Event offers a place for foodmakers, craftspeople to unite

The Greenfield Recorder, July 28, 2017, by Domenic Poli

Garlic farmer, Ricky Baruc, and woodworker, Jim Fountain, had a chat in 1998 and lamented about how there was no place in the area to sell their products.

And that conversation led to the birth of the North Quabbin Garlic and Arts Festival, which now attracts about 10,000 fairgoers each fall. It’s one of the region’s unique and most popular festivals. The 19th annual Garlic and Arts Festival will be held on Sept. 23 and 24 this year.

The first festival was held in 1999 at the Seeds of Solidarity Farm, which was too small. Orange resident Dorothy Forster had enjoyed the festival and offered to hold future ones on her property, which once held a dairy farm her father operated from 1926 to 1941. Her property covers 128 acres and all but 10 of them are under a conservation easement.

Lydia Grey, one of the festival’s founders, said the idea was to bring people to the area for local crops and arts, instead of having farmers and artisans travel to Boston to sell their wares. She said the festival also
highlights the area as the landscape of untapped resources that it is.

“A lot of people’s perception of the area was negative,” she said, adding that the media often portrayed the region as down on its luck after a great deal of industry left. “It really has a lot going for it, but is not known for it.”

Grey said she never thought the festival would grow to the size it is. She said it owes its success to all the people who work on it.

The 18th installment of the festival, held in September 2016, was billed as having a “Portal to the Future,” an area highlighting ways that “art, food, small-scale farming, renewable energy, care for the land and hand skills all contribute to community-building and local resilience.” There was also an opportunity, made possible through a collaboration with Mass. Drive Clean and Plug In America, to test drive an electric vehicle.

Cathy Stanton, with North Quabbin Energy, had said the objective of the “Portal to the Future” was to highlight what “the future can and should look like if it was more locally sourced.”

Forster once told the Recorder “What’s good about having the Garlic and Arts Festival is it keeps my field from turning into trees,” Forster added with a laugh, “It’s good to have it and share it. My father would never have dreamed about what goes on in his fields.”

Forster said she enjoys attending the festival and taking photographs of the crowds and watching children have fun.

Grey, a clay artist who still serves on the festival’s committee, said locals come back year after year because they have such a great time.

“It’s hard to put it into words, but there is something about the festival,” she said. “It’s a very joyful festival, where people can feel comfortable and have fun and also learn a lot about people who are farming and working with their hands in the region.”

Grey said she marvels at the wide variety of vendors and entertainment at the festival each year.

Deborah Habib, who sits on the festival committee, says “The vision was to create a place for artists and farmers and foodmakers and craftspeople, to unite those people … The thing I think is really special is … it’s really a very amazing model of what people can do when they have a vision.”