Appetite for local garlic growing in Alberta

When the Visscher family started looking for a crop with a market, it didn't take them long to decide to grow garlic. Five years later demand has grown tenfold.

Customers now buying a year's worth, just so they don't miss out

Brenda and Mark Visscher plant about 8,000 garlic plants in one day with help from friends. (Submitted by Mark Visscher)

When Mark Visscher and his wife Brenda moved back to his family's farm about 10 years ago, they renovated the house he grew up in and made it their own. 

Then they looked out at the 2½ acres, now dubbed Deep Roots Farm, and saw it was too small to run cattle but just the right size to grow garlic.

In 2015, they planted their first crop, 2,500 garlic plants for the 2016 season. Like tulips, garlic is planted in the fall.

The Visschers quickly sold out. So the next year they planted more, and more again the next, each year selling out. This past Monday, they finished planting 30,000 cloves, all by hand, for next summer's crop.

Visscher says their early customers would come to their farm, about 10 minutes outside of Red Deer, and buy a pound, about 10 to 12 bulbs.

"The next year, they come back like, 'We ran out' and 'That was so good.' So then they'll buy five pounds and then they tell their friends," Visscher told CBC's Edmonton AM. "So now we have people buying 10, 20, 30 pounds all at once."

For the Visscher family, 12 pounds constitutes a year's worth of garlic.

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Some days they have garlic with every meal, starting with a little in their eggs in the morning, and ending with a couple of cloves of black garlic for dessert at dinner.

"When you ferment it, it takes on a sweeter taste; it really pairs well with chocolate," Visscher said. "I prefer a red wine or dark beer ... but even a nice tea goes well with it."

They sell their garlic from the farm with little advertising.

People like being able to see where the food is coming from, but they also enjoy the animals, take pictures in the sunflower field and have an experience that's a little different from the farmer's market, he said.

A pound of garlic equals about 10-12 bulbs. The Visscher family consumes about a pound a month. (Deep Root Farms Facebook)

While Canada is not a major player in the garlic market, local garlic is seeing a lot of interest in recent years. 

Part of the interest is a result of the local food movement, another is more people cooking at home and wanting good tasting food, Visscher said.

"We have no problem selling all we can grow. Our limitation is labour and land."


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