Come learn, come play
The Garlic & Arts Festival returns for its 15th year
great numbers of people packled Forster's Farm in Orange for the Garlic and Arts Festival in Orange
Weaver Charlene Neeley from Shelburne canes a chair seat at her booth during the 2008 Garlic and Arts festival at Forster's Farm in Orange
Rachul Lomeli, last year's second place winner, looks at her 21st piece of garlic in this year's contest. She again was the second place winner with 27 garlics. Mike Phillips. 11/10/2
Processing garlic for the Garlic and Arts Festival at the Seeds of Solidarity Farm in Orange is Ricky Baruc.
It’s promoted as “the festival that stinks,” but the Garlic and Arts Festival, which returns to Forster’s Farm in Orange Saturday and Sunday, Oct. 5 and Oct. 6, for its 15th year, has become a favorite annual event around the region.
In part, that’s because this seasonal community festival still manages to live up to the ideals of its organizers — a harvest fair that, despite its success, remains close to its roots. It’s no surprise, then, that the event, which attracted 10,000 people last year, produces just three bags of trash.
You’ll find no Styrofoam cups there, no drinks sweetened with high-fructose corn syrup, no Garlic and Arts T-shirts made in Bangladesh and — thanks to a corps of volunteers who have pitched in year after year — no garbage strewn around the event.
Instead, you’ll find exhibitors like S. Lou Leelyn of Wendell, whose crocheted sacks are made from used plastic bags.
Wow. Now that’s recycling.
“It’s a very important subtext,” says Deb Habib, who runs Seeds of Solidarity Educational Center, the nonprofit organization that sponsors the community-organized festival blossoming with messages like “Gardens, Not Garbage” from Seeds of Solidarity’s SOL (Seeds of Leadership) Garden teen participants.
“Sustainable, trash-free, free water for people, using some solar electricity to power the stages: these values and principles, we don’t hide that,” says Habib. “But we’ve always wanted it to be a very inclusive, family-friendly event.”
Those “Orange is the new green” values are woven seamlessly throughout the two-day event, filled with music and food, games, demonstrations and oodles more.
“Everybody catches a little of the contagiousness of the spirit of participation,” Habib says.
Along the way, the event has generated $20,000 in grants for various community groups, including the North Quabbin Co-operative.
“Basically, the idea is the event is run in such a way that (organizers) say, ‘We’re using materials that can either be recycled or composted, and nothing else,” explains Rick Inness of Clear View Composting in Orange.
As a result, 97 or 98 percent of the festival’s waste never makes it to a landfill; instead, it’s recycled or composted, which Inness says is way beyond any other festival he knows of. And that points to not only how well organized the all-volunteer effort is, but also how committed festival organizers are to seeing their principles of sustainability played out, for the sake of education as well as simply doing the right thing.
The origins of the festival, which has grown over the years to be, in essence, a North Quabbin community fair, are mostly agricultural.
Farmer Ricky Baruc, who runs the Seeds of Solidarity Farm with Habib, his wife, recalls he was cleaning off some garlic under an oak tree one day. He was thinking about what a beautiful crop it is for the region but how few places there are to sell it. His neighbor, woodworker Jim Fountain, walked by and lamented how area craftspeople also face the same difficulty finding places in the area to sell their goods. Together they imagined creating an event that would be a community celebration that served up what they believed was the North Quabbin’s rich bounty of arts and farms.
Days before the first festival in 1999 at their Chestnut Hill farm near the border of Orange and New Salem, a hurricane ripped through the area and neighbors showed up with tractors, gravel and whatever was needed to prepare for the crowds that would eventually show up, nearly 1,000 strong.
‘Tug of garlic’
If that was the first hint of the community spirit that would be the hallmark of the event that would grow steadily with each year, there were plenty of others.
“The idea was to create something special and unique in our own community to unite the farms, artists and other people from within the region, and to bring people from outside the region to recognize some of the beauty and creativity that’s here that they might not know about,” says Habib, who remains part of the 20-member festival committee. “This is by the community, for the community, and it’s a unique group of can-do-it people. We build our own tables, our own stages, everything.”
They also dream up some creative ways of doing things like getting the word out. This year, for example, Garlic and Arts will enlist a local pilot in a “bucks drop” on festival weekend, showering the region with $1,500 worth of coupons that can be redeemed at the event, each with messages about the value of supporting local art and, presumably, recycling this coupon.
A solar-powered main stage this year boasts a variety of acts — bands like the Equalites and the Pangeans, Gaia Roots and Tony Vacca and the Impulse Ensemble — and there’s also a “Word Stories and Sound” stage that features Paul Richmond and other performers.
But the unique appeal of Garlic and Arts is that it also tastes and, yes, smells, like a real-down-home community fair, with cooking demonstrations, energy talks and family games like a garlic-and-egg toss, garlic sack races and even a tug of garlic.
“It’s fun. People have so much fun being there,” said Jeannette Fellows of Warwick’s Chase Hill Farm, who sells the farm’s garlic cheese to people who tell her year after year that they’ve come out from eastern Massachusetts specifically to stock up on her smelly cheese.
“It just blows me away,” says Fellows, for whom the festival is the biggest single money maker and a chance to see the Warwick neighbors she rarely sees otherwise.
The festival, which costs about $35,000 to put on and involves months of planning, also provides a way for people to see first-hand how they can grow their own food, get involved in energy conservation and renewable energy projects and connect with neighbors on community projects.
“I just think it tackles so many aspects all at once: local agriculture and supporting farmers who are growing food right there, and how the festival as a whole deals with recycling and composting,” says Leelyn, a Wendell craftsperson who exhibits the “Lou’s Upcycles” crocheted bags she began creating five years ago as a way to get to what she calls “zero waste.
“After composting, recycling, reusing, there’s always plastic left over in the end — tens of thousands of plastic bags out there — and I wanted to see if I could use it in a more functional way. That started my whole mission,” she says.
Beyond providing Leelyn and other area craftspeople a chance for potential customers to see their wares, the festival also shows people that they, too, can get creative, and get active as well in helping solve environmental problems.
“There’s such an educational component going on,” she says. “It’s not just, ‘Come and play.’ It’s ‘Come and learn.’ It’s letting people know what’s available,” she says. “When they come to the garlic festival … I think it can open up a whole world.”
Admission is $5 per day for adults, $8 for a weekend pass, and kids 12 and under are free.
To get to the festival: take Route 2 to Exit 16, or Route 202 from the south, and follow the signs to the main parking area and shuttle lot on the corner of Holtshire and Fairman roads. There you can catch a free, five-minute ride to the festival. Parking at the festival site is reserved for carpools of three or more or for those with handicap tags. People can also hike 45 minutes from the shuttle lot to the festival via the Chestnut Hill trails.
No pets are allowed at the festival site and they can’t be left in cars.
You can get more information, including the festival’s full schedule, online at
Senior reporter Richie Davis has worked at The Recorder for more than 35 years. He can be reached at email@example.com or 413-772-0261, ext. 269.
Staff photographer Paul Franz has worked for The Recorder since 1988. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 413-772-0261 Ext. 266. His website is www.franzphoto.com.