“A farmer-writer who loves garlic as much as words” is how The New York Times described Dixon writer and farmer Stanley Crawford in a 2011 story, and one might be hard-pressed to improve upon that characterization.
Crawford, whose 11 books included the seminal and award-winning memoirs Mayordomo: Chronicle of an Acequia in Northern New Mexico and A Garlic Testament: Seasons on a Small New Mexico Farm, died Jan. 25 at his home in Dixon as a result of a medically-assisted death he chose after learning earlier in January he had untreatable cancer, his daughter Katya Crawford tells SFR.
“He was totally brave, totally ready, and was very, very graceful about it,” says Crawford, who was with her father when he died, along with her brother Adam and his wife.
After learning he had advanced liver, kidney and colon cancer at the start of January and making the decision to decline treatment, Crawford spent the last few weeks of life talking to friends and family.
“He was able to speak to so many people that he loved and let them know that he was dying,” Katya Crawford says. “For three weeks before he died, he was able to see people every day or talk to people on the phone all around the world.” And while he had trouble walking toward the end and was very weak, “he was never in any pain,” she says.
In fact, up until last year, Crawford was still farming El Bosque Farm in Dixon, where he and his late wife, RoseMary, who died three years ago, moved in 1969 and raised their children. Katya Crawford was born in Embudo, while Adam was born in Ireland, where Stanley and RoseMary were living at the time.
Up until last year, her father also remained on the electric co-op board, Crawford says. “He was traveling to conferences and to Washington DC. He was doing the Farmers Market. He taught at Colorado College in October; he could barely walk and his students loved him. That was in October. He was just living life very, very fully. He was surrounded by lots of young people and lifetime friends.”
Though his death naturally was hard to prepare for, she says, “my dad lived a really awesome life.”
Crawford himself was born in 1937 and educated at the University of Chicago and at the Sorbonne. He wrote his first novel, Gascoyne, while living on Greece, and it was optioned for film.
That was “probably the only time he had money,” Katya says of her father. He had “a pretty intense obsession with automobiles” and bought a Mercedes. He, RoseMary and Adam were living on Ireland and took the Mercedes on a ship back to New York, where they drove it across the country. He left behind a Bentley, a Ford Model T and a vintage tractor, she says. After returning to San Francisco, the Crawfords went to visit friends in Northern New Mexico and ended up buying land and staying there.
Stanley Crawford also left behind two aging Blue Healers, a Corgi puppy named Pippa and approximately 35 geese, ducks and chickens, she says. Decisions about the farm’s future have not been made.
“We’re not going to make any rash decisions,” she says. “We both grew up in that house. It’s incredibly sentimental to us. I worked there even when I was in college, I would go back in the summer time to work on the farm. I went to the farm almost every weekend to take care of my mom, lots of times in the summertime to take care of my mom and then my dad. So we’re very attached to that to the property and to their legacy. It’s also kind of a painful place to be without them.”
In 2019, Crawford published The Garlic Papers: A Small Garlic Farm in the Age of Global Vampires (Leaf Storm Press), which documents the massive legal battle that pitted his small farm in New Mexico against a Chinese garlic importer and its several international law ﬁrms, also the subject of a Netﬂix documentary, “Garlic Breath,” in the six-part series Rotten, released in 2018.
“The news about Stan’s passing came as a shock,” Leaf Storm Publisher Andy Dudzik (a former longtime SFR publisher) tells SFR via email. “As a writer, he was a singular talent and an absolute joy to work with. It was an honor to be entrusted with publishing two of his books. He was also one of the most gentle and humble souls I’ve ever known, and I will miss him greatly.”
Leaf Storm also published Crawford’s 2017 novel Village, described by the late author John Nichols as “vintage Crawford…true to life…love, death, sex, depression, poverty, ditch cleaning, love of automobiles, teenage craziness, bits of euphoria…all mingle with the natural world through which the human community stumbles.”
In a 2017 interview with Lorene Mills on Report from Santa Fe, Crawford said he wrote the novel as “a love letter to my village.”
Katya Crawford says her favorite of her father’s books is the 1972 novella Log of the S.S. The Mrs. Unguentine. Chair and Associate Professor in the Landscape Architecture Department at the University of New Mexico’s School of Architecture, Crawford says when she was doing her master’s degree in landscape architecture, she had an assignment to design an island and designed the garbage barge from the novella, which describes, in the form of a ship’s log, the 40-year history of the Unguentine marriage at sea on board a garbage barge. Upon its reissue several years ago, the Los Angeles Times wrote “the book is long overdue for a heroic homecoming.”
Stanley Crawford also left behind one unpublished novel, Katya says, which his agent will work on selling to publish posthumously. His remaining archives will go to UNM.
Before her father died, she asked him if he wanted to write his own obituary. He said no; he was too tired. So she asked if there was any particular message he would want that obituary to include.
“Friendship are everything,” he said.
She told him that was her mother’s line and not “very original.” And he laughed and understood but then repeated the sentiment: “I’m serious,” he said. “Friends are so important.”
And he had so many, Katya says. “He had a really good life.”
“You pay homage when and where you can. I love the smell of the bulb as the earth opens and releases it in harvest, an aroma that only those who grow garlic and handle the bulb and the leaves still fresh from the earth can know. Anyone who gardens knows these indescribable presences—of not only fresh garlic, but onions, carrots and their tops, parsley’s piercing signal, the fragrant exultations of a tomato plant in its prime, sweet explosions of basil. They can be known best and most purely on the spot, in the instant, in the garden, in the sun, in the rain. They cannot be carried away from their place in the earth. They are inimitable. And they have no shelf life at all.”
― Stanley Crawford, A Garlic Testament: Seasons on a Small New Mexico Farm