Photo by ratmaner/thinkstock.
A small party held 10 years ago to thank 30 customers for coming to celebrate the first harvest has grown into the Two Sisters' Garlic Festival, an annual event that's attended by more than 500 people. This is the story of how that small event grew and increased farm sales while maintaining its distinctive charm.
In the beginning
Garlic was the cash crop Naomi Scanlon chose to supplement sales of sheep, goats and wood from the 130-acre Canterbury, N.H., farm she and her family purchased in 2002. When a nearby garlic grower went out of business just before the family moved to the historic Clough Tavern Farm, Scanlon, together with her sister and original business partner Abby Ladd, purchased the seed stock, and with it came their customer list.
In 2003, as the first harvest of about 500 pounds of garlic bulbs dried in the barn, Scanlon used the list to invite the former farm's customers to preorder their favorite garlic and come to Clough Tavern Farm on the second Saturday in September to pick it up.
Customers could roam around the farm and enjoy cocoa, coffee and old-fashioned doughnuts made using her nana's recipe. Ladd made garlic dips, and the sisters introduced the first of what has become the year-round specialty of Two Sisters' Garlic, garlic jelly. Before the end of the day, their bulbs had sold out.
A garlic scape points the way to the garlic festival at Clough Tavern Farm.
Photos by Kathleen Hatt.
Growth of a tradition
For the first two years, customers picked up their garlic in the barn. There were flowers from Scanlon's gardens, coffee, cocoa, doughnuts, and dip and garlic to sample. "That was it," says Scanlon. By the third year, a few vendors and a local music group, The GrassDawgs, joined the party. Early vendors included a weaver, a University of New Hampshire-certified Master Gardener, and author Mary Lyn Ray, who writes children's books about nature, farms and farming.
After her third festival, and supported by a grant to write a business plan, Scanlon visited other garlic festivals, most notably the large Hudson Valley Garlic Festival in Saugerties, N.Y. There she garnered more ideas for her own celebration. Along the way, she began teaching classes on how to grow garlic, and she shared that information with her customers.
By the fourth year, 2006, the tradition had been established. Even before the event was advertised in local newspapers that year, Scanlon started receiving calls: "When's the garlic festival?" By then, the festival had expanded from the barn and dooryard to include Clough Tavern Farm's Shaker-style house.
Then, as now, baskets of garlic, sorted by type, covered a table in the ell of the 1777 house, and gleaming glass jars of Mint, Rosemary Ginger, Red Pepper and Simply Garlic jelly were arranged on cabinet shelves. Using pretzel sticks as dippers, customers could sample the jellies and dips.
Planning the day
Planning for the annual event begins in earnest in late February or early March, ideally before the farm's sheep begin lambing and before garlic begins poking through the mulched beds. Although lots of careful planning precedes the event, the day itself retains a laid-back feel. "I don't know who's coming until they appear," says Scanlon.
After the initial late winter planning, preparations for the September festival are put on hold until July or August. Plans then turn from the theoretical to the practical, readying the colorful vegetable and flower gardens, deciding where to put which animals - the sheep, Mac the border collie and Fritha the pet British White Park cow. Other tasks include leveling and mowing the parking area and marking Jacob's Path, a favorite farm route of a grandson when he was 5 years old. And, of course, tidying up the authentic outhouse - no portable toilets for this event.
By midafternoon on festival day, most of the fresh garlic has been sold.
Among Scanlon's more challenging pre-festival tasks is securing a commitment from helpers. Two or three daughters generally work all day in The Yellow House serving snacks and lunch. Her husband Dave and a friend or daughter tend the cash box. Several friends, cousins, nieces and aunts help with garlic sampling in the sales area, and her 87-year-old father still minds the parking area.
In 2007, Scanlon experimented with extending the usual one-day event to two. Not that many more people came, and she says, "My family worked twice as hard, and that led to a family rebellion."
Vendors are generally chosen from among local Canterbury people whose products complement those of Clough Tavern Farm. For the sheep, for instance, there's a weaver. There's also an educational component. A Master Gardener or UNH Extension specialist is on hand to answer any questions people may have. Donna Miller of nearby Petals in the Pines talks about butterfly habitat and tags monarch butterflies when possible.
Two Sisters' annual garlic festival is a casual country affair.
As a fundraising event, the New Hampshire Farm Bureau Federation and New Hampshire Young Farmers display their wildest, craziest vegetables and invite festival attendees to vote on the best of each category. Fifth-graders from Canterbury Elementary School sell the pumpkins they planted and nurtured. Proceeds finance their attendance at a science camp. In 2013, local instrument maker Eric Baker showcased, played and discussed building guitars.
And, of course, there's garlic: garlic by the pound, garlic in mesh bags, braided softneck garlic, garlic dips, garlic scape pesto and four flavors of garlic jelly.
Although vendors' commitments to participate have been very informal in past years, Scanlon plans to change that in the future by instituting a modest deposit. "We do need to become a bit more organized in that area," she says.
Festival food is generally enhanced by garlic, but not the doughnuts. Scanlon says, "My family has absolutely forbidden garlic doughnuts. But I'm still working on that, and someday I hope to win them over." Some people come to the festival just for the doughnuts and the broccoli, cheese and garlic soup. Chili, made with lamb, is another favorite. There are even desserts made with garlic, such as brownies and chocolate chip cookies.
Scanlon regularly asks customers what they like about the festival. Topping the list: the garlic itself, seeing and tasting different varieties of both hardneck and softneck garlic, and receiving information on growing their own garlic from the seed stock. Customers also mention the quietness and family atmosphere of the festival, as well as the lovely drive through Canterbury Center to the farm. Small signs featuring a garlic scape point the way. "Of course, there are the sheep, chickens and the cow. Fritha has a following all her own," Scanlon adds.
Historic Clough Tavern Farm, 1777.
The rewards of the day
At least half of the annual sales of Two Sisters' Garlic are from festival day. They also sell scapes, bulbs, pesto and jelly at the Concord Farmers' Market, a small nearby market, a few holiday fairs and the local Canterbury Country Store.
Practical, charming and genuine. Visitors to the annual garlic festival have the opportunity to experience using an authentic outhouse-no portable toilets for this event.
For a daylong event with a $300 annual budget - most of it for newspaper advertising, posters and email announcements - the return in both sales and goodwill is outstanding. In the future, Scanlon plans on "multiplying everything" - more guaranteed vendors, a second band to cover more of the day, and perhaps a chef to demonstrate more ways to use the garlic - but without compromising the charm factor people find so endearing. Asked if there is a downside to the event, Scanlon says, "I get too busy and don't get to spend the time I'd like to spend with each person."
As the Two Sisters' Garlic Festival goes forward, the usual challenges remain: What if there's a crop failure? What other events will be happening at the same time? Will all the volunteers show up? What if it rains?
Garlic jellies, the year-round specialty of Two Sisters' Garlic, and garlic spices on display.
Kathleen Hatt is a freelance writer and has been a frequent contributor to Growing since 1998. She resides in Henniker, N.H.