Growing up in the gardening business, Melissa did not have a natural affinity for playing in the dirt. At her family’s business, Ground Covers Unlimited, located on the north- west corner of highway 7A and Porter Road, helping in the garden was something that had to be done. So when she finished school, like most young people who grow up in our area, she left the country life for Toronto where she worked briefly in marketing. It didn’t take Melissa long to discover the attraction of the country life after experiencing the alternative, and she began to look for a way to make a career in the nursery industry. She took a weekend seed collecting course, exploring the idea of growing native trees from seed. She used root pruning pots to facilitate the transplanting process, which was both original and rewarding, calling her venture “Shady Ideas”. In order to go further in the field, she turned to the Niagara Parks School of Horticulture to broaden her skills which resulted in the sidelining of this venture. At this school she found her passion was plant production, so this past March she and partner Dan Cooper returned to the “farm” to start something together.
Together with her late sister Rachel, Melissa had envisioned the establishment of a fresh market garden business as a side venture. Rachel launched the idea with the purchase of some “Music” garlic bulbs from a neighbour, which multiplied each year. At first they gave much of the garlic away until last year they harvested over 800 pounds of it. Since then Melissa has been selling her garlic through Didi Calhoun’s Foodland and the Pastry Peddler in Millbrook, as well as the Millbrook Farmers’ Market. Melissa now calls her business “Food for Heroes”, in honour of sister Rachel who devised the name.
As in any agricultural venture, there are many challenges as well as rewards.
While many sources say “growing garlic is easy”, but as with most things, the difference is in the details. Melissa and Dan have learned that growing garlic is labour-intensive on a larger scale, and they must pay close attention to pests. They are careful with the varieties they grow and rely not only on their education but also on an extensive network of growers in the Garlic Growers Association of Ontario. Another key to the production of top quality product is soil quality. Using cover crops, well-composted manure, leaf and yard waste and liquid seaweed extract, Food for Heroes is producing larger, longer storing bulbs. They also ensure irrigation is adequate, and that might mean different amounts of water for different cultivars at different stages of development, no simple task but one that pays off with reduced fungus and stronger plants. They have plans to conduct growing trials for 15 new cultivars to extend the season of their product and to grow specific varieties for specific uses, as like potatoes, some garlic is better roasted, some is better fried, some is more appropriate for Asian or Italian dishes, etc.
The most exciting part of this venture for Melissa is the health benefits that a growing body of research is attributing to garlic consumption. That’s why their name is so appropriate. Locally produced garlic is an inexpensive way to boost the flavour of food. Melissa hopes to one day take over the family farm and continue to expand their product offering, perhaps introducing some edible landscape products which would be a cross-over between her family’s landscape business and her food business. One of the possible new products she is considering growing is organic quinoa. For now, Food for Heroes offers fresh garlic for eating and a limited supply of planting stock. Their product is available this Sunday at the Millbrook Farmer’s Market, or at 1045 Porter Rd in Bethany, or at Calhoun’s Foodland. Supply is limited this year but advanced orders for next year can be placed at email@example.com or calling 705-277-3005.