10th Annual Garlic Festival

by Staff Reporter / Jul 03, 2017 / comments
Harvesting garlic at the 10th Annual Garlic Festival hosted by the !Sostenga!  program at Northern New Mexico College. Photo by George Morse for the Valley Daily Post

10th Annual Garlic Festival 

By George Morse

The !Sostenga! program at Northern New Mexico College celebrated its 10th Annual Garlic Harvest Festival July 1 on their farm on Railroad Avenue. This year’s festival offered the rare opportunity to see a college president donning a chef’s apron while ladling pancake batter and laying strips of bacon on a hot grill to feed breakfast to what turned out to be a crowd estimated at 200 people.

“The weather couldn’t be better,” Dr. Richard J. Bailey said. “So many different groups come together to celebrate. Northern is proud to be a part of it.”

Northern New Mexico College President Dr Richard J. Bailey (left) puts bacon on the grill for Northern Provost Ivan Lopez to fry at the 10th Annual Garlic Harvest Festival July 1 at Northern New Mexico College. Photo by George Morse for the Valley Daily Post

!Sostenga! is a program is a Center for Sustainable Food, Agriculture and Environment that was established in 2007 by the New Mexico Legislature to help preserve the culture and history of Northern New Mexico where traditional sustainable agricultural practices until recently provided a naturally healthy diet. The farm uses a traditional acequia to irrigate its garlic, as well as a crop of blue corn that is ground into flour to use in the pancakes that were being served at the Festival.

“!Sostenga! over the years has been a site for the College to participate in education centered around agriculture,” Dr. Bailey said. “”We hope to develop an even stronger partnership in the future.”

The Festival began with a welcome by former State Lieutenant Governor Roberto Mondragon, who frequently exclaimed “Viva el Ajo” during his welcome. “Ajo” is the Spanish word for garlic.

Mondragon’s welcome was followed by a blessing and invocation to the spirits of the four directions by Kalpulli Izkalli from Albuquerque’s South Valley.

Following the blessing, the harvest of the garlic began with teams of diggers competing for cash prizes of $300 for first place, $200 for second place and $100 for third place. The field had been irrigated prior to the harvest to soften the earth and make it easier to harvest the garlic. 

The team of Ray Griego (front), Alvaro Romero and Michelle Romero were among those competing for cash prizes at the 10th Annual Garlic Harvest Festival July 1 at Northern New Mexico College. They took second place. Photo by George Morse for the Valley Daily Post

As the garlic harvest commenced, breakfast was being served. Blue corn pancakes, made from conventional pancake mix  with ground blue corn added, along with bacon and fruit were served up to a line of people that never seemed to grow shorter as the morning went on.

Northern Provost Ivan Lopez and Northern athletics facilities manager Richard Sedillo manned the grills, cranking out plate after plate to the hungry visitors. “Sostenga” director Patricia Trujillo had to periodically make runs to mix up more pancake batter.

Richard Sedillo fries up some bacon at the Harvest Festival. Photo by George Morse for the Valley Daily Post

While the harvest was going on and breakfast was being served, music by El Trio Viva Nuevo Mexico and Desert Loops entertained the visitors. That was followed by a theater performance of puppets directed by Liz Padilla. The final group to perform was Imperial Rooster.

In another area, an eager group of youngsters took swings at a piñata filled with candy. The piñata proved very resilient, but the candy finally spewed forth onto the ground where the eager youngsters pounced on it, scooping up as much as they could.

Jeco Avila finally smashed up the piñata at the 10th Annual Galic Harvest Festival July 1 at Northern New Mexico College. Photo by George Morse for the Valley Daily Post

The breakfast line finally started getting shorter and shorter, although well after the scheduled ending time of 11:30 p.m.

A proclamation by Rio Arriba County was read by Assistant Director of Economic Development Margaret Campos.

The winners of the garlic harvest were announced. Third place went to the team of Garlic Rosa (Rudy Tafoya, Naomi Gonzales, Christine Gonzales, David Garcia) with 68 pounds. Second place went to a team from Penasco and Chimayo (Ray Griego, Alvaro Romero, Michelle Romero) with 83.9 pounds. The winners were a team from Northern Youth Project (Leona Hillary, Lupita Salazar, Omar Lutz, Joe Cronemeyer, Matias Coronado) with 101.2 pounds.

There was also a tractor contest and since there were just three entries, all won awards. Don Bustos brought his tractor from his farm in Santa Cruz. Johnny Archuleta brought a World War II-era tractor that once belonged to his grandpa. Mario Romero received an award for hauling over a dragon sculpture made from aluminum cans that was constructed by Northern Youth Project with help from chainmail and wire artist Albert Tack.

!Sostenga! was directed by Dr. Camilla Bustamante, who nurtured the program through good harvests and bad.  Her leadership kept the program going until she left in 2012 to take a position at Santa Fe Community College. Since her departure, the program has partnered with the College and has been kept going by Northern Assistant Professor of English and Chicano Studies Patricia Trujillo.

“When she (Bustamante) left, she said “Promise me you will keep it going,”” Trujillo said. “It celebrates who we are in Northern New Mexico.”

Dr. Bailey credits Trujillo with the continued success of !Sostenga!

“She’s taken it and run with it,” Dr. Bailey said.

Bustamante was in attendance at the 2017 Harvest Festival. The crowd of visitors and positive community atmosphere at an event she started and kept going in its early years was emotional for her.

“It’s really precious,” she said. “It melts my heart.”