Ray Griego’s Penasco Team Takes Garlic Festival Harvest Contest

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Garlic Festival in 9th Year – Sayrah Namaste, Co-director of AFSC New Mexico, who manage the Sostenga Program and the Garlic Festival, surveys the garlic harvesting competition, Sat. June 25, at Northern NM College. Ray Griego’s Penasco Team harvested 200 pounds to take home the $300 First Prize.  Photo By Robert A. Naranjo/Valley Daily Post

Garlic Festival A Success For Northern’s Sostenga: Ray Griego’s Penasco Team Harvests 200 Pounds


The annual Garlic Festival, celebrated its ninth year this year, and as fate would have it, in its ninth year, there were nine teams in the competition of digging up the garlic grown by Sostenga. According to Sarah Namaste, Director of the AFSC,which manages ​Sostenga ​and the Garlic Festival for NNMC, Dr.Bustamante sought out the AFSC-New Mexico to run the Sostenga Program before leaving the college after drastic cuts to her department.  The hand-off was perfect–Sostenga and the Garlic Festival did not miss a beat, for example, there are now Sostenga students pursuing “farm managers” degrees The morning of the Garlic Festival was perfect for harvesting garlic.

Photo shows the Garlic Festival harvesting competition underway, and hundreds of pounds of garlic harvested less than an hour into the competition. Ray Griego, of the winning Penasco Team ,is shown here (in grey shirt) picking up a bundle of garlic to place in the team pile, shown in foreground.  Photo by Robert A. Naranjo / Valley Daily Post

The blessing was done “curandera” (an old-style New Mexico healer) style which has to be experienced as it pays tribute to the earth while touching the soil, it mentions, San Isidro, (Patron saint of the laborer) family, ancestors, mothers who died at childbirth, babies, children, the directions, and on and on. After the  blessing the rules were announced, and while the musicians played, former Lt. Governor Roberto Mondragon sang  “Las Mananitas” as the nine teams headed to the garlic field and the competition began. The winning team earned a $300 prize and lower amounts for second and third places.

Here are the results: 

1st Place – Penasco Team-200 Pounds

2nd Pace – Chamisal Team- 172 Pounds

3rd Place – Espanola Team- 168 Pounds.

Congratulations to the :Penasco Team and Ray Griego who reclaimed First Place (from the Chamisa Team) along with his team members this year. Griego has participated in all nine Garlic Festivals. Penasco, Chamisal and Espanola will be back for the 10th Annual Garlic Festival at Northern NM College that is assured.

As to how it all started: Dr. Camilla Bustamante. A relentless, tireless visionary individual with excellent grant-writing skills, was a former professor at NNMC who created the “Sostenga” (to sustain) farming program and organized the first Garlic Festival nine years ago. Additionally, Sostenga ran “La Tiendita” (The Little Store) in the Johnson Controls, Inc. (JCI) Building which was run by students and located right at the entrance. JCI was a former Los Alamos National Labs (LANL) contractor and the construction of the building utilized a “barn raising” type approach according to Tim Martinez, formerly with the Community Programs Office (CPO), now retired, by securing local contractors for most of the construction of the building. It was part of JCI’s effort to stimulate eoncomic development in the greater Espanola Valley. La Tiendita sold products grown by Sostenga, and although popular, it fell short of the projected revenue. The college was tightening  up finances at the time and the administration made the decision to close La Tiendita. Also getting its funding cut was the commercial kitchen located in the same building. After remaining shuttered for a about three years, the commercial kitchen is back at Northern with the help of Rio Arriba County.The Sostenga program and the Garlic Festival are still going strong at the Northern in the JCI building, off Railroad Avenue on the east end of the college campus.