My favourite side dish with turkey or beef is rutabaga … and, apparently, it’s a really healthy choice. Last spring we met with the Hubbard Family in Blyth to learn about their business.
George Hubbard started a family business, G.L. Hubbard Ltd., in 1962 when he purchased the plant located on Dinsley Street East in Blyth from Russ Dougherty.
The rutabaga is a root vegetable with a yellow flesh. It is a cross between a turnip and a cabbage. It reported originated in Scandanavia or Russia and was first found in North America in the early 19th century. They are served a variety of ways in many countries, but in Canada they are most often used as filler in mincemeat and Christmas Cake or served as a side dish.
Rutabaga are planted 6” apart, and only 12 acres had been planted when we visited this producer on May 13, 2014. 2013’s extremely long winter delayed the planting season this spring. Plans were being made to plant another 12 – 17 acres in the couple weeks following, with planting all finished by the end of June. The rutabaga is a 90-day crop and harvest begins in October, taking approximately three weeks to complete.
The rutabagas are pulled in the field by a harvester, trucked into the plant and unloaded via stackers to prevent bruising and cracking. They are kept at 33 degrees in a humidity-controlled room and about 50,000 bushels are stored in the two on-site storage sheds. There are two more sheds off-site. Each week this plant processes 2,000 – 4,000 bushels, depending on the market – typically less in spring and more in fall and winter months as that’s when the harvest take place and when the consumer demands this tasty root vegetable.
Buckets on a tractor transport the rutabaga from the storage shed to a wash station. Rutabagas are then washed twice. Hubbard Farm is still using its original washing equipment. Rutabagas travel, via an auger, into a holding bin where they drop to be trimmed and sized/sorted by hand. Trimming is done only for esthetics. The next step in the processing is waxing – a process that requires six people. And, finally, stickers with Foodland Ontario’s bar codes are applied and the rutabaga are boxed in 50lb boxes for shipping.
Hubbard’s ship every day with Friday being their biggest day to accommodate shipping schedules into the United States. They have enjoyed a long term partnership with Stovel Siemon of Mitchell for shipping their products across Canada and into the U.S.
Yearly inspections are required at Hubbard’s for food safety standards. It is a year-round business with down-time in July for repairs and cleaning. A recent new shed was erected on the property to meet food safely requirements. It houses packing cartons and skids.
This operation currently keeps six families in Canada and seven immigrant families employed including two of George’s daughters, his son and one of his grandsons. Many of the immigrant families have other jobs in their native Jamaica such as driving a taxi, farming, and building furniture. Since 1988, foreign workers have been a part of the Hubbard Farm with nine arriving each spring, rising to 13 each fall.
Rutabagas are high in Vitamin C. I asked Susan Hubbard what the most intriguing recipe she’d heard of and she responded “Cheese Whiz and mashed rutabaga” – I guess I should try it that way too, although I find it most delicious mashed with a little browh sugar, salt and pepper, and slathered in gravy. It can also be served with apples.
If you haven’t tried Rutabaga put it on your bucket list. It can be purchased year round at most grocery stores, or direct from the plant at 367 Dinsley Street during business hours.
G.L. Hubbard Ltd.
367 Dinsley St., PO Box 340
Blyth, Ontario, Canada N0M 1H0
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Sadly, shortly after our visit at Hubbard Rutabaga plant last spring George Hubbard passed away. He will be missed by his family and many friends and neighbours in Huron County and beyond. His family will continue to operate the business and farms.