Where vampires don't roam in Niagara

Posted Aug 18th, 2009

Where vampires don't roam in Niagara

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It makes me feel a little icky every time I buy it.

Garlic.

Don't get me wrong. I love the stuff. Can't cook without it. And frankly, I don't give a second thought to how I smell after using it generously in many meals. So fear not because there's no zucchini-esque rant brewing here.

The ickiness comes from how I feel when buying garlic because it's always a product of China. Trying to be a good locavore, I can't help but notice this is when my Catholic-like guilt reflex kicks in. As a concerned consumer, I can't help but wonder how it's grown.

I've noticed, however, that I'm not the only one feeling this way and wondering about what I'm buying. I've seen a few tweets on Twitter from people who want to know where to get local garlic.

Well, the following is a little disheartening. It's a story from the Ontario Federation of Agriculture, which regularly writes about what's coming into season or pressing issues farmers are facing, all for the sake of consumer education.

It's a story about the rise and fall of garlic in Ontario. Once poised to be the successor to the golden leaf in the tobacco belt, it's become a rarity on many Ontario farms.

Fortunately for me and my guilt reflex, I get a lot of mine from Linda and, come fall, usually try to swing more than usual to tide me over the winter and avoid those uncertain moments in the grocery store. But it's evident I'm lucky to have such a local source.

Here's the story with a list of local farmers who grow and sell garlic to follow:

Looking For Fresh, High-Quality Ontario Garlic?

Your Options are Limited as Few Grocery Stores Stock it
Submitted by the Ontario Federation of Agriculture (OFA)

When buying fresh fruits and vegetables, the pickings are never more plentiful than during the summer and fall. Many grocery store shelves across the province are stocked with in-season produce and yet there is one local product you likely won’t find - Ontario-grown garlic.

Mark Wales is President of the Ontario Garlic Growers Association. He is also a garlic grower in Aylmer, Ontario and Vice President of the Ontario Federation of Agriculture. As someone who knows the farming business inside and out, he has seen some dramatic changes in the garlic industry.

“During the 1980s, Ontario garlic was one of a number of crops that replaced tobacco because the soil conditions suited to tobacco farming were also ideal for garlic. By about 2001 there were about 4,000 acres of garlic produced in this province and the local crop could be found in most large grocery store chains.

“Now fast forward to 2009 and the situation is much different,” Wales says. “Only 400 to 500 acres or 10 per cent of that in 2001 are now devoted to garlic because producers in countries like China have flooded Canada with lower-quality, cheaper-priced garlic.

“China is the world’s largest producer of garlic and a big exporter to Canada. Today, heavily subsidized imported garlic has turned what was once a vibrant farm sector in Ontario – 95% of Canada’s garlic production comes from this province – into literally a cottage industry,” says Wales.

When imports began to threaten Ontario producers, a Canadian tariff was levied in 2002 and interestingly, imports dropped dramatically from a high of 11 million kilograms to almost none in a short period of time.

However not long after, imported garlic from the Philippines and Pakistan began arriving but it was clear that the product was grown in China. An opportunity arose for the Canadian government to reinstate the tariff in 2007 but Ontario growers, weary of the fight, believed there wasn’t sufficient enforcement during the past five years for a renewed tariff to have any positive impact on their industry. Imported garlic dominated the market and Ontario garlic growers were declining in numbers.

Today, most Ontario garlic producers are limited to selling their crop at road side stands, farmers’ markets, garlic festivals and through a few independent grocers. Although local farmers may not be able to compete with cheaply priced imports, when it comes to quality, taste and freshness, Ontario garlic wins hands down.

“Ontario’s growing conditions are ideal for the Hardneck variety of garlic which is tastier and superior in quality to other varieties like the Softneck garlic produced in China. By the time the imported stock arrives on grocery shelves, chances are it may have been harvested as long as six months ago. How can you tell? When garlic ages, it dries out, becomes lighter and the outer skin flakes off in your hand,” explains Wales. “The quality of imported garlic just isn’t there.”

Caring for Ontario Garlic:

When storing Ontario garlic, keep it in a cool (not refrigerated) dark place where the temperature doesn’t fluctuate during storage. You can even wrap it in parchment paper and then add a layer of tin foil to preserve freshness. If you’re using garlic to add flavour to your meals or for its health benefits, experience garlic at its finest by attending one of this year’s crop of Garlic Festivals:

Newmarket, August 15th
|Sudbury, August 22nd
Stratford, September 12th

Other Garlic Festivals are held annually in July and early August in Carp and Perth so watch for these events in 2010.

Local Niagara growers who grow garlic:

Linda Crago
Tree and Twig Farm
84039 Regional Road 45
Wellandport
905-386-7388
(In her CSA, at her farm stand, and you can sometimes catch her at the Pelham Farmers' Market)

Chris Schatz
The Garlic Guy
1182 Lakeshore Rd. W.
St. Catharines (7th Street exit off the QEW).
(At his garlic stand)

George and Sylvia Schurig
Edelweiss Orchard
4366 Maple Grove Rd.
Beamsville
905-562-3859
(They are at the Grimsby Farmers' Market Thursday evenings)

The MacSween Family
Quiet Acres Farm
672 Lakeshore Rd.
Niagara-on-the-Lake
(Farm stand at the corner of Lakeshore and East-West Line. Open seasonally, 8-7 daily)

If you happen to out and about, here's a list of independent grocers in other corners of Ontario, supplied by the OFA:

Kathleen McIntosh Culinarium
705 Mount Pleasant Road
Toronto, Ontario M4S 2N4 (647) 430-7004
John Rowe/Jamie Cooney

The Leslieville Market (Rowe Farms)
912 Queen Street East
Toronto, Ontario M4M 1J5 www.investeco.com

Fraberts Fresh Food Fergus Marketplace
Derek Roberts & Jackie Fraser
105 Queen Street West
Fergus, Ontario N1M 1S6 (519) 827-5849 femarket@qmail.com

The 100 Mile Market
David Harper & Barbara Kay
55 Trowbridge Street West
Meaford, Ontario N4L 1V4 (519) 538-1522

Pandora's Pantry Natural Food Store
222 Josephine Street
Wingham, ON N0G 2W0 (519) 357-3466

Pandora's Pantry Natural Food Store
120 Inkerman St East
Listowel, ON N4W 2L9 (519) 291-4920

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