the fields on his two-acre garlic farm, which sells its produce at the Santa Fe Farmers Market on Tuesdays and Saturdays.

The challenge to Harmoni’s imports, which has taken place in venues ranging from the U.S. Department of Commerce, the federal Court of International Trade in New York and federal Circuit Court in Washington, D.C., fractured a friendship between Crawford and a fellow garlic farmer.

The garlic fight has also brought Crawford literally and figuratively closer to his attorney and his wife, international trade lawyer Ted Hume and his spouse Renate Hume.

The Humes, who stayed in a bed-and-breakfast on Crawford’s property when they came to enlist the garlic farmer to lead the charge against Harmoni, have moved from Ojai, California, to nearby Taos in the time since the first legal fusillades were fired.

Sadly, the years have seen the deterioration of Crawford’s wife RoseMary due to Alzheimer’s disease and her exile to a care facility in Albuquerque. RoseMary, who made the trip from San Francisco to the Embudo Valley in 1969 with her husband and 1-year-old son via a used Volkswagen van, was Crawford’s partner in all things, including garlic.

Perhaps most important of all, the legal odyssey that has taken Crawford to China, New York and Washington has provided the author with grist for his literary mill.

His latest book, “The Garlic Papers: A Small Garlic Farm in the Age of Global Vampires,” was recently published by Santa Fe’s Leaf Storm Press and may well represent the culmination of his writing career.

The book is part legal textbook and part farmer’s almanac, sprinkled with observations from an octogenarian on the nature of life in an era of climate change and global trade.

The thread running throughout the book is Harmoni’s assertion that Crawford is a mere hobby farmer who lacks the legal standing to sue behemoth agricultural competitors, an erasure of the work he has been doing full time for 42 years.

Crawford notes that one of Harmoni’s legal filings included the line: “El Bosque Garlic Farm is such a fiction that it couldn’t walk into a McDonald’s and order a cheeseburger.”

Professor Crawford then proceeds to throw serious shade at this expression: “It’s hard to know what to call this figure of speech. Or disfigure of speech. The line was probably written by a young law intern trying to show some literary flair.”

The bottom line, as far as Crawford goes: “The cheeseburger statement reveals Harmoni’s intentions to turn my farm — and therefore a good part of my life — into a legal fiction in order to induce the Department of Commerce to dismiss my administrative review request.”

Asked if he has any regrets about mounting his legal battle, Crawford echoes what he wrote in his book: “No. It’s what keeps me going.”

Despite the personal fallout from the garlic fight, Crawford has gotten some good news lately. Harmoni agreed to dismiss a racketeering case against him and his lawyer in a settlement that leaves them free to continue to ask the Commerce Department to review Harmoni’s zero duty. In the meantime, Crawford awaits decisions by the Federal Court of International Trade and the Federal Circuit Court in Washington.

One ruling is expected on Nov. 4, a day that, as Crawford notes, follows the 37th annual Dixon Studio Tour, to be held Nov. 2 and 3. It is telling that the village tour is how the author marks time. It is when El Bosque Garlic Farm opens its doors to the public to sell the remains of the annual harvest, as well as the garlic braids and ristras that RoseMary used to artfully arrange and that are now put together by a neighbor.

In his book, Crawford devotes an entire chapter to the clay medallions that adorn the garlic creations. Why bother with them, he asks rhetorically, but then envisions a day when “some human rooting around in the earth, planting a garden again or a tree, may come across a thick, rough ceramic disk with the words El Bosque Garlic Farm.”

He concludes, “In like manner, I have pulled from my fields rusty horseshoes, a bridle bit, fragments of metal spurs and have wondered about those who preceded me. And on the mesa above, there lie pottery shards pre-dating the Conquest by hundreds of years.”