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Okanagan Garlic goes gourmet—on budget

Okanagan Tree Fruit Project volunteers Lisa Pillott and Elsa Beischer (below) pick garlic scapes (above) for the Kelowna Food Bank; the scapes, or the flower stalks, can be steamed with a bit of butter and served as a tasty treat.  - Jennifer Smith
Okanagan Tree Fruit Project volunteers Lisa Pillott and Elsa Beischer (below) pick garlic scapes (above) for the Kelowna Food Bank; the scapes, or the flower stalks, can be steamed with a bit of butter and served as a tasty treat.
— image credit: Jennifer Smith

You pick it, you pay less and you help revolutionize the garlic industry in the process.

Okanagan Gourmet Garlic Farm is changing the way food-conscious consumers look at the staple spice. Where garlic farmers generally pick their bulbs, tie up a bunch of ten and hang them to dry for a month to cure, the U-Pick farm has decided to abridge the process with the same shade sheets once used for ginseng crops.

"We cut the tops off in the field, then the tractor comes along and lifts the bulb, breaking all the roots, and then it sits under a shade cloth in the very, very hot Kelowna weather," explained Bill Campbell, owner of Okanagan Gourmet Garlic.

garlicUp until December, Campbell worked for Skype as the point-person overseeing software testers from South America. He's operated the Glenmore-based garlic farm for four years and said the U-Pick, field-drying concept is part of what enables him to produce a higher quality product and bring it to market.

"You can only sell so much garlic at certain prices in the supermarkets and people don't like all of my prices; so you come up and pick it yourself, and clean it yourself, and you can have it for half the price," he said.

A self-professed foodie, Campbell has always grown garlic in his backyard. When he moved to the Okanagan, he assessed the state of the industry locally, the opportunity for growth and realized garlic is basically at the same stage of development as vineyards and asparagus were in the '70s.

"The people who grow garlic are just selling it in bulk; they don't sort it by quality," he explained. "Most of it is smaller and less nutritious, under-nourished because it's often grown so close together to just produce a lot."

Just  as grape tonnage was honed to produce more sugar-rich yields, he's striving for odoriferous perfection, cutting the amount of garlic planted in the field in half to give each plant the proper room to grow in a field he's leasing in Glenmore.

On Monday, he had a group of 10 volunteers from the Kelowna Tree Fruit Project out picking for an hour to help stock the shelves and this Thursday he will hold a grand-opening at his plot off Longhill Road with a visit from the Minister of Agriculture Norm Letnick.

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