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Garlic for Ukraine Fundraiser: Update

With your support, we are making a difference in Milijeve

Nov. 8 Update: To date, we have sent $1000 to Milijeve from 200 bags of garlic sold! Read more below about why we started growing garlic at Meadow Creek Farms, and how the fundraiser idea launched.

A Garlic Story

I started growing garlic because of my dad, my biggest fan, as well as an unending source of encouragement and wisdom. One piece of advice he gave about garlic was to focus on the flavour and not obsess about the size. Huge heads of garlic may be easy to work with from a cook’s perspective, but you eat garlic because of the flavour, not because of how big it was.

We’ve been conditioned to believe that bigger is better, but that’s not true when it comes to many things, including garlic. In the city, or in smaller lots where water is abundant, it’s easy to nurture what you grow. On a farm, especially in a year of drought, which we’ve had in the past, easy “anything” isn’t the case. Bad weather affects not only the size of the product but the bounty as well. Variety, though, also affects size, and in this case, it’s not a bad thing at all.

I grow two types of heritage garlic, Persian Star, a robustly flavoured garlic that is light pink in colour, and our very own cultivar, Matthew’s Zest, a type of garlic with a flavour profile like Russian Red. Both varieties produce smaller heads with firm, juicy cloves, and the intensely delicious flavour that garlic is famous for.

In 2021, two Edmonton retailers that specialize in organic foods told me they prefer the uniform size of garlic grown by producers in BC and southern Alberta. One retailer even told me I was incompetent and didn’t know how to grow garlic even though his customers loved the garlic they had tried from me.

This business about selling only the perfectly shaped and uniformly sized food has got to stop. We are flooded with advertisers telling us that only beautiful things have value... we don’t need that from our food producers and grocery stores, too. Convincing people to purchase perfect looking produce, when less-than-perfect is just as good, leads to food waste, and now, more than ever, we can’t afford to waste food.

Alberta garlic for Ukraine fundraiser founders
Zina Nendze and Mandy Melnyk in 2019

Traditional wholesale buyers didn’t see value in my product, and to compound matters, they also considered my location and me—north of Edmonton—inconvenient, so I went to my cousin, Zina, for advice.

Zina is also my neighbour. She moved here to Alberta in 1998 from Milijeve, a small town in Ukraine. For the past several months she has been sending money to people in her village to help buy food and supplies for refugees who have flooded the town, fleeing the war in the east. She told me that garlic grown in Ukraine looked and tasted like mine, and that gave me an idea: out of solidarity, I would take $5 of every purchase of my garlic and donate it to her community.

“War is war,” Zina said, “it is the people who suffer the most.” By raising money through my garlic sales, I hope to alleviate some of that suffering. So far, because of you, we have sent $1000 dollars to Zina’s community from 200 bags of garlic sold. That is amazing. I am SO grateful!

Each bag contains a variety of sizes of heads with a total weight of just over 1 pound. Eat some, peel and refrigerate some, plant some, but know that you are working with garlic that has a story and a purpose. Consider giving garlic as a gift and know that when it comes to food, it’s the quality, the flavour, and the integrity behind how it’s grown that matters. Hybrids may work for some things but not garlic!

I am proud to be from Alberta’s north. I love to grow garlic and I am honoured to inspire solidarity with others who love garlic and want to help my cousin’s small village in Ukraine. If you want more garlic, we still have some available.

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