Stanley Crawford's portrayal of life in rural northern New Mexico, "A Garlic Testament: Seasons on a Small New Mexico Farm," is a classic of agrarian literature.
He followed it up by singing the praises of the ancient water-sharing system unique to the region in "Mayordomo: Chronicle of an Acequia in Northern New Mexico."
But years have gone by since Crawford last published a book that was agriculture-related. In the interim, the small market grower from Dixon published several works of fiction, received two National Endowment for the Arts fellowships and another from Reader's Digest, and taught writing at several universities, including the Institute of American Indian Arts and the University of Massachusetts-Amherst.
In recent years Crawford decided to return to the topic of farming. Last month he gave a reading at Colorado College, where he previously served on the writing faculty, and shared some background about his new work-in-progress.
Crawford's nonfiction essays are typically poetic meditations on neighboring Embudo Creek, a tributary of the Rio Grande, and the local irrigation ditch, as well as his old adobe farmhouse, the tools and processes involved in selling produce at the Santa Fe Farmers Market and the benefits of slow-paced rural living.
His new book is a bit of a departure from anything he's done before. "The Garlic Papers: A Small Farm in an Age of Global Goliaths" promises to deliver some legal intrigue. He calls it his twist on "globalization gone wrong."
"My last farm book was published in the early 1990s," he said during his appearance in Colorado Springs. "That was a long time ago, and I figured I should write another farm book because I knew a lot had changed on the farm over the last 20 or 30 years, but the structure for it was missing."
That problem was resolved five years ago when Crawford was approached by an international trade lawyer named Ted Hume. After becoming fast friends, Crawford agreed to sign onto Hume's legal challenge accusing the country's largest garlic importer, Harmoni Spice, of evading anti-dumping duties, possibly with assistance from the largest garlic wholesaler, Christopher Ranch, a case that was covered by various media outlets and in a Netflix food documentary, "Garlic Breath."
Imported garlic, most of which comes from China, is worth a fraction of the $16 per pound Crawford gets for what he grows, he said.
Anti-dumping duties are intended to level the playing field between low-cost, or dumped, imported commodities, and similar items produced domestically.
To that end, every year the Commerce Department conducts a review of Chinese garlic imports. Crawford and his lawyer claim the California-based Fresh Garlic Producers Association, of which Christopher Ranch is a prominent member, submits names of companies for review but has been gaming the system to protect import-export firm Harmoni Spice from scrutiny at the expense of smaller firms.
They allege Harmoni owes $200 million in back duties that have never been paid.
Christopher Ranch is a multi-generational family-owned company, based at Gilroy, Calif., the historical hub of the nation's garlic production and processing. Company owners vigorously denied claims made in the Netflix documentary, including allegations of price fixing and worker mistreatment. Only 6 percent of the garlic the company sells is imported, and none of those foreign imports are sold under the Christopher Ranch name, according to the company.
After getting involved in the case, Crawford found himself entangled in intense legal maneuvering. Harmoni Spice countersued Crawford and several other claimants on racketeering charges. Crawford's standing as a commercial grower was also denied by the Department of Commerce after federal investigators paid a couple of unannounced visits to his El Bosque Garlic Farm.
That portion of the story is covered in what Crawford calls his "cloak and dagger chapter."
"After over 40 years of growing and harvesting crops I found I had no standing before the court of international trade," he said.
"The global system is being gamed. Do I have any regrets about being in this legal labyrinth? No, with one caveat," he said at his Colorado Springs appearance.
His one regret, he said, is that other small garlic producers turned against him and eventually launched their own complaint with the Commerce Department, this time defending Harmoni Spice.
Crawford claims they were bought off. In the Netflix documentary, the owners of Boxcar Farm, which also sells produce at the Santa Fe market, accuse Crawford of unfairly benefitting from a $50,000 payment and gifts of new equipment while they were left high and dry, despite initially agreeing to join the same complaint. They also question Hume's motives, since his primary clients are Chinese garlic exporters.
In the end, the racketeering charge by Harmoni Spice was thrown out, and the firm was cleared of any wrongdoing by the Commerce Department, a decision that is now on appeal.
Crawford is still hopeful the case will raise awareness and strengthen protections for 350 other items that are also covered under U.S. anti-dumping law.
At the same time, he has felt the wrath of what he perceives as raw monopoly power, estimating that as much as $15 million was spent fighting the legitimacy of his one-acre farm.
While the Trump Administration has sought to rectify unfair trading relationships by dropping or renegotiating several important trade deals and taking a tough"America first" stance toward international affairs, Crawford isn't satisfied.
"Why not just enforce the tariffs that are already in place?" he said as he signed books following the reading. "But, no, too many people are benefitting from the way things are now."
While Crawford waits to see how the legal saga ultimately plays out, he admits he never expected the issue to run on as long as it has.
"My lawyer thought it would be over within the year," he noted.
As for his next book, most of it is already written and going through the final edits. His next installment of bucolic farming meditations, this time interspersed with a hefty dose of legal suspense, is due out next fall.