uses pays off ," Don was quoted as saying in a 1997 festival opening ceremony speech dedicating that year ’ s festival to him . " The Garlic Festival and all of the promotions surrounding it ... have greatly improved the sales of garlic ."
Timing , Innovation , Growth
Don continued to innovate his company as market opportunities presented themselves . During the 1980 ’ s , Christopher Ranch perfected the ability to peel garlic using compressed air , allowing the company to offer additional packaging options in plastic containers and glass jars , like chopped and minced garlic , roasted garlic , garlic pesto , and pickled garlic . The move to in-house packing and selling was a turning point for the company .
Main Image : Don Christopher started from humble beginnings and built the world renown Christopher Ranch . Lower Left : Don , circa 1978 at Christopher Ranch . Above : Gilroy Garlic Festival Founders Don Christopher , Val Filice , and Rudy Melone . The men who put Gilroy and garlic on the map in 1979 .
tee tapped fellow Rotarian and local legend Val Filice to do the cooking . The event was a success . When the Los Angeles Times food editor insisted to Don that Gilroy should host its own garlic festival , he was convinced .
They presented the idea of a full scale festival to Mayor Norman Goodrich , who was also the Rotary President , according to Don , “ He threw us out of his office !”
Despite other “ nos ,” glimmers of progress gave Melone , Christopher , and Filice the courage to host the event themselves with the help of local volunteers . Thus beginning the concept of rewarding anyone who volunteered at the festival by donating to their favorite local charity , based on hours worked .
The first official Gilroy Garlic Festival , held at Bloomfield Ranch , was planned to host 5,000 attendees . Although detractors considered that number impossible , 15,000 people came . Organizers recycled and resold tickets , raced to nearby stores and communities in search of additional ingredients to feed the crowds , and pulled together to pull off a successful event . When the dust settled , Gilroy had a legitimate claim to the title " Garlic Capital of the World ."
The following year , the festival was moved to Christmas Hill Park , where it was held until its final year in 2019 . As the festival grew in popularity over the years , the proceeds donated to local organizations amounted to over $ 12 million dollars . That includes $ 40,000 in donations in 2022 that were raised through a series of smaller events in a new , more intimate format .
By this time , Christopher Ranch was already the largest producer of garlic in the US , producing 10 million pounds per year . By the 1990 ’ s production was at 100 million pounds , where it has remained ever since . Now recognized as the global leader in garlic production , their 2022 production was 105 million pounds , according to Executive VP and grandson Ken Christopher .
The company ’ s signature product , Monviso — a centuries ’ old Italian variety — originated over 60 years ago from seeds grown by Don and Art on the Gilroy property , later in Nevada , and eventually in Oregon . Monviso is the company ’ s exclusive varietal and the only heirloom garlic commercially grown in the US .
Christopher Ranch continues to thrive as a family-run business under the leadership of Don ’ s sons and grandsons , who hold key roles in the company .
A Heart for Children and Education
A philanthropist at heart , Don and his wife , Karen , along with his family have contributed generously to Gilroy schools , the arts and to residents throughout the community .
In 1994 Don partnered with the federal government to build California ’ s first public / private Head Start preschool . Christopher Ranch maintains the facility to this day and the government provides instructors . The facility delivers essential pre-K education to over 30 children , many of whom are the kids of employees . The Head Start facility emphasizes critical English language development skills , which will give the kids the ability to perform at the level of their peers , come kindergarten . Don understood the challenges children of migrant families faced and wanted to give them every opportunity to succeed . “ He knew that when kids fall behind in their formative years , there ’ s a very real risk that they won ’ t catch up . “ This preschool lets our community ’ s kids be ready for kindergarten on day one ,” Ken Christopher told the Packer in 2019 .
Don was always the first to acknowledge that the garlic industry has been a primary beneficiary of the Garlic Festival ’ s far-reaching popularity and promotions .
" An important thing that we learned through our involvement with the Garlic Festival is that promoting garlic and its
Don donated ten acres of land needed to build Gilroy ’ s second high school , which the school district named Christopher High in his honor . He also provided $ 4 million for the building of the “ Don Christopher Sports Complex ” at Christopher High School .
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