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Finding their niche

Starting out with seven acres the McBains now process 3,000 to 5,000 pounds of garlic a year

In 1996, as a farm diversification project, Krista and Dave McBain planted seven acres of garlic on their grain farm near White Fox, Saskatchewan. Today their company, M & M Garlic is one of the largest garlic processors in the province, processing between 3,000 and 5,000 pounds a year.

“We were looking for a commodity suitable to a seven-acre parcel of land that was not being used for grain due to its location — it was too small for equipment to move around easily,” said Krista. A factor that also entered into their decision was her desire to get out of shift work and work at home with their children.

That first year the McBains planted, weeded and harvested their crop by hand. “Our three kids and many of the neighbour kids helped for the first few years. It was a learning curve for everyone,” Krista said.

The couple tried selling the garlic in bulk, but at that time people were still avoiding garlic. “Very few were open about loving it. Some didn’t even know what good garlic tasted like.”

The McBains persevered and began making garlic powder. Soon they were adding other products such as pickled cucumbers, beans, carrots and asparagus, all with a full garlic flavour. Sales initially were limited to small markets and several local retail outlets. The locally grown movement hadn’t yet taken hold.

Dave and Krista McBain.
photo: Courtesy Krista McBain

In 2000 the McBains learned about the Food Development Centre at the University of Saskatchewan in Saskatoon, and that fall they hauled their cleaned garlic there. Having access to the larger processing equipment allowed them to process and bottle their products in large batches. The next year they rented health-inspected kitchens in the area.

“We put in long hours at home cleaning the garlic because it is time sensitive — it starts sprouting after you peel and clean it. We would have everything pickled within three days of cleaning. It was a couple of trips that year, but very busy,” Krista said.

In 2002 the couple built their own processing facility on the farm. It included a large commercial kitchen and later a storage area was added. Today the business produces about 21 different garlic products, including pickled dill carrots, cucumbers, beans, asparagus, salsa and minced and powdered garlic. “The bestsellers have changed over the years,” said Krista, “but the fresh minced garlic for household everyday use is still the go-to for many homes. Anything with dill is popular too.”

December 2002 was also the first year the McBains began selling their products at the Sundog Arts and Entertainment Faire in Saskatoon. “We were overwhelmed that first night with only the two of us and people so excited for home preserves!” said Dave.

M & M Garlic products are sold in retail stores across the Prairies and numerous Saskatchewan farmers’ markets. The McBains also attend spring trade shows around the Nipawin area, a summer show in Candle Lake and Christmas Craft Fairs across Saskatchewan. “The individual Co-op stores work with us in many places and are great local promoters. We are in a number of Co-op stores across Saskatchewan, as well as Dauphin and Flin Flon, Manitoba, and are currently working on expanding to a few new stores in Regina,” said Krista.

The McBains grow both the hardneck and the softcore garlic. “For the raw market, most people prefer the hardneck garlic, or winter garlic as it’s sometimes referred to. For our processing market, we use hardneck, but softcore is used for pickling.”

M & M Garlic has received agriculture awards from the Nipawin Chamber of Commerce as well as a nomination for an ABEX award from the Saskatoon Chamber of Commerce.

How are they able to keep up with growing their successful business as well as the responsibilities on their grain farm? “We rely on hired help for both the garlic and grain farm. Good employees are the key to our success,” Dave said.

For more information go to mmgarlic.com or phone 306-276-2518.

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