It was a great pleasure meeting with Jackie Rowe, owner/operator of The Garlic Box in Hensall recently. It was right in the height of “scape” season, so I learned a great deal about this highly nutritious spring vegetable and about growing garlic in Ontario.
Ontario garlic is much different than what’s imported from other countries. It’s known as a cool-season crop, planted in the fall and harvested ten months after in late summer. It’s a root-to leaf crop, meaning that all parts of the plant are used.
Garlic comes out of the ground wet, with a distinctive Ontario flavour profile described by Jacquie as “the right amount of heat, sweet and nutty” Like wine, garlic develops a taste of terroir – Ontario’s garlic described as having a lingering mineral finish. You’ll find imported garlic has much more heat – a sharper taste that might burn on your tongue – as it’s planted for just four months. Garlic grown outside of Canada does not produce the scapes, either.
75% of Canadian garlic is grown in Ontario, followed by large crops in Quebec and a smaller market can be found in British Columbia. The BC crop has a distinctively different flavour as it’s grown in volcanic ash.
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Jacquie started growing Garlic in Stratford in 1997, expanding to one acre and branding as The Garlic Box in 1998. Since that time she has been a huge advocate for Ontario Garlic, touting it’s distinct flavour and promoting it’s health and nutritional benefits. Originally she had hoped to be a Seed Company for Ontario Garlic, but by consumer demand that soon changed, although she says “the local movement is just now gaining great traction, during the first fifteen years of pounding the pavement no one really cared.” And although she feels like she is still educating consumers, she’s come a long way since her one-product stand at the St. Mary’s Street Festival where she sold garlic jam.
The farm has expanded to three acres (each acre produces 4-5000 lbs) and this business buys garlic from local mennonite farmers to manufacture 30-50,000 bushels per year. It requires manual labour to harvest and just-in-time processing. The Company employs five full-time staff, seasonal workers that do the field work, three sales representatives and two distributors. Sixty-five percent of the packing is done right at their business in Hensall, as well as 100% of the shipping.
The Company had an extensive relationship with producers in Scotland when they helped set up a garlic industry as part of a field-to-fork food movement there. We share a similar climate. They still ship some products to Europe, primarily Germany, Sweden and Scotland, but prefer to focus on the Canadian market – primarily selling wholesale to the food service industry. Products are also available online or in niche markets like Jill’s Table in London, who has been a faithful fan since Jill discovered The Garlic Box at the St. Mary’s Street Festival.
At the Garlic Box they are environmentally conscious. With success of a recent application to the Local Food Fund, The Garlic Box hopes to retrofit to expand house capacity at their site in Hensall.
There is not a cooking culture in Ontario that does not use garlic and it can boast health benefits as both medicine and food. Garlic has an exciting future and The Garlic Box strives to be leaders in the garlic industry. The Mission of this business, since day one, is to “Bring Ontario garlic to the kitchen table.”
“eat garlic everyday anyway you can get it”
In the spring, a tall flower stalk, the scape, is harvested for its highly nutritious value. Garlic scapes are tender coils on the plant, much like a fiddlehead. There is just one per plant and they are hand snapped during a two-day harvesting window. They can be pickled, diced or dehydrated. You can also eat seed poppers from the purple flowers on the scapes.
Stems and leaves are chopped at the Garlic Box for flavourful vegetable stocks.
And the most recognized part of the plant is the bulb – a versatile vegetable that can be grated, steamed, poached, fried or roasted. One garlic bulb has six cloves.
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By supporting The Garlic Box you are supporting the local agricultural industry as they use local honey, apple cider, cranberries and peaches in their popular products that include balsamic vinagrettes, sauces, salad dressings and seasoning for soups and baked beans.
Find great recipes at garlicrecipes.ca
The newest product – frozen garlic is up for the Ontario Premier’s Award this year. It’s apparently “the best thing since shelled peas.” The bulbs are peeled, then flash frozen and highly branded for year round sales. Frozen garlic maintains its nutritional value and is sold in 20lb boxes – a great convenience for the food service industry.
Jacquie is always working on new recipes too – with the fresh scape season at hand she’s developing a green garlic vinagrette, green garlic caesars and scape pesto.
For more information or to purchase great garlic products visit:
The Garlic Box
54 London Road, Hwy #4
Hensall, ON N0M 1X0
1-888-772-9994 / 519-262-2470