Alberta rancher raising epicurean garlic

OUTSMARTING THE MULIES In Claresholm country, mule deer and wind are more certain 
than death and taxes, and that’s why Chalmers chose garlic

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Garlic is ascribed many traits, a surprising number of which are supernatural. Even in today’s pop culture, garlic is still tasked with warding off vampires — and a goodnight kiss at the end of a date, if you believe the spearmint gum commercials. It is said to increase vitality and even libido, and many religiously include raw garlic as part of a daily vitamin regiment.

Considering its superfood reputation, some might assume that’s why Jackie Chalmers decided to start growing it commercially at her Claresholm-area ranch — but those people would be wrong.

“I had to be compatible with the mule deer. Even the first summer I was here, I opened the kitchen door to go outside and there was a deer standing there eating my flowers,” Chalmers laughed.

Chalmers and family moved to the New Oxley ranch in 2006 after leaving the Millarville area, where the family had ranched for nearly a century. Once settled, Chalmers felt the urge to start growing a product she could sell locally, so she discussed the mule deer situation with her Aunt Ruth, a longtime gardener.

“She told me that when she grew her garden west of High River, she’d put a row of lettuce, a row of garlic, a row of radish, then a row of garlic. She’d alternate garlic in her garden, and the deer didn’t bother it,” she said. “So I planted a test plot and by golly, the deer didn’t bother it.”

Chalmers was sold and New Oxley garlic was born. This year, she estimates she has 25,000 garlic plants. Her first commercial crop was harvested in 2010. “Each year I have just successively increased the amount of garlic that I’ve planted,” she said.

For the less-epicurean shopper, garlic is seen as a generic and predictable purchase. Those shoppers are in for a treat when they discover New Oxley garlic, and word is spreading fast.

“Our garlic really just speaks for itself. It’s just so superior to the Chinese garlic and once people taste it, they know they want Canadian-grown garlic. It’s a very full-flavoured garlic and it grows well here,” said Chalmers.

Most of the garlic found at grocery stores has been brought in from China. Chalmers’ garlic is bigger, juicier and has more colour than its paler, Chinese cousin.

“Ours is more full flavoured. The Chinese garlic, which is generally what is sold in the stores, it takes quite a few bulbs to get any kind of garlic flavour, and they’re very small and they’re very hard to peel.

“If you held your hand out, one of my bulbs would fit into the palm of your hand, and in that bulb would be five to eight cloves. You take one clove, it’s very easy to peel and it gives you a beautiful, well-rounded flavour of garlic with just that one clove,” she said.

The garlic is grown naturally, both planted and harvested by hand.

“It’s definitely a labour of love. All of the weeding is, as my uncle would say, on your prayer bones. It’s on your hands and knees because there’s really no way to mechanize that,” said Chalmers.

New Oxley garlic is available at all Calgary Co-op stores, Creative Cleaver in Lethbridge, and Save-on Foods in Lethbridge. Some stores display placards advertising the garlic, but most often it is presented in the produce section in a bushel basket. “Just ask for the Canadian garlic,” said Chalmers, who says sales are going very well. “The orders keep increasing with most of the stores — they just keep ordering more and more.” Many restaurants also loyally use her garlic, and she will sell it right from the ranch. Visit www.newoxley.com.

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