BENNINGTON, VT. -- Lindy Lynch wants everyone to know that there’s going to be a heck of a stench coming from Southwest Vermont over Labor Day Weekend. That’s because the 17th-annual Southern Vermont Garlic and Herb Festival, also known as Garlicfest 2012, will be held this weekend on the grounds of the Camelot Village antiques and crafts shopping center.
While the celebration is meant to honor and promote all things garlic and herbal, Lynch, who is both the festival’s chief organizer and the president of the Bennington Area Chamber of Commerce, emphasized that the festival is about more than just garlic. "There’s something for everyone at Garlicfest," Lynch said, "It’s where the entire family can come for a day of fun, food, music and exploration." (Parents: think hay maze.)
While the theme is most definitely garlic, vendors come from all over the region to complement the family atmosphere. The festival is the creation of the late Steve Wrathall, who died in suddenly in 2009 at age 52. Sixteen years ago, Wrathall, longtime chef at the Red Oak Inn in Wilmington, Vt. developed the event as a magnet for the tiny tourist haven. Over the years he and his wife, Joy Dowell, worked hard to grow the festival -- so hard, it outgrew its surroundings -- and Wrathall eventually handed over the festival to the Bennington Area Chamber of Commerce.
Joann Erenhouse, executive director of the Bennington Chamber, calls the fit "perfect," remarking that Wrathall embodied both an entrepreneurial as well as a community-service spirit. "Bennington is a major gateway for the Hudson Valley-Berkshires corridor, and we were thrilled to assume responsibility for the event, with Steve and Joy’s assistance," Erenhouse said. "Both of them stayed on to consult for a few years here in Bennington, and the festival’s growth continued. Steve’s spirit lives on in everything we do. He is still sorely missed, and we honor his memory to this day."
Average attendance at the festival reaches upward of 10,000, which reflects the range of activities the festival offers. There are activities that appeal to a broad range of tastes for both children and adults, many that incorporates elements steeped in the festival’s original garlic and herb motif.
Garlic-centered vendors abound, for example --some even tending a bit toward the eccentric. There’s garlic braiding and weed walks, which extol the virtue of weeds for medicinal purposes, as well as culinary uses. There are lots of cooking demonstrations, and even garlic ice cream. Entertainment includes a full food court and several live local bands performing in a variety of musical genres. There’s also a beer tent, and several regional vineyards will hold wine tastings. Traditional cooking demonstrations that have a garlic theme are also popular attractions, as well as the familiar arts and crafts vendors you can find at most regional festivals.
Local business owners have found the Garlic and Herb Festival a strong Labor Day draw and are attracted both to its theme and the healthy crowds that follow. Tarun Narula, owner of Spice Root Indian Restaurant and the Williamstown Motel, said that his restaurant will be among a number of eateries that will join food vendors at the festival, and for good reason.
"Indian cuisine uses garlic and herbs, so our food seems to fit in well with Garlicfest’s theme," Narula said. "But it’s also a fun time. Our staff makes sure to bring their families, and we’ve seen lodgers in our motel every year who stay in Williamstown but find their way to Bennington for the festival. It’s one of the best attended major events in the region."
The goal for Garlicfest organizers and sponsors is to grow enough to make Bennington a major regional destination for Labor Day. According to Erenhouse, the event has been named a "Top 10" regional summer event by several organizations and publications, including Bon Appetit magazine. Yankee magazine has rated the festival a "Top Event, Best of New England." Lynch said the volume of early information inquiries from outside of Vermont has tripled in the last five years.
The effort to keep the festival in the region was rooted in economic and social responsibility, as the Chamber remains a major benefactor to many local causes. "In the same way that the Indy 500 is a popular Memorial Day magnet, we want to Garlicfest in the public consciousness -- just on a smaller scale," Lynch said. "When we say ‘Vermont Stinks!,’" she said, "We mean it!"
If you go:
What: 17th annual Southern Vermont Garlic and Herb Festival
Where: Just West of Bennington, Vt., on VT Route 9
When: Sept. 1 and 2.
Tickets: SIngle-day pass $5, two-day pass $8, 12 and under $1.
Info: 802-447-3311, lovegarlic.com.
Telly Halkias is an award-winning freelance journalist. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.