12th annual Garlic Festival continues legacy
By Sue Tiffin
This year marks the 10th anniversary of the passing of Charlie Robb, who, alongside his wife Sheila and other growers, brought together the first Garlic Festival, held in Carnarvon, in 2008. Within two weeks of that festival, the Haliburton County Garlic Growers Association was founded.
“They just saw that they had this energy, they believed they had something they could work with, they felt good as a group in supporting each other, and it just went from there,” said Deb Barnhart, daughter of the Robbs.
Besides now being the association’s chairwoman and organizer of this year’s 12th annual Garlic Festival, Barnhart is also the reason her dad became interested in garlic. Soon after she moved to Haliburton in 1984, she experimented with a variety of garlic that didn’t work so well for her. Barnhart jokes that her introduction of garlic to her dad was reminiscent of the magic beans in the story of Jack and the Beanstalk. Her dad took a keen interest and began growing other varieties, finding it grew well in Haliburton County, where he and Sheila eventually moved.
“Once he hit Haliburton County, he found where his magic garlic could grow, and then he passed it back to me,” said Barnhart.
Charlie died just two days before the second annual garlic festival was held. The festival has since grown from annual attendance of 500 to 1,500.
“If my dad was alive now, he just wouldn’t believe what this has grown into,” said Barnhart, whose mom continues to help with organizing the festival. “He’d just be blown away with what goes on here, how it’s expanded and maybe even where it’s going.”
At this year’s festival, now in its “forever home” at Abbey Gardens, which has been the “perfect local foods partner” according to Barnhart, seven growers in total will be on hand, offering baked goods, preserves, maple syrup, native plants, a garlic braiding demonstration and talks. Local garlic farmers will join speakers Lorraine Irwin from Boars Rock Farm, who will discuss black garlic and its uses, and Daniel Hoffmann, who initiated the Global Garlic Project, promoting seed diversity.
“He has gone basically from one bulb of garlic, to the fact that he has created basically what he calls the Global Garlic Project,” said Barnhart. “He’s gone from one bulb of garlic to 50,000 per year.”
Additionally, any visitors to the festival are welcome to share their anecdotes and experiences in growing garlic at the Garlic Gathering Tent.
“Tell us a funny story, tell us what you like about it, do you have a specialty line and what’s special about it?” said Barnhart. “I’m really trying to encourage this community ‘we grow together’ aspect.”
The festival also includes horse-drawn wagon rides and activities for kids, taste testing, food vendors and local artisans as well as opportunities to share tips, get advice, and be encouraged by others, including Barnhart, who said she gets her passion for garlic and its possibilities in Haliburton County from her dad. Through her business Garlic Connections, she teaches about healthy soil and offers tools to make garlic growing even easier.
“Gardening doesn’t have to be hard,” she said. “It’s still work, but it can be fun and engaging and healthy on many levels. I think we’re often turned off of memories of having to go out and weed in 100 degree weather, but I think it’s so much more than that, and I’d love to have people regain that passion.”
The 12th annual Garlic Festival will be held on Sunday, Aug. 25 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at Abbey Gardens. Talks will happen between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. To learn more, visit haliburtongarlic.ca or follow the Haliburton County Garlic Growers Association on Facebook.