Keene Garlic

Keene Garlic, E-commerce Connecting Farmers Nationwide

Sandra Yerges

Summary: This story showcases a small family farm that grows a specialty crop and sells their products on their website at They collaborate with other small, organic family farms to produce and sell the highest quality garlic in the United States. In addition to the farm’s background, this feature highlights how the USDA grant helped them expand their line of seasonings produced from their organic and gourmet heirloom garlic in their own licensed kitchen in Madison, Wisconsin.


After seven years of yielding unsatisfactory garlic on their property in the early 2000s, Keene and Cindy Hollenbeck of Keene Garlic knew something needed to change. The imported garlic seed they purchased year after year at the garden center was not growing into garlic bulbs, so they turned their attention to other producers. While researching the Internet, Cindy was introduced to a local farm five miles away who produced varieties of heirloom garlic. This helpful farm provided the Hollenbecks the necessary growing information and seed that guided the beginnings of Keene Garlic.

With their one-eighth acre of harvest-ready land, Keene and Cindy planted their newly purchased heirloom garlic with their local farm’s guidance in mind. That year’s harvest was starkly different from the preceding years as it yielded a plentiful crop. It was then the pair decided they would refocus their farm from producing vegetables, eggs, and mushrooms to solely harvesting garlic. “One thing about garlic: we always just had a passion for it,” Cindy expressed.

Keene Garlic officially began in 2008 as a part-me venture for the Hollenbecks as Keene continued to work full-me in the engineering industry. Cindy mentioned she experienced some health setbacks during that time, and growing garlic was a way to take her mind off of it. “It was something where I could still be outside working with the soil on the land and just being able to feel good about what I was doing,” she explained.

That same year, Keene Garlic made many new additions to their farm. They were USDA Organic Certified and grew to a half acre plot of planning land. Although it was nestled in a rural area with poor internet outside Madison, Wisconsin, they also started a website to begin shipping their products across the country while expanding their overall reach.

Each of these offerings continues to make up Keene Garlic’s business model today and contribute to the growth of the farm. Their website offers customers access to shippable garlic products as well as growing tips for aspiring farmers. According to Cindy, “Thousands of gardeners have learned to grow garlic from our website.”

With the community they built from their online presence, they realized their early issues with bad garlic seed were affecting other growers around the United States as well. “As growers, we think it’s us,” Cindy admitted. Their website gives new gardeners and farmers the information they need to grow great garlic.

Products and Marketing

This company also caters to non-farming customers with their ready-to-eat garlic seasonings. In addition to Keene and his two sons, who are the primary growers and lead the operations on their farm, there are 75 small, organic family farmers off-site who grow for Keene Garlic and earn a nice income harvesting a crop they know is sold when they plant in the fall. In late August, the company’s collaboration of 50 garlic growers brings in their garlic to be shipped to customers nationwide.

Cindy explained, “Our gourmet garlic differs from garlic sold at stores because they are specialty crops with full flavor that taste great and also grow well for most gardeners and farmers in the United States.” They know it would be impractical to promote their products in the same market as grocery store garlic due to their obvious differences. Therefore, they establish their own niche audience who relies on the homegrown, heirloom and organic elements of their business.

When speaking about the nation's consumers, Cindy emphasized, “It’s really important to them to have something that is grown locally or in the U.S.” There is a sense of pride that comes along with buying homegrown products, and this business allows Americans to feel connected to the food they purchase.

Keene Garlic is no stranger to marketing their products, especially to popular brands. Their farm caught the attention of Martha Stewart 10 years ago and has been selling to her ever since. This long-term relationship of providing top quality, gourmet garlic to her resulted in her choosing Keene Garlic as a company on her “Good Things List.” They are proud to be recognized by Martha Stewart, who has also written an annual blog on their website and has included Keene Garlic in the Martha Stewart Living Magazine.

Operating solely through e-commerce brings about an additional expense for Keene Garlic: shipping costs. Being that customers expect the best quality garlic from their farm to arrive at their doorstep, they only use their unblemished products for shipment. This allows them to avoid returns and the extra costs of reshipment. As a natural occurrence in the farming industry, there is some garlic not suitable for shipment, and this farm has discovered a way to use these crops as well.

Keene and Cindy had always made garlic powder for their family with their harvested garlic, so they decided to move their operations to Madison Feed Kitchen, a facility with an incubator kitchen, to make and sell garlic powder with their imperfect garlic. As time went on, they invested $60,000 in a new warehouse with a licensed kitchen so they could make their garlic products in their own space.

Another product Keene Garlic produces in their warehouse is pesto, made with uncommon and often scrapped ingredients. Their farm harvests hardneck garlic, a popular garlic variety outside the United States. Cindy explained these garlics have a long stem, referred to as a “garlic scape,” which can be used for cooking sr fry and pesto. Because this product is not well-known, many farmers assume they are unusable and discard them. Keene Garlic has been taking steps toward minimizing this waste by purchasing them from other farmers, exposing customers to garlic scapes, and offering their garlic scape pesto.

Keene Garlic was fortunate to have an established online presence when the COVID-19 pandemic began in 2020. Much to their excitement, business boomed during that me with the higher volume of online shoppers with a desire to purchase U.S. grown, gourmet garlic with higher medicinal properties as well as grow their own garlic. “We were there and ready to meet the demand as it popped up,” said Cindy.

VAPG Funding

The Value-Added Producer Grant (VAPG) could not have come at a better time for Keene Garlic as they were able to fund these expansion efforts with their wider consumer base.

On September 15, 2021, Keene Garlic began operating with the VAPG. Due to their seasonal offerings, the USDA provided them an early start date. They knew the attention the brand was receiving required a new branding effort to match the growth of the company. Therefore, the first step was to revamp their packaging with a more professional image. Keene Garlic is working on their new labels, and seeing the direction their business is heading fuels their ongoing excitement for the future of their company.

More than a decade of growth and thousands of yearly orders later, Keene Garlic is currently putting their grant funds toward maximizing this upward trend. Cindy stated, “We wouldn’t be able to really expand our business without the grant.” Their focus for the next few years is to continue selling and shipping their garlic bulbs for eating and planting as well as their seasonings on a national level through their website at They also strive to increase sales by continuing to collaborate with small, organic family farms.