The Toronto Garlic Festival is the annual celebration of Ontario’s garlic harvest where Ontario farmers sell garlic and local chefs cook with garlic. The mission of the Toronto Garlic Festival is to provide economic opportunities for Ontario-based farmers, chefs, and food producers and, through curated programming, to promote Canadian cultural diversity. Stakeholders in Toronto Garlic Festival include entities from agriculture, food and beverage, and tourism and culture industries; and education.
Programming includes live music and dance, plus films, talks, presentations, storytelling, food sampling and tastings. Through these interactive activities the Festival strengthens the bridges between members of Toronto’s ethnic and religious communities by experiencing commonalities and interests central to all – garlic and sharing of food, culture and traditions.
The festival features Ontario farmers and chefs, chocolatiers, small scale rural and urban food producers, and craft and alcoholic beverage producers. Festival visitors stock up on their winter supply of fresh garlic and taste delicious garlic-themed food and black garlic beer. They buy garlic-themed products while listening to live music, enjoy festival screenings, participate in educational talks, get a free garlic shot from a garlic barista, enjoy grilled garlic scapes, have their breath measured in the parts-per-billion in the garlic breath contest, attend art workshops and cooking demos and; donning VR goggles, participate in a Virtual Reality Ontario Farm Tour.
The festival works with farmers, chefs, chocolatiers, small-scale food producers, and craft breweries to develop, promote and sell Ontario garlic-themed products, both at the Festival and year-round.
Founded in 2011, and incorporated as a not-for-profit in 2017, the festival is largely volunteer run, with revenue applied to operating costs including venue rental, security and insurance, public relations and advertising.
Covid-19 – Despite Covid-19 the Toronto Garlic Festival went virtual in 2020 with the Garlic Map. connecting farmers with customers looking to buy Ontario garlic. Also, online festival programming included live music and talks. In 2021, with Covid still a significant risk, Toronto Garlic Festival presented Ontario Garlic week. This province-wide event included food and beverage establishments from Thundery Bay to Timmins and Ottawa to Sarnia creating and selling a garlic themed dish, dessert or beverage. Patrons could order a garlic-themed item via dine in/takeout or delivery.
Farmers – At the festival visitors learn about the many strains of local garlic from Ontario farmers who grow and sell rare and heirloom dozens of varieties of hardneck garlic including Porcelain, Purple Stripe, Rocambole and more.
Chefs – Many mouth-watering savoury dishes have been featured at the Toronto Garlic Festival, including Seared Halibut with Roasted Parsnips and Garlic Puree (Kukum Indigenous Kitchen), Fries with Garlic Aioli & Toasted Garlic Chips (Jamie Kennedy Kitchens), Garlic Sliders (Chef Brad Long), Vegan Smoked Salmon Lox with Lemon Roasted Garlic Hummus & Dill (Vegiterra), Roast Suckling Pig with 50 Garlic Bubs (Chef Ron Raymer), Scone Dog with Smoked Garlic and Cheddar Dunk (Pow Wow Cafe), Organic Kale & Garlic Crusted Popcorn Drizzled with Chili Maple Caramel & Himalayas Pink Salt (The Spice Chef), and Karaage Chicken (Gushi Toronto), Garlic Poblano and Cheese Tamale (Chef Erika Araujo) and many more.
Garlic and Desserts – The secret to using garlic in desserts is featured in ingeniously delicious creations made especially for the festival by local pastry chefs and chocolateers. These have included Garlic Chocolate Brownies (chef Anne Sorrenti), Garlic Almond Brittle, Donuts in Black Garlic and Caramel Sauce (Globe Bistro), Garlic and Butter Popcorn Ice Cream, Dark Chocolate and Roast Garlic Ice Cream (chocolateer Tim English), and Black Garlic infused Salted Caramel Truffles (Chocolate Artist Laura Slack).
