This fall, one of Revelstoke’s most popular, whimsical, and unique festivals will return for the first time since before the COVID-19 pandemic in a new location, and under new management.
The Revelstoke Local Food Initiative (LFI), alongside Sarah Harper and Stu Smith of Stoke the Fire, announced the return of Revelstoke’s Garlic Festival, set to take place from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. at Queen Elizabeth Park on Sept. 17, 2023.
The new-look and new-locale version of the festival was resurrected by the LFI. Harper and Smith, who hosted the event at their farm on Track Street annually from 2014–2019, passed on the intellectual property for the event, including their learned expertise.
The history of the festival
The idea for the Garlic Festival in Revelstoke was born in 2013. Smith and Harper, whose business was primarily selling produce through their business Track Street Growers at the time, sold their garlic at the end of the season as their ‘cash crop’. The only problem was selling pounds of garlic to customers individually was taking too much of their time, especially during the harvest season.
They decided to host a ‘garlic garage sale’ without knowing what the gathering would grow into.
That first year, roughly 200 people showed up to get their winter’s worth of bulbs. The next year, the turn-out more than doubled, with 500 people showing up to their Track St. property.
The festival became a celebration of the harvest season, kitted out with a full lineup of local bands, a whole host of vendors, and importantly for Harper and Smith, it was self sustainable.
In 2016, the festival really started to take shape. The LFI came onboard with Harper and Smith to do some brainstorming on how they could grow the unique event. Combined with extra hands, volunteers, and some spotlight in the press, led to their most successful event at the time.
More than 1200 people showed up for the third iteration of the Garlic Festival in 2016. “Whoa, this has momentum,” thought Smith and Harper.
In 2018, the festival hosted 1600 people, the most they would ever see on their eclectic property. Then, in 2019, 1100 attended in the pouring rain. That year, Harper and Smith won the Tourism and Attractions Excellence Award at the Revelstoke Chamber of Commerce’s Business Excellence Awards up against ‘huge’ organizations like Selkirk Tangiers and Revelstoke Mountain Resort.
Then, the incredible momentum of their festival was halted, along with the rest of the world, by the COVID-19 pandemic. During that time, their focus shifted to another project: Stoke the Fire Hot Sauce.
“It’s the coolest thing I’ve ever been a part of,” said Smith about their hot sauce business. According to the couple, the brand is starting to get good recognition throughout the region and sells in 50 retail stores around the Kootenays and Okanagan.
With the growth of the business in mind, Harper and Smith decided to hand off the Garlic Festival so that the momentum they worked so hard to cultivate could grow under the stewardship of the LFI.
With the popular festival now being controlled by a local not-for-profit, Harper hopes that the event can act as a fundraiser, potentially financially supporting the bulk of the LFI’s programming going forward.
“We’re up-potting our festival,” said Smith with a grin. “If we stayed here, it would only be smaller than it had ever been before, which is the wrong direction.”
A special little vegetable
According to Harper and Smith, regional garlic is a special commodity, and loading up on locally grown garlic before the winter season is important to avoid having to use the lower-quality bulbs available at grocery chains.
Garlic Festivals are popular around North America and close to home. Just south of the river, the Hills Garlic Festival is gearing up to host its 28th annual festival in New Denver.
In 1993, 50 people attended the first festival the Hills Community Doukhobour Hall in the Slocan Valley. Now, thousands from around the Kootenays attend the annual event.
Smith remembers chatting with the founder of the Hills festival while the Revelstoke festival was in the works. “Be careful what you create, it might get away from you,” he warned.
Garlic also played a significant role in Harper and Smith’s relationship.
As a romantic gesture, one day Smith decided to demonstrate his love for Harper by using garlic.
“I was living here in this house, and came home to a whole bunch of garlic in the shape of a heart on my front porch,” said Harper.
“He romanced me with garlic,” she laughed.
Going forward, the LFI will take over the reins of the festival and are looking forward to the rebirth of the Revelstoke Garlic Festival at Queen Elizabeth Park on Sept. 17, 2023.
Stoke the Fire will be sponsoring the painting of the annual ‘peek-through’, an interactive art piece at the festival. Harper will also sit on the planning committee for the festival.
“Other than that, we’re just gonna go along for the ride,” said Harper.
Although stepping away from the festival has been hard for the couple, they noted the ‘observable emotional rollercoaster’ that came along with the planning and execution of the event.
Harper says the pair aren’t quite done with hosting events at their Track St. farm just yet, and that something ‘smaller and spicier’ is in the works to take place in the future.
Anyone looking to get involved as a vendor, sponsor, or volunteer for this year’s garlic festival should contact firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit revelstokelocalfood.com.