Canada’s “Garlic Guru,” as he’s been dubbed, is much more self-deprecating than one might imagine.
“Honestly, 15 years ago I knew all there was to know about garlic, and today I’m really afraid to make a positive definitive statement on garlic,” says Paul Pospisil, Maberly’s “Garlic Guru” and a leader in organic garlic cultivar research.
The retired military officer and engineer has spent more than 20 years delving into the world of garlic with his wife, Mary Lou, on their hobby farm, Beaver Pond Estates.
And, self-deprecating or not, he’s made a name for himself across Canada for his continued research and many growing trials, in which he’s tested over 200 varieties of garlic for their suitability for Canadian growing and other factors.
“Guru” Pospisil will be speaking to the Tamworth Erinsville Grassroots Growers on March 19 at the Tamworth Library and bringing some of that knowledge to his preferred group — “grassroots” and small-scale gardeners and producers who want to learn how to grow diverse and quality garlic — efficiently, and well.
He’s had a busy winter, speaking to horticultural societies and gardening clubs.
“I used to [speak to] farm groups as well, but got away from commercial production of garlic in my research trials and went to hobby home gardeners and the smaller market,” he explains.
He says the reason he got away from educating large-scale producers is because commercial growers began exhibiting “bad farming practice.”
“They don’t do it well…they thrive on monoculture. Most gardeners are a little interested in better diversity….More and more I choose to deal with the grassroots.”
It’s fitting that he connects best with the small-scale growers, as that’s where Pospisil’s passion took off. He and his wife were instrumental in starting up farmer’s markets in Smiths Falls and Perth 20 years ago, marketing locally-grown food to local consumers. That’s where he saw the need for a supply of locally-grown garlic, something that was almost nonexistent in the public eye.
“As time went on you could see there was a consumer demand for garlic, but no production. So I took it upon myself to encourage market gardeners to grow garlic. That was easier said than done, because 20-some-odd years ago there really was no industry in eastern Ontario apart from the occasional grower.”
He started researching garlic varieties, many of which he gathered from growers who had been supplying fresh garlic to their families for generations — backwoods Ukranians, Polish farmers, Toronto Italians.
“One thing led to another, and I started to try and evaluate 15 to 20 [varieties] per year, and growing them for one year didn’t prove anything, so I had to grow for at least three years to see how they would perform.”
Today, Pospisil has tested 200 varieties — which he describes as a “drop in the bucket” of 600 or 700 varieties of garlic that are cultivated around the world. He’s published multiple reports on his findings. “I’m proud to say I have the only organic growing trials for garlic in Canada.”
He and his wife started the Perth Garlic Festival in 1997, which is still going strong today.
Pospisil’s enthusiasm for garlic, and for locally-grown garlic and food, is apparent.
“Garlic is good for your health, probably one of the top five vegetables or fruits beneficial for your health,” he says. “It has such a broad range of medicinal properties and health properties. Consumers go for it, and the consumption in Canada over 20 years is steadily growing.”
Despite Canadians’ appetites for garlic, still only five per cent of the garlic consumed in Canada is grown in this country, says Pospisil.
“Most of our garlic is imported from China and Mexico, [despite the fact that] there is a grassroots movement across Canada to buy local, because people do not trust supermarket food, and for good reason. We’re buying our food from the worst possible sources, mainly starving countries because it’s cheap. China, Mexico, India. There’s that perception of it’s wrong to do this, and also what are you getting? Can you trust that imported food?”
Pospisil doesn’t think so. He says Chinese imported garlic is filthy and “can’t be classed as food,” citing China’s use of human waste as fertilizer, the chemical treatments needed to preserve the garlic for its long journey to be distributed in North America, and the bleaching process that the Chinese use to make their garlic look bright white.
“It’s cheap, so people buy it. It still comes into Toronto at 26 cents per pound…less than cost of shipping.”
If those facts aren’t enough to convince Ontarians to buy locally-produced garlic, then Pospisil will probably have a good number of other interesting arguments for Canadian garlic at his talk in Tamworth.
“I’m going to talk to them about varieties, getting rid of diseases in garlic, a little bit about cooking, a bit about storage preparation, [and] so on. I diversify my talks.”
He’ll have some hands-on show-and-tell samples to discuss as well.
Anyone interesting in learning to produce their own garlic should drop by the Tamworth Library at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, March 19. For more information email firstname.lastname@example.org.