By Marykate Smith Despres
Last weekend, as the sun shone unseasonably warm and the turning leaves gleamed red and yellow, my family and I headed down Route 2 to Orange for the 16th Annual North Quabbin Garlic and Arts Festival. We've been to several farm festivals already this year, but we were all in agreement that this one was our favorite.
Though over 100 farms, artisans, restaurants, and community organizations are represented, the festival maintains a cozy atmosphere. Browsing vendors' booths, we discovered fine art, wood and fiber crafts, and fresh produce. Music and dance performances took place on two different stages, ogres and trolls roamed the grounds, dozens of hula hoops were strewn welcomingly in the grass, and tucked between the Australian sheep dog herding demonstration and a young 4H-er's yoked pair of silvery cows, sat the spoken word stage.
The compost and recycling bins located throughout the event are impossible not to notice. That's because the Garlic and Arts Festival is practically trash free. The final numbers for this year aren't in yet, but past years' tallies counted only three bags of trash produced from over 10,000 visitors to the festival in one weekend. This commitment to conscious consumption is seen throughout the event in the solar powered stages built from locally harvested wood and the multiple workshops and tents devoted to environmental and renewable energy education. The entire weekend is designed around making it easy for folks to make green choices. Free shuttle service, preferred parking for carpoolers, free drinking water to reduce plastic bottle use, and local vendors representing local choices for food, arts, and services.
Among these local vendors, I met John Armstrong, manager of New Salem Preserves, who taught me about the qualities of crab apples (namely, high pectin) that make them perfect for jam. While John told me about the small farm's apple products and encouraged me to visit their farm stand, my family devoured New Salem Preserves' apple cider donuts - fresh, sweet, and still steaming.
As is my habit, I spent a little extra time in the fiber tents, and so met Hilary Woodcock of Woodcock Farm in Belchertown. As she sat spinning yarn at a large wheel in the sun, she walked me through the contents of her tent: everything is knit, spun, or simply gleaned from her fiber flock of sheep, llamas, and alpacas. Much of her yarn is hand painted (or, as she describes it, “squirted!”), often with dyes from natural sources like nettles and blackberries.
There was so much good food to choose from that we had to pass through the edibles tents a few times before finally deciding. My family has a firmly held belief that you can't go wrong with tacos, so we went with bean and pork tacos from Sunderland's Kitchen Garden farm with a side of grilled corn smothered in cheese and chili. I could eat that corn for days.
Although the pungent bulb packaged in its own humble paper is part of the festival's namesake and focus, garlic did not overpower the day's events. It made an appearance in many of the dishes, crafts, and games represented, but just as any good ingredient used well is complimented by the entire composition of a dish, it was balanced by the variety of other offerings. We left happy, full, and eager for year 17.