Mr. Christopher and his friends thought they would attract a few thousand people to the festival; instead, more than 15,000 came. Within a few years it was attracting more than 100,000 attendees, who ate garlic bread and drank garlic wine, made from crops donated by Christopher Ranch. They saw “Iron Chef” contestants and Food Network stars cook garlic-centric dishes and pose for photos with festival mascot Herbie.
The success of the festival, which earned Gilroy the nickname the Garlic Capital of the World, reflected booming sales across the country. From 1975 to 1994, annual production of American garlic more than tripled, from 140 million to 493 million pounds.
“We had a lot of fun,” said Mr. Christopher told Linda and Fred Griffith for their 1998 book, “Garlic Garlic: More than 200 Exceptional Recipes for the World’s Most Indispensable Ingredient.” “You have garlic festivals everywhere. And all these health considerations. It’s always in the news.”
Donald Clair Christopher was born on August. 4, 1934, in a farming family in San Jose, California. His paternal grandfather, Ole Christopher, was a Danish immigrant who settled south of the city to grow plums, which he dried into prunes. It was good, steady work, and Don’s father, Art, joined him. His mother, Clara Ann (Hansen) Christopher, was a homemaker.
Along with his grandson Ken, Mr. Christopher is survived by his wife, Karen Christopher; his brother, Art; his sons, Robert and Bill; her stepchildren, Erica Trinchero, Suzie Cornia, Vince Rizzi and Kevin Rizzi; eight other grandchildren; and four great-grandchildren.
Don wanted to be a farmer like his father, but found prunes dry. And he wanted his own land, but the land around San José was already being built up. After studying business administration for a few years at San Jose State University, he and his brother headed south to Gilroy, where in 1956 they bought the first Christopher Ranch acreage. They planted beans, sugar beets and, as an afterthought, 10 hectares of garlic.
The man who sold them the land, Mr. Christopher later recalled and said to him, “Young man, I’m glad that someone who wants to be a farmer is coming.”