All Roads Lead to Caesar

I’ve been married for just three years this July, and so there are things about my wife that I am just learning. For example, I didn’t know until recently that my wife likes hands-free cellular phones. Not that we’ll ever own one, mind you, its just that she has a new way to explain my sometime irascible behavior to innocent bystanders.

For example; a couple of years ago we were standing in the local vegetable store, and Maggie was in line with our produce and I was wandering about looking for treats I could sneak into the buggy before she got up to the till. My wife makes an awesome Caesar salad, so I picked up some mesh bagged garlic.  I don’t know if I’d just missed the labeling on the product before, or if it was new labeling, but it said “Product of China”.

Well. I lost it. There I was. I’m standing in the aisle and I’m talking out loud, nope make that raving, flinging my arms in the air, saying “Jumpin Jehosiphats! China? How the heck can this stuff be fresh if it’s coming 10,321 kilometers in some stinking container ship? Why the @#$% can’t we grow this stuff in Canada?”

Maggie shakes her head, and leans over to the women beside her and says “ I think he has one of those new hands-free cell phones. ”

Sometimes it’s best just to humor me. But anyways it got me thinking. We take our food supplies for granted, and we don’t really think about where it all comes from. Take our Caesar Salad for example.

Lettuce from California – 1720 kms. Parmigiano and olive oil from Italy – 9200 kms. Add up the anchovy paste, garlic and other ingredients, and it clocks in at over 37,000 kms!!

It’s easy to dismiss it all with a wave of the hand and “we live in a global economy” hubris. The problem is that all of that food that comes from somewhere else requires oil to get here. The farther the food source, the more oil. And cost. The price of oil is now a greater determinant of food pricing that the actual growing. To put it none too subtly, as the cost at the pump goes up, you can expect your food bill to follow. Research shows that it takes 4 calories of oil energy to get 1 calorie of fresh food to the farm gate. The numbers go up for as the distance grows, and the complexity of the processing increases. Canned and frozen foods are worse, and processed cereals require five times the inherent food energy just to process, let alone grow, package, ship, and store.

I didn’t know all this before I threw the garlic back into the bin and stomped out of the store leaving my wife shaking her head and claiming not to know me. What I did know is that it doesn’t take rocket science to grow garlic.

I headed home, dug up some wilting petunias, and planted some garlic. The first harvest was meager, but it was a start. Being pig headed and logical I’d planted in the spring, which was wrong, as I learned from Ken Stefanson of Gabriola Gourmet Garlic – the Garlic Man that visits the Ladner Village Market each summer. He set me straight. “Nope,” he said, “you’ve got to plant it under the full moon in October. Naked.”

It’s a good thing I’ve got a tall hedge around my backyard.

And that’s how it started. Each year our garlic harvest gets larger, to the point after an initial purchase of 3 heads, we now grow enough garlic to get us through the year. The garlic heads are as big as my fist, and the taste is amazing. You don’t need much room. It grows all winter. It does wonders for your other flowers, as it acts as a natural deterrent to detrimental insects.

If you miss Ken, you can also order it from Mary Ballon at West Coast Seeds, the best little organic seed farm in BC, right here in Ladner.

Nothing is better than local food. Nothing is more local than your backyard. Happy planting.