Goats and Garlic Fest returns after three year break

Deyton Cunningham holds Elsa the goat. Photo courtesy Venise Cunningham

Deyton Cunningham holds Elsa the goat. Photo courtesy Venise Cunningham

Fresh produce, fiber arts, herbal tinctures, cuddly miniature baby goats and — of course — tons of garlic are returning to the Plateau in the form of the Garlic and Goats Festival next weekend.

The free event, which has been on a three-year hiatus, will be hosted at the Simple Goodness Sisters Soda Shop in Wilkeson on Aug. 21, from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.

The festival was originally held in Buckley on the Simple Goodness Sisters Farm. It started in 2013 when Venise Cunningham and her husband Ross bought the farm and decided to grow garlic as one of their first crops; even without really promoting the event, the couple said they sold out of the 275 pounds of heirloom garlic in just two weekends.

The event grew year after year as the Cunninghams brought in additional vendors to turn the event into a farmer’s market.

But after the 2018 event, Cunningham was “really” pregnant with her second child, and decided to not plant a garlic crop for a 2019 festival.

And in the following year, she and her sister Belinda Kelly transformed the Simple Goodness Sisters Farm from a crop-based farm to a cocktail farm, growing their own ingredients and making their own syrups for unique cocktails sold at Kelly’s Happy Camper Cocktail Co. traveling trailer bar. Cunningham and Kelly then opened their soda shop in 2020 after a successful crowdfunding campaign.

All the while, Cunningham said she had people ask her when the Goats and Garlic Festival would be coming back.

“We’ve had a four-year break, so it’s hard to tell what the demand’s going to be, but based on previous year’s demands, we’re going to need more garlic,” Cunningham said. “Ever since I stopped doing it, I always get messages every year like, ‘Are you selling seed garlic?’ ‘Can I come buy garlic?’ I get people that show up at the farm in August.”

So, now that the soda shop is running smoothly and things have settled down in her personal life, Cunningham decided to bring the festival back to the Plateau, both to bring some business to the tiny town and encourage locals to start growing their own garlic; she’ll even be giving a presentation on garlic-growing tips and tricks at 2 p.m.

“Garlic is a great crop — this is why I keep coming back to garlic,” Cunningham said. “You don’t have to water it usually; [you get] these really hot spells… when you’re trying to dry it out; the elk and the deer don’t bother it like they do the other stuff, so it ends up being a good crop for everyone.”

There are about 11 major varieties of garlic, many of which will be sold at the festival.