My 3rd Place Finish at The Garlic Festival
By Cam Mather
I was robbed of what was rightly mine, the “Finest Garlic Bulb in the World Award.” Or at least First Prize in the “Single Bulb” category at the Verona Garlic Festival. Man, what a rip off. Well okay, perhaps we deserved third place, but I think the fix was in. There was a ringer and I was dead in the water before I even entered.
Two Saturdays ago, Michelle and I took part in our first ever Garlic Festival. We had attended garlic festivals before, but just as onlookers. This time we paid our money, set up a booth and sold our garlic. We knew that there was a garlic competition involved but didn’t know the particulars and so we had decided to just sit this one out, get the lay of the land and perhaps enter next year. When we arrived at the event Michelle checked out the categories and most seemed to need multiple varieties and displays that we hadn’t prepared for. One category was a no-brainer though – best single bulb. So we grabbed our biggest and entered it. I guess since it was all so last minute we can’t complain about our third place finish, but I’m a sore loser and prefer to act like I was ripped off.
The Verona Lions Club did a fantastic job of organizing the event and it was really well attended. The crowds were huge and people were spending money! We package our garlic in one-pound mesh bags and we include a mix of two types of garlic that I’ve grown over the years, “Music” and “Russian Red.” As I walked around the event checking out the competition I noticed that many of the vendors were selling multiple varieties of garlic and some were selling beautiful braids of garlic. I assumed that they were old pros on the garlic festival circuit and I began to wonder if anyone would be interested in our simple but honest one-pound bags. Turns out they were! By the end of the day we had sold most of our garlic. I think at a certain point some people were getting intimidated by all the selection at some of the other booths and just decided “Oh, here’s a bag of garlic that looks good” and bought ours. Sometimes too much variety can be overwhelming Simple can be good.
There’s nothing nicer than a country festival or fall fair. There were lots of vendors selling local produce and crafts and it’s really nice to see so many people spending their money locally.
Our first experience with a local agricultural fair was at the Parham Fair to the east of us, the first full summer we lived here about 12 years ago. We entered every category we could… I did vegetables, Michelle did flowers and our daughters entered some crafts. We all won prizes! We actually earned some money too, since many of the prizes included cash. The biggest payout was for “The Biggest Zucchini!” I kid you not! Mine was the size of tree trunk. I was never quite sure if this was a joke category, mocking anyone who would allow his or her zucchini to get so big. Anyone who grows zucchinis knows what a crazy vegetable they are. One day they’re just right, the size of a small hot dog or at the max a big bratwurst, but by the next day it will have grown to the size of a Louisville Slugger Baseball Bat! Sure you can make zucchini bread with the bigger ones, but come on, how much zucchini bread can one man eat?
As transplanted city people (citidiots) we’ve gradually started to learn the ways of the country. My first experience was with “The Wave”. As I drove to town and back, people kept waving at me like I knew them. Then I realized it wasn’t just me, that people on our road wave whenever they pass each other. Especially once they get to know you. Our road is usually pretty quiet – Michelle and I can go for a walk for ¾ of hour and not see a single car, so passing a car can be a big deal. I can always tell the city people who are visiting or just passing through on the road – they don’t return the wave. I often don’t bother with the wave on weekends.
I love the concept. As you get to know people they get to recognize your vehicle, which helps, but even if they don’t they’ll wave anyway. We’re 5 miles from the Khouri’s to the west and 3 miles to Gorters to the east, so there’s 8 miles where the only human establishment is our place. I think country people realize that one never knows when a vehicle will act up or a patch of black ice might put you in the ditch. So it’s nice to feel that you at least have a nodding acquaintance with the person you might need help from in the future.
Our place is known as “The Snider Place” or “The Higley’s Place”. The Sniders owned it during the early part of the last century, and then the Higleys owned it until the 1980s when Jean Stawarz and Gary Farmer bought it. We bought it from Jean and Gary, and some people in town still recognize it as their place, but certainly most locals identify it as the Sniders or Higleys on Mountain Road. It helped that Jean and Gary took it “off-grid” and had an open house 15 years ago. There was a huge turnout of people interested in seeing what they’d done with the place. Michelle and I are active in lots of local activities and I continue to organize and speak at green energy events, but I think we’re decades away from anyone calling it “The Mather Place.” I’m working on it though. Once I finally capture my rightful title of “World’s Greatest Garlic Grower,” my place in Tamworth folklore will be cemented.
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