Options are limited when seeking Ontario grown garlic

When buying fresh fruit and vegetables, pickings are seldom more plentiful than during summer and fall.  Many grocery stores across the province are stocked with in-season produce yet there is a local product people likely will not find – Ontario-grown garlic.  

Mark Wales is president of the Ontario Garlic Growers Association of Ontario, a garlic grower in Aylmer,  and vice-president of the Ontario Fed­era­tion of Agri­cul­ture.  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 soil conditions suited to tobacco farming were also ideal for garlic.  By about 2001 there were about 4,000 acres of garlic produced in the province and the local crop could be found in most large grocery store chains. 

“Fast forward to 2009 and the situation is much diff­erent,” Wales said. “Only 400 to 500 acres or 10 per cent of that in 2001 are 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 imports dropped dramatically from 11 million kilograms to almost none in a short period.  Not long after, im­port­ed garlic from the Philippines and Pakistan began arriving, but it was clear 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 was not sufficient en­force­ment over the past five years for a re­newed tariff to have any posi­tive impact on their industry.  Imported garlic dominated the market; Ontario grow­ers were declining. 

Today, most Ontario 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 imported stock arrives on grocery shelves, chanc­es are it may have been harvested as long as six months ago … When garlic ages, it dries out, be­comes lighter and the outer skin flakes off in your hand,” said Wales.  “The quality just isn’t there.”

Caring for Ontario garlic

When storing Ontario gar­lic, keep it in a cool (not refrigerated) dark place where the temperature does not fluctuate during storage. Users can even wrap it in parchment paper and then add a layer of tin foil to preserve freshness.

There are some independent grocers that stock Ontario gar­lic. In this area”-

Fraberts Fresh Food Fergus Marketplace,  Derek Roberts and Jackie Fraser, Fergus, Ontario   N1M 1S6    (519) 827-5849    or email to femarket@qmail.com or Pandora’s Pantry Natural Food Store in Listowel, at 519-291-4920.

Learn more by visiting http://www.garlicgrowers.on.ca/ for recipes such as chicken roasted with 40 cloves of garlic.

submitted by the Ontario Federation of  Agriculture