1-day event stands in for annual Garlic and Herb Festival

By Banner staff

BENNINGTON — On Saturday, Sept. 5, Bennington will become Garlic Town, USA for a day in celebration of all things garlic and agriculture.

The town has become world-renowned for its annual Garlic and Herb Festival held every Labor Day weekend. Last year, the festival saw over 16,000 patrons and 200 garlic-themed vendors.

 Due to the coronavirus pandemic and Vermont’s restrictions on festivals, the 25th “Garlicfest,” as the event has been affectionately known, was canceled in early summer.

“Garlicfest is an iconic event in Bennington and all of Vermont,” said Matt Harrington, executive director of the Southwestern Vermont Chamber of Commerce, which organizes 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. 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.”

What developed was the idea of “Garlic Town, USA.” In coordination with the Town of Bennington and the Better Bennington Corporation, the one-day event will celebrate farmers, agriculture and the spirit of Garlicfest throughout downtown Bennington.

On the Saturday of Labor Day weekend, downtown Bennington will feature pockets of original Garlicfest vendors, or what the organizing committee is calling “Cloves.” Each Clove will have two to three 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,” Harrington said. “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,” said John Shannahan, director of the Better Bennington Corporation, Bennington’s downtown program. “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 and our small shops as well.”

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Clove locations include Clove A (Downtown Visitor’s Center – Four Corners), Clove B (Four Corners Clock – Silver Street), Clove C (Silver Street – Ramunto’s), Clove D (Depot Street Lot – Dutchman’s Tavern) and Clove E (Bennington Farmers’ Market on River Street).

“The Cloves are not only a cool idea,” said 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.

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The Chocolate Shoppe at 471 Main St. 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.

Ramunto’s will not only be participating in Garlic Restaurant Week but also have RamFest that Saturday, which will include the bands Hit-n-Run (1-4 p.m.) and Flashpoint (5-9 p.m.), yard games of cornhole and Kan Jam, as well as specialty food including wood fire pizza, barbecue 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 Derby. Residents are encouraged to register for a free toy garlic bulb at Bennington.com/GarlicTown.

Each registration will get a number that will be put on one of the garlic toys. All the garlic toys will be placed on the Walloomsac River at noon and raced to the finish at The Bank of Bennington. There, the owner of the first toy bulb to pass the finish line will receive a gift basket of downtown merchant goodies and gift certificates.

As far as health and safety, the Garlic Town, USA committee is working with officials at the Southwestern Vermont Medical Center and Vermont’s Agency of Commerce and Community Development.

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“We are trying to provide social distanced fun and community building while monitoring the COVID pandemic,” Harrington said. “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 (personal protective equipment) on the day of. We will have volunteers at every Clove and public gathering spot armed with PPE for patrons, 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 event website are these guidelines: If the country and surrounding states get severely worse before Sept. 5, and event organizers feel that the public and patrons will be negatively impacted, they will cancel the event. They’re asking people who feel sick on the event day, or have been in contact with someone with COVID-19, to stay home (and cook up some garlic!). Since Aug. 1, Gov. Phil Scott has required Vermont residents and visitors to wear masks or cloth facial coverings while in public.

Leading up to the event, area restaurants and dining establishments will be featuring various garlic-themed dishes at a special 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 the event website and also available at the various Clove locations. Patrons are encouraged to pick up a map and try to get to every Clove. 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, said: “We appreciate the vision and idea for this unique event in Bennington. Bennington has been through a lot over the past seven months and not just COVID. 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 added: “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 Town of Bennington, Shires Young Professionals, The Bank of Bennington, Ramunto’s Pizza, The Inn at Manchester, People’s Bank and Uncle Bob’s Septic Service.

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