In 25th year, North Quabbin Garlic and Arts Festival shares message of sustainability with wide audience (Athol Daily News, October 1, 2023)
ORANGE, MA — Muddy fields didn’t stop thousands of visitors from coating their boots with a layer of mud and celebrating agriculture, sustainability and art during the 25th annual North Quabbin Garlic and Arts Festival this weekend.
Organizers spoke to how the festival has grown tremendously since its inception.
“The festival got bigger and we got older,” said Janice Kurkoski, who, with her husband Steve, runs the festival’s “Portal to the Future,” which promotes the benefits of renewable energy and being self-sufficient. “The values stayed the same.”
Organizer Ricky Baruc said the event helps highlight the positives of Orange — which he described as an “incredibly vibrant” community — to outsiders while also building community from within.
The two-day festival hosted about 100 booths featuring regional artists, farmers, community organizations and healing arts, as well as four food trucks rife with garlic-themed grub. There were about 50 workshops and demonstrations, plus activities and performances.
The idea for the event arose from a conversation between Baruc and Jim Fountain in 1998. Baruc mentioned there were not many places to sell the garlic he grew on his farm and Fountain, a woodworker, said he had the same issue with his artwork. This started another conversation with a group of five neighbors, each of whom contributed $20 to try and make a go of it. The first festival was held in 1999 at the Seeds of Solidarity Farm, but that proved too small, so Dorothy Forster offered the land her father, Clifford Forster Sr., had operated as a dairy farm.
The timing of the festival recognizes the point when gardeners and farmers plant garlic to grow for the coming season. People plant garlic in October and November, and the third week of July is the time for harvest. Each clove grows into an entire bulb over the course of nine months.
Offering tips for garlic planters this year, Baruc recommends planting garlic in raised beds to avoid having the plants sit in stagnant water. Excessive rain continues to be a problem, and Baruc said garlic can’t grow in puddles of water.
One corner of the festival, called the “Portal to the Future,” organized by the Kurkoskis, is a shining example of how the festival has expanded and changed throughout its quarter-century lifetime.
The “portal,” which was added to the festival 13 years ago, is where organizers invite attendees to envision a better future, one where the local community consumes less energy. It started as an area where experts spoke about renewable energy, especially solar power, but has since expanded to include a variety of activities.
“The planet is not an infinite resource for us to plunder. We can make a change here,” Janice Kurkoski said. “We are showing how we can skill up with local living.”
Representatives from North Quabbin Energy and energy committee members from different towns set up a table at the portal. They gave out information about MassSave, a program that helps businesses and homes become more energy efficient. There was also a tent that displayed electric vehicles and appliances, including a John Deere tractor conversion, a pontoon boat and some yard equipment.
One of the less concrete aspects of the portal involves a wheel that visitors are invited to spin. The wheel prompts users to talk about what they think the future of various energy-consuming practices, such as transportation or heating, will look like. There is also a camping tent that asks people to sit and meditate on “how good it can be.”
There was also a wide range of speakers, such as Mount Wachusett Community College, beekeepers and pickle makers, who gave presentations.
One aspect the event is known for is its motto, “12,000 people and three bags of trash.” Festival organizers carefully compost and recycle everything that is used throughout the weekend. All vendors use only compostable and recyclable materials.
Baruc explained when the festival was in its early years it seemed outlandish to do this, but as the festival has grown in prominence, other large festivals in the area have copied the North Quabbin Garlic and Arts Festival’s model of creating no trash, including the Green River Festival and Arcadia Folk Festival.
In the 25 years the festival has taken place, it has continued to celebrate sustainability. Not only does it educate about and practice environmental friendliness, but it also promotes a sustainable economy by providing visitors with the opportunity to financially support local artists, farmers and more.
“We are never going to change that big system out there,” Baruc said. “When it comes to changing your own community, that is your best bet. That is clearly what this festival is. We take change into our own hands and people are inspired by that.”
- STAFF PHOTO/BELLA LEVAV
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