You’ve all heard the story before of how a little dinner gathering at Pat Reppert’s Shale Hill Farm and Herb Gardens in 1989 improbably blossomed into an annual culinary event so popular that within three years, the Kiwanis Club of Saugerties had to take over and move it to Cantine Field. By 1995, the Hudson Valley Garlic Festival was drawing more than 40,000 visitors, so it was expanded to two days the following year. As many as 53,000 people have attended in a single weekend, in 2007. Other than Horseshows in the Sun, the much-loved Garlic Fest is the biggest tourism attraction in Saugerties.
Although it skipped a year in 2020 due to COVID restrictions, the Festival made a modest comeback last year and will be returning full-force on October 1 and 2. It’s still organized by the Kiwanis Club, which musters an army of volunteers each year to make the aromatic adventure happen. A couple of dozen garlic farms have already signed on, and there will be the usual array of mouthwatering dishes that utilize Allium sativum as an ingredient, from garlic soup and shrimp scampi to garlic fried dough and even ice cream.
Cooking demos and lectures on growing and using garlic will be back, of course. The entertainment lineup has yet to be announced, but live music is always a part of the Garlic Festival. It’s the only place in the mid-Hudson where you can reliably witness a performance of Morris dancing every year, if you’re so inclined. One of those swirling handkerchiefs might come in handy if a particularly pungent garlic entrée is making your eyes water.
After more than 30 years of this well-attended local tradition, one might think that there’s nothing new to say about the Garlic Festival except for the fact that it’s back. One would be wrong about that. Something very innovative and forward-thinking has been added this year: The 2022 event will be the first-ever Zero Waste Garlic Festival.
“We have established a goal of diverting 85 to 90 percent of the waste generated at the Festival from landfills and incinerators. This will be accomplished by including disposable items with the food waste,” the organizers announced in a letter to vendors this year. It was accompanied by a list of approved suppliers of plates, cups, lids, utensils, straws and deli wrap made from paper or corn-derived polylactic acid (PLA) plastic resin – all of it compostable. Events like this, where attendees are encouraged to pick up small sample-sized cups of various foods, are big generators of single-use plastic, so substituting compostable materials is a significant move toward waste reduction.
Amazingly, none of the vendors has dropped out in response to the new required types and sources of servingware, according to Saugerties Kiwanis president Pat Praetorius. “We’re very happy that the vendors have agreed to go along with this,” she says. “The main focus of Kiwanis is on kids. If we don’t decrease garbage so that our kids won’t have to deal with this, then we’ve missed our directive.”
Praetorius noted that Ulster County has taken the lead in recent years in passing legislation aimed at eliminating polystyrene, plastic straws and bags and reducing food waste. But she gives most of the credit for nudging the Kiwanis board into making a big commitment to sustainability to Cindy Saporito, who chairs the Zero Waste Committee. And Saporito gives a shout-out to Mary McNamara of the Lower Esopus Watershed Partnership, who “spearheaded the composting program at the Saugerties landfill” and first suggested the idea of a Zero Waste goal for the Garlic Festival to Kiwanis board president Richard Kappler.
“Mary introduced me to a couple of people,” says Saporito, including Shabazz Jackson and Josephine Papagni of Greenway Environmental Services, a Clintondale-based company that produces compost on a huge scale, sells soil and mulch and consults on environmentally sustainable waste management systems. “The Garlic Festival went under a three-year contract with them. They’re taking the lead,” Saporito explains. “By Year 3 you should be able to run it yourself. Their business model is to get people to be self-sufficient.”
At Hudson Valley Garlic Festival 2022, there will be nine Zero Waste recycling stations scattered throughout the Cantine Field site. Each one will need to be staffed by five people at a time, working three-hour shifts. So, the missing piece of this process is enough volunteers, in addition to the 120 or so who normally make the Festival happen. Part of Greenway’s job is to line them up. “I have 75 people. I need 200, minimally, to do this right,” Papagni told HV1 on August 29, barely a month before the Festival.
Greenway’s principals have many years of experience in mobilizing volunteer recyclers, having done it for a decade or more at the Clearwater Festival, but the aftermath of the pandemic is presenting a challenge in 2022. “It seems harder this year. People are more preoccupied,” says Papagni. The timing of the Festival, less than a month after students return to school, also makes it difficult to commence recruitment among younger potential volunteers, such as teens with community service requirements to fulfill. Papagni is optimistic, however: “I have not yet hit up the high school groups. The teachers are always looking for great hands-on experiences for their students.”
Specifically, people aged 14 and up are needed to work three-hour shifts – from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m., 1 to 4 p.m. or 4 to 7 p.m. on Saturday, Sunday or both – to oversee that the Festival attendees are placing their recyclables, food waste and a small amount of trash in the correct receptacle. Volunteers receive free entry into the Festival, a free parking pass and a tee-shirt. Signup is easy by using the online form at www.greenwayny.com/zero-waste-opportunities.html, or you can call Josephine Papagni directly at (845) 656-6071 or e-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Of course, the Kiwanis Club is always hoping that some Garlic Festival volunteers will want to get involved with the organization on a year-round basis. Regular events include the Saugerties Fourth of July parade and fireworks, the Mothers’ Day Rose Sale, the Saugerties Mum Festival and Christmas tree-lighting. Kiwanis sponsors Key Clubs in high schools and Builders’ Clubs in middle schools, and there are scholarship programs as well. If you’re interested in becoming a member or a volunteer beyond Garlic Festival weekend, call Pat Praetorius at (845) 750-03245 or e-mail email@example.com. You can learn more about the organization and its activities by visiting www.hvgf.org/kiwanis-club-of-saugerties or www.facebook.com/hudsonvalleygarlic.