What keeps vampires away, can be used as medicine and brings thousands of people together from both near and far?
If you didn’t know right away, the simple answer is garlic.
On Saturday and Sunday, Sept. 26 and Sept. 27, the 27th annual Hudson Valley Garlic Festival took place in Saugerties, New York.
In 1988, Pat Reppert, a local Saugerties woman, started this decades-long tradition. According to Elizabeth Bechtold, the publicity chair of the Garlic Festival, Reppert first hosted a dinner of 200 people. By the third year, nearly 5,000 heard about the garlic appreciation dinner and wanted to join.
Because of the increasing numbers, Reppert decided to partner with the Kiwanis Club of Saugerties, an international coeducational service club, which has helped sponsor the garlic festival for 24 years. Bechtold said that this year’s Garlic Festival brought in about 45,000 attendees.
Bechtold said that over the years, she has talked to people at the festival who travel from places as near as Long Island, New York City and northern New Jersey areas and as far as Puerto Rico and Australia.
The festival offers 50 different garlic vendors and sells varieties of garlic such as softneck garlic, silverskin garlic, artichoke garlic, hardneck garlic, porcelain garlic and several others. Some popular garlic products and foods include garlic vinegar, garlic knots, garlic pickles, garlic macaroni and cheese, garlic chili and chili dogs, garlic hamburgers and even garlic ice cream.
Emily Amanna, co-owner of Wild Shepherd Farms in Athens, Vermont, participated in her eighth year at the Hudson Valley Garlic Festival.
“My husband and I started growing garlic for ourselves and we loved it so much that it grew and grew until it was totally out of control,” she said. “Now we have 35,000 heads that we grow every year at the farm.”
Amanna said that over the course of the two days at this year’s Garlic Festival, she and her husband sold about 500 pounds of garlic.
“We’ve been doing this garlic festival for long enough now that we have a lot of repeat customers,” she said. “It’s nice to be at a festival where customers are so enthusiastic about the product.”
She said that not only does she love garlic as a cook and as an eater, but because as a farmer, it is one of the most hearty, resilient and exciting crops to grow.
“You tuck it in the ground in October when the rest of the farm is on the decline and everything is slowing down and dying, and you kind of forget about it,” she explained. “But in the springtime, before the snow is even melted, the garlic springs from the ground through the snow and ice when it looks like nothing else will live, so it’s just a very fun crop to grow.”
Not only does the Garlic Festival have garlic and food vendors, but craft and business vendors as well, selling products such as honey, cake balls and other pastries, fudge, jewelry, clothing, lanterns, clothes, hand-made soaps and candles, photography, as well as mugs and other pottery.
The Garlic Festival also hosts daily entertainment from several bands, actors, artists and dancers, as well as One World Puppetry & Performance Art, whose very own “Garlic Giant” stomps around the festival grounds taking pictures with families and garlic lovers alike, yelling “I love garlic” everywhere he turns.
Bechtold said that since the Kiwanis Club teamed up with Reppert in 1991, the festival has generated $1.5 million that has all been given back to the community.