Every year for the last three decades and longer, garlic growers, shippers, marketers and culinary fans have gathered in late July at the Gilroy Garlic Festival.
This year’s 36th annual festival was July 25-27. Revenues in 2013 totaled more than $2 million.
More than 4,000 volunteers pool their time and talents to put on the show, said Vito Mercado, Nob Hill Foods store director in Gilroy and one of the 4,000 volunteers. Mercado was president of the 2014 festival.
The annual event serves a number of purposes, including bringing garlic to the forefront on its own stage, in one of the chief garlic production regions of the U.S., Mercado said in a news release.
“The Gilroy Garlic Festival was established to provide benefits to local worthy charities and nonprofit groups by promoting the community of Gilroy through a quality celebration of garlic,” he said in a message on the festival’s website.
He noted the festival had raised more than $10 million for local charities and nonprofit groups in its first 35 years.
Mercado noted the festival has something for everyone,” including entertainment, cooking demonstrations, arts and crafts vendors and garlic-centric food.
“We throw one heck of a party for our 100,000 guests every year on the last full weekend in July,” he said.
More than 4 million people have attended Gilroy Garlic Festivals over the years, Mercado noted, adding that the event is “now recognized as one of the world’s greatest summer food fairs.”
The festival was the idea of the late Rudy Melone, president of a local college. He approached Don Christopher, president of Gilroy-based garlic grower-shipper Christopher Ranch, in 1978 with the idea of putting on a festival to celebrate the pungent herb.
The pair launched the event in 1979, and it drew a crowd of 15,000, according to the festival website.
“Kudos to them, said Jim Provost, a partner in West Grove, Pa.-based I Love Produce LLC, a garlic grower-shipper. “I think that has not only a big influence on the garlic industry, but it paved the way for all these other food festivals all over the U.S.”
As for its marketing value, the event probably is as responsible as any other factor for giving birth to the “food culture,” Provost said.
“And I think it even has something to do with the way the popularity of just the food culture has taken off, with the Food Network and even the term ‘foodies,’” Provost said.
Louis Hymel, purchasing and marketing director with Orlando, Fla.-based Spice World Inc., agreed.
“Community events draw a lot of consumer attention. In addition, they draw media attention and excitement,” he said.
Christopher Ranch continues to be actively involved in the Garlic Festival, said Patsy Ross, vice president of marketing.
“Interestingly enough, the fresh garlic consumption rate prior to the festival was 1 pound per-person (annually). The current per-capita consumption is 3 pounds,” she said.