Garlic Beverages – Festival visitors enjoy garlic-inspired beverages.Past creations include Black garlic, Ginger, Honey, Maple, and Cranberry Soda (County Bounty Farm and Artisanal Soda); DIRTY G-TINI: Sobieski Vodka, Olive Brine, Dry Vermouth, Pressed black garlic (DUNDAS AND CARLAW); and a cask ale with a unique combination of black garlic, mango and sea salt (Brimstone Brewery).
Garlic Products – Also available for purchase are black (fermented) garlic, pickled garlic scapes, garlic jelly, garlic dill pickles, garlic soda, garlic braids, garlic bulbils (for planting), garlic pesto, and several types of Ontario-made condiments.
Live Music and Dance – Performances in many genres by local musical artists reflect the diversity of cultures represented at the Festival. Past performers include Kobena Aquaa-Harrison (Traditional & Contemporary Ghanaian Music); Sue Croweagle and Eagle Woman Singerz (drumming and singing); Demitrios Petsalakis & Brenna MacCrimmon (World Percussion and Turkish singing); Vandan Vishwas (South Asian); Stella Walker (Yiddish Songs and Jazz Standards).
Culture Talks – All day during the Festival visitors enjoy art workshops, cooking demos and fascinating presentations related to garlic. Past topics have included Social History: Wild Garlic from POV of The First Nations and European Explorers by Chef Johl Ringuette. Garlic is as Good as Gold: Currency, Flu Fighter, Tastemaker by David Sugarman, Ontario Science Centre. From Tianshen to Toronto: The History of Garlic by Professor Robert Litke, Wilfred Laurier University. Cultural: The Garlic Diaries on Appreciating Garlic In All Aspects of Life by chef Suzanne Barr; Racial Discrimination and Garlic by Chef/Writer Sang Kim; Welcoming Remarks, Chief Stacey Laforme, Mississaugas of the Credit First Nation. Health and Wellness: Food Labels 101 by Karina Kwong, Toronto Public Health; Living a Low Impact Life by Andrew Knox, President, Transition Toronto. Cooking: Nuoc Cham Cooking Demo by Chef Thompson Tran, Wooden Boat Food Company; Garlic-Shaped Cake Carving by baker Megan Stasiewich. Farming: Garlic and the City by Jacqueline Dawyer, co-founder, Toronto Black Farmers and Food Growers Collective; Sarah Hargreaves Spills the Dirt on Garlic by Farmer/Soil Biologist Sarah Hargreaves. Literary History and Science: Why Vampires Hate Garlic by Dr Elizabeth Miller; Garlic and Olfaction by Professor Eric Block, Albany State University.
Films – Every year the festival features thought-provoking and entertaining films, free with admission. Past screenings include Angry Inuk (Alethea Arnaquq-Baril) and Just Eat It: A Food Waste Story (Grant Baldwin).
Unique Activities – Include the garlic shot station, where garlic baristas offer free shots of fresh pressed Ontario garlic; the garlic breath contest, where visitors’ breath is measured in the parts per billion, and the VR Farm Tour, in which visitors donning VR goggles take a 3 minute tour of Ontario farmer Simon de Boer’s garlic harvest.
Year round – The festival promotes Ontario garlic year-round through garlic donations to fundraisers and appearances at food events and fundraisers. Every fall the Toronto Garlic Festival gives away hundreds of garlic bulbs, including many rare and heirloom varieties, to community gardens and schools.
Admission – $5.00. Free for children under 12. Price includes free free access to talks, presentations, film screenings and activities, including The Garlic Breath Contest, The Garlic Shot Station and food cooking demos. Fresh Ontario Garlic, delicious food and craft beer and wine are for sale. The festival is covered extensively in print, radio, TV and social media.
The festival was started in 2011 by garlic grower Peter McClusky. His book, Ontario Garlic: The Story from Farm to Festival, (History Press, 2015) is available online and in local (Ontario) libraries. His blog is at Peter On The Farm.