SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. (NEWS10) – Made in Saratoga kicks off with a taste sensation that has a connection to the track – Saratoga Garlic.
The local company was started by a horse trainer even though neither job was something he ever planned to do.
“I don’t come from a farming background, so I didn’t know anything about growing garlic,” Bill Higgins said.
But Higgins grows 18,000 pounds of it a year in Saratoga County.
The scapes, or the soft stems on top, make it onto the menu of local restaurants after he harvests and dries the garlic. He makes that into an aioli sold throughout the Northeast.
It’s a pretty tasty business that all started because he had an unusual way of unwinding.
“I used to come home at night after working at the track and plow the field, and the only reason I did it was it was relaxing,” he explained.
A restaurant manager for a horse owner asked him what he grew, and Higgins was embarrassed to say nothing but soon got the connections to grow garlic.
“It is a very finicky crop soil-wise, so I’d like to say I’m an expert but I still feel like I’m learning,” he said.
You could say he’s been learning all his life and another constant was his connection to horses, which dates back to his childhood in Kinderhook.
“We were riding bareback or learning how to jump,” he recalled. “It wasn’t a big fancy thing. It was really a neighborhood kind of thing, so from my youth I really loved horses.”
He planned to study ecology in college when a chance meeting got him started as an exercise rider. That turned into decades of working for Hall of Fame trainer Allen Jerkens.
“He kind of allowed me to do both,” Higgins said. “He gave me the freedom to come and go at the barn, so I could do this because it’s very hard to do both.”
His staff at first was his kids and their friends. Some still help out as do friends from the track today.
“A lot of the planting and weeding, taking care of the fields, I rely on my race track help,” he said. “Guys from the race track come out here and help me and then my neighbors, local teenagers, anybody I can rope into help in the production kitchen.”
Higgins still trains horses – just two now. They won’t be ready this summer, but he said to look for them at Belmont in the fall.
His daughter, who used to help with the garlic, just became the first female steward at Saratoga Race Course.