We knew the sad day would come when Ted Maczka passed into the next world, if there is one, but when news like this comes it’s always an oh-no moment.
Ted, the Fish Lake Garlic Man, a garlic pioneer and an all-round character here in Ontario, died Monday, December 30, after a stroke. The newspaper story I read said he was 83; an older article had him born in 1928, which would have made him 85; and three years ago, when I was writing my book In Pursuit of Garlic, he told me he was 87.
It doesn’t matter what the truth was–Ted was an original who gave talks at garlic festivals all over the province and beyond, wearing his trademark visored cap with garlic bulbs jiggling precariously on the brim, holding his garlic topped staff, grinning mischievously and extolling the health benefits of the hardy little bulb. I think he liked to keep people guessing. Maybe he sometimes said he was older than he was because it furthered the cause of his beloved garlic–he told me he ate three cloves a day to keep him healthy and energetic, and one can’t deny he presented a good case.
Ted was born in Poland and spent time in a Second World War labour camp, where his leg was badly injured, leaving him partially crippled. He immigrated to Canada in the’50s, became a tool and die maker, and then food importer. In the ’70s garlic became his mission–he read a Financial Post article that reported Canada spent millions each year importing garlic, even though we have almost ideal conditions for growing hard-neck varieties. He vowed the country would become garlic-sufficient, and started in his own backyard–a small farm he bought in Demorestville, Ontario, north of Belleville.
There he grew fields of garlic, playing classical music to the growing shoots in spring. “They show up early in the snow, looking for the beautiful music,” he said to me. He also confided that he talked to the plants, because they’re living things with an energy flow and like to be included in the conversation.
Ted was so beguiling you wouldn’t think of raising your eyebrow at statements like this, and I confess I’ve had little talks with my plants on occasion too, especially if I think they’re doing poorly and need some encouragement.
Ted developed new varieties of garlic, did copious research, and won many awards and a revered place among garlic growers. His Fish Lake series is still popular among garlic growers.
The first garlic I grew was Fish Lake #3. It was given to me years ago by a friend who said it was time I went beyond perennial flowers and tried some garlic. It still springs up here and there in my garden.
Now it will grow in memory of Ted.