Ontario Garlic: Second To None Reasons Why Home-Grown Garlic Is Far Superior
An Interview With The Garlic Growers’ Association of Ontario’s President, Joann Chechalk
Whether it is enjoyed for its health benefits or flavour enhancing qualities, garlic has been prized for millennia. Canadian grown garlic, however, is far superior both in health benefit as well as flavour profile for a variety of reasons. GGAO’s President Joann Chechalk explains: “With all the safety in place to minimize the chemicals that are used in Ontario field crops of which garlic is one, our products are safer and superior to the products that are coming into Canada from other countries.” Safer but also superior because “Garlic arriving here in Canada from other countries can be processed in various ways to allow it to be shipped in cargo containers in the heat and weather and once here the taste has disappeared and even if you use entire bulbs to enhance your favourite dishes the garlic lacks taste.”
The GGAO was founded in the 1980s to help growers come together and learn from one another as well as specialists from OMAFRA and the University of Guelph, in order to overcome common issues among Ontario growers. Chechalk joined the Association a decade ago when she herself had been growing garlic for a few years and was interested in the training sessions in which growers could partake. These meetings, held a few times per year are now also available on Zoom as well as in person. Like other associations, the GGAO also offer an annual mass visit to a farm to view their systems and equipment and network with other growers.
Something that has added to the quality and strength of Ontario grown Garlic is the GGAO’s partnership with the University of Guelph in an agreement to grow “clean seed”, which means they take various strains of garlic and eliminate the viruses and pathogens that accumulate over the years. These virus and pathogenic strains to the garlic over time reduce vigor, so Chechalk says that this program that the GGAO manages is “the single most useful program for the long term betterment of garlic”.
Garlic growers have faced and overcome other challenges with collaborative forward thinking: “We had terrible problems with a pathogen called Nematodes for many years. They are a tiny living organism that live in the soil and over time the garlic grown is destroyed by the Nematodes eating the root systems at the basil plate and that killed off the garlic bulb. We have now worked with OMAFRA and PMRA to treat the garlic and rotate our crops so as to eliminate the Nematodes from the soils or at least minimize their presence.”
The GGAO’s Annual General Meeting will happen later in April where one current challenge will be of high priority at that AGM: working with other commodities like seed potatoes and strawberries to replace the SPUD unit facility which is over forty years old and in dire need of replacement. Unfortunately, the University of Guelph which has operated the facility no longer has provincial government funding for this facility, but as it is where garlic growers obtain their seed stock and clean seed, it is essential that they find a way to replace the resource.
Garlic growing is a labour of dedication, as it doesn’t compete well with weeds and harvesting is hot and often labour intensive work. The equipment is expensive and trimming and drying takes patience. Chechalk summarizes: “Ontario growers have put a lot of effort into the product so there is no ‘pot of gold’ in growing garlic BUT it is a great crop to grow. You plant a clove of seed in the fall and when you pull a full bulb out in July or August it is very satisfying to see the success of your labour.” Chechalk cannot stress enough that garlic grown by Ontario farmers not only supports local commerce in the summer and fall, but can now be supported year-round with well cured garlic which lasts well into spring and also making use of Ontario grown frozen, freeze dried and dehydrated garlic products. “If people would just try Ontario Grown Garlic,” Chechalk assures, “they would never again want to use imported garlic.” So the next time you are at the grocer, be sure to seek out the safer and more flavourful bulb Ontario grown.