The air was rife at Cantine Field with sounds and pungent smells: the buzzing of bees, the sizzling of grills, the calls of carnival barkers peddling their foodstuffs, and the ambient chatter of hundreds of festival-goers.
It was the 28th iteration of the Hudson Valley Garlic Festival.
“It’s pretty awesome. There are a lot of food vendors, and that’s what I was hoping for,” said Jonathan Krueger eating a blooming onion on a hay bale.
“I mainly come for the food,” said Adam Kane between spoonfuls of garlic potato soup.
“My sister said garlic, and that’s enough to get me somewhere,” said Kenny Sills as he paid for his poutine.
The event is clearly a celebration of food, but it ultimately showcases the community orientation of Saugerties. Through years of coordination and planning, local volunteers and business owners have streamlined the event that has put the town on more maps. The sense of interconnectedness and pride amongst the event stalls is as palpable as the heady scent of garlic that permeated all the way to parking lot.
“The festival is really representative of Saugerties because it’s organized and run by volunteers in the area, like many other events around here, for local children,” said Marjorie Block, president of the Saugerties Historical Society. Block was staffing the Discover Saugerties booth. “It’s the same thread that runs through the community. People come and do what they can. All that money [raised by Kiwanis] goes back to Saugerties. If they know someone is sick or the animal shelter needs money, that’s where it goes.”
In order to gauge the scope of out-of-town visitors to the festival, Block holds a free raffle for gift baskets at her booth every year. According to the raffle entries, she determined that there were a record number of out-of-the-area visitors this year, including those from as far as Montana and Canada.
“Every year we try to figure out a system to make parking better. This is our first year with the shuttle-bus system,” said Robert Marullo, who has helped organize and guide parking at the event for the last 17 years.
The evolution of the festival extends further than parking. Between the ever-growing number of vendors and farmers and the erection and dismantling of the event by local volunteers, the event becomes more streamlined each year.
“It’s been one of the best shows I’ve been in in regards to being done well,” said Andrea Walcutt-Perez of Under Overlook Art Studios, whose wares included garlic-shaped garlic roasters, garlic-adorned tiles and garlic magnets. “It’s become a community event. A lot of my friends come here. It exposes the town to people from far away. I’ve had customers [today] from Canada, Texas, and Florida— pretty far.”
Many of the local businesses that attend each year contribute a portion of their earnings back into the community. “I’ve been coming here for five years now,” said Matthew Gleason, who sold a wide variety of pickles from the Brine Barrel Deli in the village. “We do pretty good. Our earnings here advance the business. I always give back to some organizations in the community: the calendar for the football team, ads for the fire department … I gave Kiwanis gift certificates for one of their raffles this year.”
Boy Scout troops 131, 31, 135 and 36, along with Cub Scout Packs 135 and 37, were represented this year. Alongside their scoutmasters, scouts bagged kettle corn, ladled out soups, and poured what they called “almost homemade lemonade” for patrons. Their involvement not only helps fund hikes, camping trips and camp scholarships, but also it brings the assortment of troops from the area together in one place. “Other than the Camporee, we never see all of the other troops,” said scoutmaster Joe Stack of Troop 135.
The Elks raised money for the 11th year in a row selling garlic burgers to fund their activities for this year. They donate to Hudson Valley Veterans.
The Ulster County SPCA sold garlic dog biscuits to raise money. They displayed animals up for adoption on a board.
The high school hockey team was present, selling ice to vendors and coffee to raise funds for ice time.
In total, Kiwanis has brought in over two million dollars from their festival proceeds over the years, according to Greg Chorvas. Ninety thousand dollars was tapped into this year to improve light fixtures on one of the local baseball fields.
“We’ve been signed up for years, but this is the first time we’ve been able to come due to crop failures,” said Kyra Hart of Overmeade Gardens in Massachusetts, “Everyone is so nice, and I’m just really happy to be here. It’s much bigger than [the other garlic festivals we attend at] Bennington and Bethlehem… it’s a big, happy garlic festival.”