More than just a fes­ti­val

Lo­cal gar­lic grow­ers be­lieve the Strat­ford Ki­wa­nis Gar­lic Fes­ti­val has helped the lo­cal gar­lic in­dus­try come­back

The Beacon Herald - - FRONT PAGE - JONATHAN JUHA

A dy­ing in­dus­try in On­tario just 15 years ago, gar­lic farm­ing has ex­pe­ri­enced a resur­gence over the past decade in the prov­ince, par­tic­u­larly in Perth County.

And for War­ren Ham, a 30-year gar­lic pro­ducer whose farm is just north of Strat­ford, that lo­cal come­back is closely re­lated to the cre­ation of the Strat­ford Ki­wa­nis Gar­lic Fes­ti­val, which he helped co-found.

Back then, Ham said lo­cal pro­duc­ers were fac­ing stiff com­pe­ti­tion from Asian pro­duc­ers who in­un­dated the Cana­dian mar­ket with cheaper gar­lic.

In many cases, the com­pe­ti­tion made it hard for lo­cal pro­duc­ers to get their prod­ucts sold in big chain su­per­mar­kets, forc­ing many of them out of busi­ness. In fact, Ham es­ti­mates that by 2000, the acres of farm­land used to pro­duce gar­lic in On­tario had de­clined sig­nif­i­cantly from 6,000 to just about 300 acres across the prov­ince.

The pop­u­lar­iza­tion of the “lo­cal food move­ment,” how­ever, gave lo­cal farm­ers a sec­ond chance, and af­ter vis­it­ing a gar­lic fes­ti­val in Hud­son Val­ley, N.Y., that at­tracted close to 20,000 peo­ple, Ham said he knew they had to do some­thing sim­i­lar in Perth County.

“Around 2003, the lo­cal food move­ment started to gain trac­tion … and more and more peo­ple wanted to put a face on the pro­duc­ers who were grow­ing their food for them,” he said. “So what the fes­ti­val has done is ex­actly that, put a face on lo­cal food grow­ers, and it has also al­lowed a means by which peo­ple who like lo­cal food and lo­cal gar­lic, they can con­nect di­rectly with them.”

And while one of the main goals of the fes­ti­val, which cel­e­brated its 11th an­niver­sary over the week­end, is to show­case lo­cal farm­ers, part of the pro­ceeds of the event are also used by the lo­cal Ki­wa­nis club to sup­port its com­mu­nity pro­grams through­out the year.

Bon­nie Richard­son, the fes­ti­val’s chair, es­ti­mates the event at­tracts be­tween 4,000 and 5,000 peo­ple each year, a num­ber or­ga­niz­ers were hop­ing to in­crease, as they im­ple­mented a num­ber of new ac­tiv­i­ties to draw new peo­ple to the fes­ti­val.

Among those ini­tia­tives were tast­ing and pair­ing events, guest speak­ers who talked about every­thing from how to grow gar­lic to its use in cer­tain dishes, and ac­tiv­i­ties tar­geted to peo­ple of all ages.

“We wanted to make it a fam­ily-friendly event, so this year we have a chil­dren’s ac­tiv­i­ties area with crafts, colour­ing, scav­enger hunts and other ac­tiv­i­ties,” she said.

“Strat­ford has also be­come a culi­nary hub, and we would like to be known as a piece of that.”

And in the case of Bob and Rose Ged­des, who trav­elled all the way from Goderich and were at the fes­ti­val for the first time, the fes­ti­val is achiev­ing just that.

“We are go­ing to be ex­plor­ing Strat­ford over the next two years, and we are go­ing to come to the restau­rants, and we thought we would start with the gar­lic fes­ti­val,” he said.

PHO­TOS BY JONATHAN JUHA/THE BEA­CON HER­ALD

Gar­lic pro­ducer War­ren Ham, right, helps a cus­tomer at the Strat­ford Ro­tary Com­plex dur­ing this year's Strat­ford Ki­wa­nis Gar­lic Fes­ti­val.

Pre­sen­ter Jackie Rowe, from the Gar­lic Box Com­pany, talks to an au­di­ence dur­ing this year's Strat­ford Ki­wa­nis Gar­lic Fes­ti­val about the "sweet side of gar­lic." She was one of a num­ber of guests speak­ers dur­ing the an­nual event that helps show­case area gar­lic grow­ers.

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