Vermont Business Magazine On Saturday, September 5th Bennington, Vermont will become “Garlic Town, USA” for one day in celebration of all things garlic and agriculture!
Bennington has become world-renowned for its annual Garlic and Herb Festival held every year on Labor Day weekend. Last year, the festival saw crowds of over 16,000 patrons and 200 garlic-themed vendors. The Garlic and Herb Festival has been recognized as one of the top 10 garlic festivals in the world, featured in Yankee Magazine and recently was awarded Vermont’s Time-Honored Top 10 Fall Event. Due to the COVID pandemic and Vermont restrictions on festivals, the 25th annual “Garlicfest,” as the event has been affectionately known as, was canceled in early summer.
“Garlicfest is an iconic event in Bennington and all of Vermont,” says Matt Harrington, executive director of the Southwestern Vermont Chamber of Commerce which produces the festival. “It is a mixture of community building and economic growth as many of our hotels, restaurants and merchants benefit from the large event and large crowds. As soon as we decided to cancel the festival based on the Governor’s restrictions, we went to work thinking about what we could do to at least celebrate the idea of garlic, agriculture and our community of Bennington.”
Garlic Vendors at the 24th Annual Garlic and Herb Festival in 2019 (photo credit: Southwestern Vermont Chamber of Commerce)
What developed was the idea of “Garlic Town, USA.” In coordination with the Town of Bennington and the Better Bennington Corporation, Bennington’s downtown program, Garlic Town, USA will celebrate farmers, agriculture, and the spirit of Garlic Fest throughout downtown Bennington. On the Saturday of Labor Day Weekend, Bennington downtown’s will feature pockets of original Garlicfest vendors, or what the committee is calling “Cloves.” Each Clove spot will have 2-3 garlic and produce vendors for people to visit.
“What we heard from many of our Garlicfest vendors, once we canceled the festival, was their concern about what they were going to do with all their produce that they had been growing for the festival,” says Harrington. “Working with the Town and BBC, we had the idea of creating additional merchant space throughout downtown for the vendors to sell their produce. Additionally, we heard from many patrons of the festival that they ‘always’ get their yearly garlic from the festival. This now gives those patrons an ability to see their favorite vendors and purchase garlic and other produce.”
“We’ve created ‘clove’ pockets of vendors throughout downtown,” adds John Shannahan, director of the Better Bennington Corporation. “This will be a great opportunity for us to increase the merchant footprint downtown for a day and encourage residents to come downtown to shop both the garlic vendors, but our small shops as well.”
Clove locations include Clove A (Downtown Visitor's Center at 215 South Street and the “Four Corners” of South, North and Main Street), Clove B (“4 Corners” of South, North and Main Street starting at the iconic clock to Silver Street), Clove C (Silver Street to Ramunto's Pizza at 519 Main Street), Clove D (Depot Street Lot to The Dutchman's Tavern at 135 Depot Street), and Clove E (Bennington Farmers’ Market on River Street).
Some of the vendors already confirmed include Argusville Farms bringing German white and red garlic; Buried Treasures Organic Farm bringing certified organic garlic of music, Russian red and Chesknok red; Hawks Meadow Farm bringing garlic pesto, hummus, pickles, relish, salsa, jams, jellies, dried herbs, garlic powder and other fresh produce; Lindon Garlic Farm bringing organic garlic bulbs, powder, granules and chips, assorted peppers and spices, garlic cookies, brittle, maple syrup, pesto and more; and New England Twists bringing 12 varieties of organic garlic, wreaths and braids. See a full list of vendors at www.Bennington.com/Garlictown
“The Cloves are not only a cool idea,” says Mikaela Lewis, event producer with the chamber. “They are also helping us work social distancing into the event. We have divided up the various vendor markets into "Cloves” to ensure safe social distancing. A patron can go to the website, get a "free" ticket to start their adventure at one of the Cloves. The patron can move around each Clove throughout the day. Getting a ticket to one Clove does not restrict the patron or family to only that one clove; they can still visit multiple Cloves throughout the day. This just helps our team monitor the crowd size and to space people out evenly. We ask that patrons work with us in this effort.”
