Everything You Need to Know About the Toronto Garlic Festival
My fascination and appreciation for the Toronto Garlic Festival started one fateful night in Mijas, Spain. You see, after spending 3 years in Istanbul, Turkey, it was Spain where Bri and I headed. The aim was for Spain to serve as a sort of bridge between life as it was in Istanbul, and life as we were hoping it would be in Toronto.
As such, I spent much of my time in Spain examining exactly what Toronto was all about these days, and where I could fit into the fold. I was searching for Toronto concerts, fall festivals in Toronto, walking tours and anything else my speedy fingers could Google. It was during one particular late night foray that I found out about the Toronto Garlic Festival, and the rest, as they say, is history.
If you know me in the slightest, you'll know that once I have my eye on something, I want to get the real story, the "inside scoop" if you will. I loved the show Departures, so I booked an interview with one of the founders of the show, Scott Wilson. I was fascinated by Ontario's cuisine shift while I was gone, so I visited a slew of restaurants and breweries in Durham. I was interested in the Toronto Garlic Festival, so I emailed the founder, a kind man by the name of Peter McClusky.
Two days after I landed back in Canada, I was getting picked up downtown by Peter and his colleague Renee, a woman also deeply linked to the Toronto Garlic Festival and more on the PR side of things. We headed west, and we headed north, until Toronto's skyscrapers were a distant memory. We finally pulled into a grass driveway, and met a man named Johann, a wonderful character by any sense of the word. And off we went.
Maggie and Johann Kleinsasser's "Whole Circle Farms"
This post is indeed about the Toronto Garlic Festival, but its worth mentioning the origins of the festival. You see, Whole Circle Farms has been up and running as we know it today since 2002. They brought on young, idealistic farmers and apprentices to help tend the land, and learn from their knowledge, as Johann has been learning about farming for decades. He's a man that seems to know everything there is to know, but would more likely humbly tell you he knows nothing at all.
Unfortunately, for Whole Circle Farms, 2017 will be the last season as it once was, as they move away from vegetable growing towards less labour intensive practices. Thankfully, Peter spent time working under Johann, and the Toronto Garlic Festival wouldn't exist without this formative experiences. "It was during the second year of growing garlic, and cooking with it, when I thought, 'Ontario garlic is so fantastic, more people have to taste it.' From that thought came the idea to start the Toronto Garlic Festival, where Ontario farmers could sell there garlic direct to consumer."
"The year I spent interning at Whole Circle Farm was critical. I learned a lot about garlic & farming in general. I developed relationships with farmers and chefs, and worked as a farmers’ market manager, even selling produce and fresh prepared food at farmers' markets. Once I had the idea it was fairly easy to gain support from those who appreciate Ontario garlic."
I should note before diving into all things Toronto Garlic Festival that Elora Brewing Company came out to meet us at the farm to showcase some of their fantastic beers and quality cuisine, and they deserve to be recognized. I fully plan on linking up with them at a later date to gather their story. Feel free to note in the comments if that would be something you'd be interested in.
This post is an attempt to ensure that when others search for "fall festivals in Toronto," they'll be lead in the right direction. Right to...
The Toronto Garlic Festival
Fast Facts about the Toronto Garlic Festival
- The festival took place on Sunday, September 17th in 2017, but it will be happening Sunday, September 16th in 2018.
- As you would imagine, a big focus of the festival is on Chefs and Gourmet Garlic Cuisine. The website notes, "Many mouth-watering savoury dishes have been featured at the Toronto Garlic Festival, including Seared Halibut with Roasted Parsnips and Garlic Puree (Kukum Indigenous Kitchen), Fries with Garlic Aioli & Toasted Garlic Chips (Jamie Kennedy Kitchens), Garlic Sliders (Chef Brad Long),Vegan Smoked Salmon Lox with Lemon Roasted Garlic Hummus & Dill (Vegiterra), Roast Suckling Pig with 50 Garlic Bubs (Chef Ron Raymer), Organic Kale & Garlic Crusted Popcorn Drizzled with Chili Maple Caramel & Himalayas Pink Salt (The Spice Chef), and Karaage Chicken (Gushi Toronto) and many more." Well, I'm officially hungry, you?
- They've got "Garlic Merch," so you can show your true love for Ontario garlic everywhere you go.
- Farmers sell garlic at stands throughout, and it's a fantastic opportunity to learn more about garlic. Talk about farm to table!
- The Speaker's Corner features intriguing lectures, demos, workshops, and presentations around garlic whether that be how to grow garlic in urban areas, the health benefits of garlic, or anything in between.
- You'll find a lot of fun. There are singers about garlic, raw garlic shots, bizarre garlic desserts, garlic breath contests, and more than you could possibly imagine. Seriously, I couldn't picture half the stuff I saw there existing, but it did!
"The fact that it appeals to such a wide audience, it gives us license to create truly diverse programming. For example, at last year’s festival the music stage performances ranged from Sudanese percussion to Aboriginal hand drumming, while at the Speaker’s Corner chefs and soil experts held forth on how the taste of farm crops relate to soil biology. The festival is curated to appeal to all types, from the intellectually curious to those who are simply hungry for a Fresh hot Garlic Grilled Cheese Sandwich." - Toronto Garlic Festival Founder, Peter McClusky
But seriously, I wasn't kidding about the garlic music. It's a thing!
The Vision of the Toronto Garlic Festival
Perhaps in my naivety, I mentioned to Peter that I never guessed that Toronto would be a prime place for a garlic festival (despite the rich farming traditions of Ontario). I guess I just thought that, as an urban center with so much going on, there might just not be an interest, or something like this might get overlooked.
Peter's response summed it up perfectly, "When I think of Toronto I think of diverse cultures, and I’m reminded of the fact that we’re the most ethnically diverse city in the world, with half of the population born outside of Canada. Toronto is home to 200 ethnic groups and where 140 languages are spoken. When I think of garlic I similarly think of all the cultures that use garlic. It’s logical therefore, to think of Toronto as one of the most appropriate places to host a garlic festival."
To me, it seems like while Peter loves and respects the garlic flavour, it's really about using garlic to bring to light larger issues. It's about supporting our local farmers and being cognizant of what we eat, it's about finding an excuse to get together and not be scared to show our silly side, it's about remembering that our food comes from the land, and we need to do our part to protect this planet, and it's about being imaginative in the way we use ingredients and conceive of what's possible.
It's safe to say that a lot of people bought into that vision.
I'm happy that I decided to dive deeper and get this story. Will this story bring me untold amounts of traffic, or will it go viral? No, it probably won't, but if you start to write your blog only for considerations of what might go viral, then, in my opinion, you've lost your integrity. As such, this is the story I wanted to tell, of the Toronto Garlic Festival. It's the story of Peter, Renee, Johann, and untold amounts of garlic fanatics. Sure, garlic is wonderful, but it's the underlying principals of the Toronto Garlic Festival such as community, support and caring that really make this a festival worth supporting in my books.
"We envision the Toronto Garlic Festival to be a landmark feature of the Toronto cultural landscape and something that further contributes to the uniqueness of the city - many city brags about similar features - a tall building, a zoo, great shopping, etc - but there are very few major cities in the world that host a garlic festival. Toronto, because of it’s diversity, is genuinely suited to host a garlic festival." - Founder of the Toronto Garlic Festival, Peter McClusky
Have you attended the Toronto Garlic Festival or any other garlic festival? What did you think? Based on what you've read, would you want to attend next year's festival? What are your thoughts on the whole farm to table movement? Any and all of your comments are welcome and, as always, I'll be sure to respond to each and every one.
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