As the beautiful leaves change colors on the trees, autumn is one of the greatest times of year in the Hudson Valley. It’s a perfect time to visit Saugerties, New York for the Hudson Valley Garlic Festival. This occasion is perfect for the season because farmers typically plant garlic in the fall.
The festival started in 1989 with Pat Reppert from Shale Hill Farm. She started the first Garlic Festival on the east coast and as it gained popularity, she reached out to the Kiwanis Club of Saugerties who still host the festival today. The first year that the club held the Garlic Festival was 1992 and had an attendance of 5,000 people!
Each year, more and more garlic lovers flocked to the festival. In fact, in 1995, 45,000 people attended causing a 11 mile thruway jam on Route 9W. After this, a decision was made to split the festival up into two days. This year, the two dates were Oct. 1 and Oct. 2.
The festival has a focus on food but offers live music and a wide variety of farm stands and craft vendors as well. Businesses sell everything from t-shirts to jewelry to garlic shaped cutting boards. You can also find the annual poster and clothing designs at the merch table. For many families in the area, it has become a seasonal tradition. It’s so family-friendly that 30 years ago, the organizers decided that alcohol is not permitted at the festival. So, you won’t find any local breweries or wineries on the premises.
The festival has a strong sense of community. Besides the 30 members in the Kiwanis club, it’s run entirely by volunteers. Pat Praetorius, the publicity chair of the Garlic Festival and President of the Kiwanis Club, explained that attendance was low last year because of COVID-19, but this year their numbers have grown.
A story from a few years ago perfectly captures the nature of the festival. “In 2017, this man named Don needed a kidney. So he and his wife walked around the Garlic Festival with a shirt saying ‘I need a kidney’ and they found someone. She donated her kidney and now they go to the garlic festival every year together,” Praetorius says.
Along with being a fun fall event for families, the festival is also a fundraiser, making attendance all the more important. “All the proceeds get distributed by the Kiwanis club back to the community,” Praetorius explains. The money goes towards the Boys and Girls Club, food pantries and scholarships for seniors. Over the years they have raised almost 3 million dollars.
This year, there were about nine zero-waste tents scattered across the festival. The zero-waste initiative was something that organizers have been talking about doing for years. “It’s our first year of our zero-waste initiative and we were very happy with how it turned out. You know, it’s so worrisome to start something new but it did go very smoothly,” Praetorius explains.
The tents, run by the festival’s zero waste volunteers, had a garbage, a recycling bin and a compost. They were able to recycle or compost about 85% of materials rather than sending it to a landfill.
One of the best parts of the festival is the food. Of course it was full of classic garlic knots. Dana Foods Catering supplied the best, covering them in heavenly garlic sauce and topped with parmesan and basil. Dana and Phil Gisiano are a highly rated business located in Kingston, New York.
For an interruption in the garlic flavors, there were a few vendors that didn’t disappoint. Timi’s Greek and Middle Eastern food had the best dolmades with a creamy tzatziki sauce bursting with flavor. You could also find pierogies at Janek’s Homemade Specialties. They were adorned with sour cream and onions, the perfect combination.
The festival had so much more to offer than the basics, some vendors had some unusual twists. As Praetorius says, “People are very creative with how they incorporate garlic into their food.”
Lemon Love made some mean churros, one of which being their garlic churros. Cinnamon and sugar was the more forward flavor but hints of garlic were discovered with each bite.
The Garlic Fest isn’t complete without getting dessert from Guidos Garlic Ice Cream stand. This staple has a vanilla soft serve base with tiny bits of garlic mixed in. It’s a subtle flavor but compliments the vanilla quite well.
For the Hudson Valley, the Garlic Festival is a classic fall event. You can tell it’s an important tradition for folks in the area because almost as soon as the festival is over, planning for next year begins. For some shopping, local bands and delicious food, the Garlic Festival is a must visit.