The small shops of Bennington’s downtown have also been encouraged to have sidewalk sales and the restaurants are encouraged to provide some outside entertainment as well on this day. The Chocolate Shoppe at 471 Main Street will have caramel apples, garlic fudge, garlic caramel corn, regular caramel corn, popcorn and garlic gelato! In conjunction with the Garlic Restaurant Week they will also have garlic gelato available the entire week. Ramuntos will not only be participating in Garlic Restaurant Week, but also have RamFest that Saturday which will include the bands Hit-n-Run (1-4pm) and Flashpoint (5-9pm), yard games of cornhole and Kan Jam, as well as speciality food including wood fire pizza, BBQ, and a taco bar.
At noon, starting at the Bennington Farmers’ Market along the Walloomsac River, Garlic Town officials will release over 100 toy garlic bulbs for the first ever Garlic Bulb River Derby. Residents are encouraged to register ahead of time for a free toy garlic bulb at Bennington.com/GarlicTown. Each registration will get a number which will be put on one of the garlic toys. All the garlic toys will be placed in the Walloomsac River at noon and race to the finish at The Bank of Bennington. There, the first toy bulb to pass the finish line with the winning number will receive a gift basket of downtown merchant goodies and gift certificates.
As far as health and safety, the Garlic Town, USA committee has been working with officials at the Southwestern Vermont Medical Center in preparation for this event. “We are trying to provide social distanced fun and community building, while monitoring the COVID pandemic,” states Harrington. “At every step of this new event, COVID was top of mind. The committee leaders around the table were extremely sensitive about how to do this fun event while the COVID pandemic still exists. All volunteers and committee leaders will be in full PPE day of. We will have volunteers at every clove and public gathering spot armed with PPE for patrons, hand sanitizer and to help encourage people to remain socially distant from one another. We also have been working with Chief Medical Officer Dr. Dobson and his staff at SVMC to ensure a safe and healthy event.”
Included on the website are these guidelines: “If the nation and surrounding states get severely worse before September 5 and we feel that the public and patrons will be negatively impacted, we will not hesitate to cancel this event; throughout downtown and the event, we will have volunteers stationed with PPE handout, sanitizer and other information for the public and patrons; if you feel sick or know that you’ve been in contact with someone with COVID, please for the safety of others stay home (and cook up some garlic!); effective Friday, August 1, 2020, Governor Scott of Vermont required all Vermonters (and travelers) to wear masks or cloth facial coverings while in public; and use the garlic to ward off any people who might get closer than 6 feet to you (or Vampires).”
Leading up to the week, area restaurants and dining establishments will be featuring various garlic-themed dishes for patrons at a special Garlic Restaurant Week in celebration of garlic and harvest produce. See the website for participating restaurants and their specials.
A map of all the cloves and various events throughout downtown will be featured on a handout provided at Bennington.com/GarlicTown and also available at the various Clove locations. Patrons are encouraged to pick up a map and try to get to every Clove throughout the day. At each Clove, a volunteer will stamp the map. If patrons collect all stamped locations on their map and drop it off at the BBC throughout the week after the festival, patrons will be entered to win another gift basket from downtown merchants.
Shannon Barsotti, Community Director for the Town of Bennington and part of the Garlic Town, USA committee adds, “We appreciate the vision and idea for this unique event in Bennington. Bennington has been through a lot over the past six months. We think this will encourage a spirit of pride, tradition and celebration for many of the residents of Bennington. We hope people take this opportunity to safely enjoy the many great qualities of our downtown.”
Harrington finishes, “We hope this event becomes a tradition all on its own. We hope this can be a companion piece to a Garlic Festival in the future. This is our way of saying thank you to the town of Bennington and its residents for many successful years of the Garlicfest.”
Current sponsors for this event include: The Southwestern Vermont Chamber of Commerce, Better Bennington Corporation, Town of Bennington, Shires Young Professionals, The Bank of Bennington, Ramuntos Pizza, The Inn at Manchester, People’s Bank, and Uncle Bob’s Septic Service.
For more information on the event, visit: www.Bennington.com/GarlicTown