After studying human kinetics at the University of Guelph, Heather MacMillan realized the HK industry wasn’t for her. And so, a career in food was born. After studying at the Northwest Culinary Academy of Vancouver, MacMillan developed a love for farming—garlic farming, to be exact. Fast-forward to present day, and the entrepreneur runs Little Trickle Farm and Heather’s Hearth bakery just outside Cobden, ON.
MacMillan will be at the third annual Toronto Garlic Festival, taking place this Sunday, Sept. 22 at Evergreen Brick Works (550 Bayview Ave.). Admission is $5 (free for kids 12 and under), and gets you a full day of garlication! Taste and stock up on Ontario-grown garlic from a slew of farmers including MacMillan, and try inventive dishes like a pancetta-kissed garlic chocolate truffle, garlic popcorn flavoured ice cream, and garlic shots. There will be a craft beer and garlic dish match-making guide, plus a garlic breath contest judged by the Ontario Science Centre. No chance of vampires ruining this day of fun!
There will also be cooking demos, taste-judging, and workshops. You don’t wanna miss out! Read our interview with MacMillan to get excited about all things garlic.
Shedoesthecity: Where did you grow up?
Heather MacMillan: I grew up in the bush just minutes from the shores of Georgian Bay near Midland, ON. My family had horses, a few chickens, and a small garden, but my interest in farming didn’t grow until I was in my early 20s. In retrospect, growing up outside of town must have influenced my new career choices to farm. Having nature so close to your backdoor and a lack of television channels (only three!) encouraged me and my siblings to explore and play outside more than some of my peers.
SDTC: What made you become interested in garlic farming?
HM: Although my mom has a garden, she has now learned more from me about growing garlic! I have always loved eating garlic, but really became interested in growing it when I was an intern at Whole Circle Farm four years ago. That is where Peter McClusky (the organizer of the Toronto Garlic Fest) and I met. I helped Peter plant his first garlic crop! It took a year or two of going back to school after my internship and working before I started growing garlic to sell. I have grown garlic for three years now, but this is my first year selling it.
SDTC: What does a typical day look like for you?
HM: Garlic is an interesting crop because it is in the ground growing for about 10 months of the year. There is no typical day. There are times of intense work and times when you will not even touch it for months. Garlic goes in the ground sometime in October, so for a short and strategic time period you are busy preparing soil, planting cloves, and mulching. It then sits over winter, hopefully well insulated under the snow. In the spring, the garlic pops up through the mulch, but as long as things go as planned you do not have to do much with it except some weeding until the scapes (the seed heads of the garlic) start growing in June. Once the scapes are curling over on themselves, you snap them off to concentrate energy to the bulb.
Harvest happens in July; during this time, a typical day is pulling the garlic out of the ground and bringing it to the barn, greenhouse, or storage area to either hang up or lay out to cure. Curing takes between three to four weeks. Then cleaning, culling, braiding, and sorting happens in preparation for selling and replanting. Soil preparation and garden rotation are also part of garlic growing, and this takes place throughout the year.
Many people who grow garlic also have other farm projects to fill in the rest of the time. My partner Patrick and I raise organic pastured chickens, turkeys, and grass-fed beef, and I bake organic sourdough bread three days a week to sell at market. Garlic is a good crop to diversify a small farm business.
SDTC: How will you be participating in the Toronto Garlic Festival?
HM: I will be selling my non-certified garlic and garlic braids from my booth, Little Trickle Farm. I have nine different varieties for sale.
SDTC: What makes garlic such an amazing ingredient to add in food?
HM: Garlic is so versatile and good for you! It can be incorporated into almost every single dish you make. You can slice it, crush it, roast it whole. It can go in light salads or hearty stews to add depth and flavour. Raw garlic will keep colds and infection away, too!
SDTC: What are your favourite ways to use garlic, or your favourite dishes to put garlic in?
HM: I love garlic in salad dressings and pasta sauces, and I love to make my roasted garlic sourdough bread.
See you at the Fest! Tickets can be bought in advance here.