Benson Family Days and Burdock Festival

B y Lee Tugas

No one has submitted Benson’s Aug. 11 Burdock Festival for submission to the Guinness Book of World Records, but the town will consider it.

“I’ll bring up the idea at the next meeting of the select board,” said Sue Jansen, one of many festival organizers and a select board member.

The full title for the festival, taking place from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Sunday, Aug. 11, is Benson Family Days and Burdock Festival. According to Jansen, the spikier part of the festival emerged from “local lore.”

Legend has it that more than two decades ago, three young men were mesmerized by the presence of a large burdock plant that had sprouted in the center of a greenhouse. Impressed by the formidable weed, the men wondered if there were any other larger, “burr-ier” plants in town. Out of this debate a burdock-growing contest was born. And like the proverbial burr that sticks to one’s clothing, the plant contest has attached itself to Benson and shows no sign of letting go.

The size of the plant’s involvement in the festival waxes and wanes from year to year, depending on local interest. When the plant has been in the ascendant, a Burdock Queen has presided over Benson festivals—her chariot, an antique manure spreader. But each year, regardless of the size of the burdock crop, Benson residents steadfastly craft displays and sculptures out of the “biennial thistle” for what has become one of Benson’s largest, yearly community events, an event whose plant promotes egalitarianism in the arts, Jansen quipped.
“We’re not a town with a lot of money,” Jansen said. “But we’ve got a lot of burdock.”

Anyone in town can access it. It’s an artistic medium available to anyone.” The tough burdock has been used to make durable burdock clothing. Both a ballerina and Lake Champlain’s “Champ” have been immortalized in prickles. Such sculptures are evaluated by a panel of three judges who distribute awards in various categories.

Burdock sculptors are asked to bring their creations to the town office building at 9 a.m. Awards are given out at 10 a.m., just before the Festival Parade. This year’s theme for the parade is “Pirates.”

Pirates dressed in burdock?

“Maybe, you never know,” Jansen said, “anyone can be in the parade.”

Of course Jansen particularly stressed that Burdock is not the only aspect of a town-wide festival, which she added is one of two principal fund-raising sources for the Benson Fire Department, the other being autumn’s Haunted Hayride.

From 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m., the Benson Fire Department holds its annual barbecue, this year offering roast beef, ham, baked potato, vegetable and dessert. At 1 p.m. there is not only a tractor pull, but also a riding lawn mower pull. And there is one final contest, a judging of photographs and paintings of winter scenes from the year 2012-13 in Benson. Throughout the day, visitors can examine historical artifacts at the Benson Museum while a tag sale is held all day at the church.

Because the festival wears two titles—Family Days and Burdock Festival—there is some uncertainty on the exact number of years the festival has been held, town officials indicated.

But there is no doubt that the long-established festival is a town-wide celebration, and that many people and objects will be sporting burdock.

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