gmhTODAY Winter 2023 - Page 24

— Albert Einstein

Don Christopher : A Life Well Lived by gmhTODAY

Only a life lived for others is a life worthwhile

— Albert Einstein

Garlic industry icon , philanthropist , and community advocate , Don Christopher , died on December 12 , 2022 , surrounded by family . He was 88 . His passing marks the end of an era , yet his legacy is forever entrenched in this community .

Humble Beginnings
Don comes from a family of Danish immigrants who settled in the Santa Clara Valley growing plums to produce prunes . Don cut his teeth working on the family farm with his father and uncles , and eventually saw farming as a viable career , hoping to follow in his father ’ s footsteps . However , by the time Don headed to San Jose State to study business , land in the area was getting harder to come by .
In 1956 , in search of affordable land , Don and his brother Art heard about farmers growing garlic in Gilroy . Soon after , they found a 130 acre plot of land along Hwy 25 in south Gilroy .
The brothers found prunes too mundane and decided to grow several different crops , including garlic , on a ten-acre section of the land . Don partnered with local garlic icons like Joseph Gubser and others to get their produce to market . In 1962 , he built his own packing shed and began selling fresh garlic directly .
That market was nothing like today . Garlic was considered a peculiar ingredient found largely in Italian restaurants but it did not have even moderate appeal across the social strata . “ People thought only poor people ate garlic ,” Don recalled during a 1994 Associated Press interview .
Don expanded the garlic crops with each new planting season , eventually encompassing most of his property . That expansion continued until Christopher Ranch garlic was growing on thousands of acres around the south county and throughout the Central Valley .
As Don expanded operations and perfected crop management and practices , the market began to change . Increasing migration to the US in the 1970 ’ s brought more people from Latin American and Asian countries . Americans were also becoming more health conscious , choosing garlic as a flavorful addition to healthier meals . Those social shifts presented opportunities to expand the company ’ s share of the US garlic market .
Garlic soon gained such notoriety it spawned a little event in 1979 down at the south end of town , known as the Gilroy Garlic Festival that would put garlic and the little town of Gilroy , on the map .
A Community Built by Garlic
The idea for the first festival came a year earlier , in 1978 , when then president of Gavilan College , Dr . Rudy Melone , a member of the Gilroy Chamber of Commerce and Gilroy Rotary Club , had read about a French festival that drew 70,000 attendees . The event organizers deemed their community “ Garlic Capital of the World .” In true visionary style , Melone exuberantly approached all his friends , fellow Rotarians , and others to “ sell the dream ” of a local garlic festival to anyone who ’ d listen . He was met with hard “ no ’ s ” and not taken seriously by anyone , including Christopher .
Not to be swayed , Melone convinced enough fellow Rotarians to host a small festival-style luncheon for Rotary members and guests at Christopher Ranch , including the newly formed “ Fresh Garlic Association ,” whose goals were to promote and advance the garlic industry . The Association ’ s promotions director , Caryl Saunders , brought in media people , growers , and local dignitaries . The event host commit-
WINTER 2023 gmhTODAY Magazine gmhtoday . com