With nod from state, Gilfeather Turnip Festival to be extra special this year


WARDSBORO >> This year's Gilfeather Turnip Festival is one for the books.

After all, the vegetable's just made it into Vermont law books.

"This is our 14th year and it has gotten bigger and bigger every year. There's always something different, something new," said Anita Rafael, festival volunteer. "But this is the first year we're celebrating the Gilfeather Turnip as the state vegetable."

The Gilfeather Turnip was officially named the state vegetable for Vermont in July. An art show celebrating the vegetable is already underway at the Wardsboro Library. The display of turnip-themed work will still be up during the festival on Saturday. The show will open at 9 a.m., an hour before the festival starts. There are no entrance fees for festival happening along Main Street in Wardsboro and the event goes until 3 p.m.

Rep. Laura Sibilia, I-Dover, said she is definitely attending the festival and can't wait to go.

"Two of the biggest reasons are the kids who worked so hard on the legislation and of course, the famous turnip soup! I think there is a fair amount of new interest in the festival since the Gilfeather was named as the state vegetable and I expect there will be even larger crowds then normal," Sibilia said. "I have also sent an invitation to all off my fellow legislators in the Vermont House and Senate who worked with the kids during the last two sessions."

Students from Wardsboro had earned some fame when the bill was being passed. They had travelled up to the Statehouse in Montpelier for the signing.

In previous years, the Friends of the Wardsboro Library celebrated the turnip's history in their town.

"Last year, it hadn't been passed by the House or Senate. We had our fingers crossed last year," said Rafael.

This time around, there's a special reissue of the Gilfeather Turnip Cookbook. The third edition features only recipes using turnips. In the past, the book would have a mixture of recipes, not all of them turnip-based.

The cover now reads, "The Cookbook of the Official State Vegetable." More than 100 recipes are available in the paperback publication being sold for $20 at the festival and $25 online at friendsofwardsborolibrary.org.

"I know it's not a big deal for the world, but it raises money for the Friends of the Wardsboro Library," said Rafael of the volunteer group made up of members from Wardsboro, Stratton and Jamaica.

The Gilfeather Turnip, if kept in the ground for a sustained cold spell or several hours below 20 degree, turns sweet.

"That hard frost triggers the turnip to produce sugar," Rafael said. "Some of the recipes we've had to cut back on the sugar because there's so much sugar in the turnip."

Over 1,000 pounds of turnips will be available to festival attendees, according to Rafael. The vegetable can be obtained at the event by visiting the Turnip Cart.

Turnip latkes sold out during last year's festival. This year, the plan is to make 400 or 500 of them. WCAX is going to air a segment about how to cook them on Sunday.

The festival's turnip contest features four categories for awards, such as best name, largest grown in Wardsboro, largest grown outside Wardsboro, and best strange and funny turnip. Plus, a grand champion will be named.

"Last year, we had Bernie Sanders turnips," Rafael said, referring to the U.S. senator from Vermont who made a bid for president in this year's election. "Some are dressed up as John Gilfeather. He was in the state Legislature, on the town Select Board. He was a little more than just a farmer. People think this is ancient history but the farm still exists."

Gilfeather was the one who came up with the crop.

Like Sibilia said, turnip soup is served at the festival, and it can be ordered to go. Vendors bring pop-up tents. Most items sold could be compared to those found in farmers markets. Town Hall is set up similar to a store, with turnip clothing and souvenirs.

At the Turnip Cafe, Rafael said, "We have turnip tastings."

The Newfane-based Four Columns Inn is providing all the ingredients except the turnips for its Gilfeather Soup, which will be available at the festival. The recipe's featured in the cookbook.

Musicians also perform at the festival. The newly rehabilitated stage on the second floor of Town Hall will see Jean Chaine perform solo guitar from 11 a.m. to 12 p.m. Up next will be The Stratton Town Hall Boys. Tim Robinson will play from 1 to 2:30 p.m. Under the portico at the Town Clerk's Office, Bad To Be Good is set to perform blues and rock songs first followed by Country Mix.

The committee organizing the festival is made up of about six people. At least a dozen or so others assist in other ways.

"We're keeping our fingers crossed it doesn't snow. The weather's looking better every day. I don't know if that's good or bad," said Linda Gifkins, co-chair of the committee. "We're just sort of tying up loose ends, making sure we got all the volunteers we need."

Advertising, tent delivery, ingredients for dishes served at the cafe, signage, and having t-shirts and aprons ready for the festival all fall under the committee's purview.

Some of the seventh graders "who were very instrumental in getting the bill passed" are going to be "turnip ambassadors," said Gifkins. The students will be taking soup orders from the vendors and bringing them coffee.

As much as the event has to do with the library, Gifkins said, the Gilfeather Turnip belongs to the town.

"We'd like to see as much of the town involved in the festival as possible," she said.

Over 1,000 people were counted among the attendees last year. This year, organizers expect even more to show up. Two tents will be set up rather than the one regularly used.

"So many people called and asked to be in it this year, we had to get a second tent," Rafael said. "So we went and got some more sponsors."

Sponsors include Dutton Farm Stand, the Richards Group and River Valley Credit Union. New this year is a contribution from the Vermont Agency of Agriculture. These organizations help pay some of the costs of putting on the event so the library bank more of the proceeds.

The members of the Friends of the Wardsboro Library group do not keep any of the money, said Rafael.

"It goes right back into the building. Heating, mowing, snow plowing, insurance, electric, maintenance and repairs," she said. "In our town, unlike most towns, the town does not own the library. It's owned by the Friends. We have to pay the bills."

The towns of Wardsboro and Stratton both provide funding for the salaries of a librarian and assistant librarian. Both positions are part-time. The library is open only 20 hours a week.

Rafael called the library a focal point for the town.

"It's the only cultural thing in town," she said. "We run lectures and slideshows and all sorts of stuff. We feel it's important to have a library."

Call Chris Mays at 802-254-2311, ext. 273.


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