“I grew up in a ranching family. The only thing we didn’t grow was tropical fruit … I’ve reached a point in my life where I wanted to develop a connection with other people that grow and eat their food,” said Chalmers.
To that end, Chalmers first spent time considering what she could grow that the deer wouldn’t devour. Her Aunt Ruth suggested planting a row of carrots then a row of garlic; a row of lettuce and a row of garlic; … Chalmers did this in her main vegetable garden with great success back in 2009. The next year she expanded her garden to several thousand plants.
“Only once did the deer get in and nibble the top off of one leaf and then they left.”
Chalmers has since hit full production at New Oxley Garlic, Naturally with the goal of harvesting 30,000 plants.
Of course, hurricane force winds stand in the way of reaching that goal,
blowing mulch cover off “half way to Saskatchewan,” but nonetheless, she expects to harvest 20,000 plants this coming season.
“We’ve got some solutions that will help protect the plants. We won’t be able to totally compete with the wind, so we’ll have to work with it.”
Each successive year has as well generated hardier plants, said Chalmers, acclimatized to the conditions on the ranch and as well grown free of any chemical additives.
“It’s grown naturally. I pull all the weeds by hand. We do the best we can...Because I’ve been so excited about this and developed a lot of markets, I want to deliver.”
Chalmers has cultivated relationships with fellow garlic growers in the region helping those growers along while ensuring markets are satisfied.
“When in season we have our garlic in the 23 Calgary Co-op stores and Save-On in Lethbridge, Creative Cleaver in Lethbridge and various restaurants throughout southern Alberta.”
In keeping with the idea of growing a healthy product and providing others with the best their local growers can produce, Chalmers as well heads up the region’s slow food movement.
“We get together in a positive way to share good food and each other’s company.”
The philosophy of the slow food movement, started by Carlo Petrini in Italy, is good, clean, fair, said Chalmers.
It’s good because of its taste and clean as it’s raised without pesticides while fair refers to the farmer paying his staff a fair wage, explained Chalmers.
“One of the many great things about whole food is that it tastes great … Grass fed carries so many more nutrients that are good for your body, but the taste is also so much better. Once you have that piece of meat that gives you that wow factor, you can’t go back to the feedlot.”
Although one might pay $20 for a chicken, said Chalmers, the consumer definitely gets value for money when purchasing products raised naturally.
“You have to realize how many meals you’ll get, said Chalmers. First you roast the chicken and the next night you pick the bones. The following night Chalmers makes soup and the barn cats get the remains.
“It’s a win win situation for both producers and consumers.”
Chalmers said the slow food movement is making exponential gains and in this region, is planning a slow food convivium on Earth Day, April 22, at The Galt (museum) in Lethbridge, where producers can meet consumers.
“The co-producer is the consumer. We’re asking that the growers put their face on the package.”
Later, when consumers see these producers at their local farmer’s markets, they’ll link the individual with the locally-produced item while creating a relationship between producer and consumer as well.
Chalmer’s said she has continually emphasized the importance of relationship building between producers and consumers. At the end of the day, it boils down to the following:
“The most important thing is how many people’s feet you put under the table.”