The Packer's Tom Karst (left) presents the 2019 Produce Marketer for All Seasons award to Bill Christopher of Christopher Ranch on Oct. 18, who accepted the award on behalf of his father Don Christopher. ( The Packer )

ANAHEIM, Calif. - The Packer has named garlic giant Don Christopher the 2019 Produce Marketer for All Seasons.

Christopher, 85, who founded of Gilroy, Calif.-based Christopher Ranch in 1956, wasn’t able to travel to the Produce Marketing Association event this year.

Editor Tom Karst presented the award Oct. 18 at the Christopher Ranch booth at the PMA expo floor.

Don’s son Bill Christopher, CEO of Christopher Ranch, accepted the award on behalf of his father and the entire Christopher family.

“My dad was never afraid to take risks and he was always the first one to try something new,” Bill Christopher said.

In his remarks, Karst praised Christopher’s great contributions to the industry and to his community.

After starting out growing only 10 acres of garlic, Don Christopher guided Christopher Ranch to be a world-leading garlic marketer, Karst said.

“He was the industry pioneer for pre-peeled garlic, and the discovery that garlic could be peeled using compressed air revolutionized the industry and led to dozens of new products for Christopher Ranch,” Karst said. 

Don Christopher has been an outspoken leader in defense of U.S. growers and in 1994 testified to the US government to investigate illegal Chinese garlic activity and successfully petitioned to get a stiff tariff on Chinese garlic.

The accomplishments of Don Christopher and Christopher Ranch go far beyond produce marketing, Karst said.

With the late Rudy Melone, Don Christoper launched the Gilroy Garlic Festival in 1979. That first year, Karst said the festival drew a crowd of 15,000. The community-focused event has since drawn millions of fans and has contributed untold sums to community efforts.

This year, after the tragic shootings at the festival, Karst said the community’s individuals and companies have donated over $1 million to the recovery and support efforts following the shootings.

In 2015, Christopher was awarded the Glenn George Heart of Philanthropy Award on National Philanthropy Day by the Association of Fundraising Professionals.

“Our winner’s involvement with the community is truly bigger than life,” Karst said.

In the early 1990’s, Don Christopher partnered with the federal government to build California’s first public/private Headstart preschool. Christopher Ranch maintains the facility to this day and the government provides instructors. 

“He did this to benefit the children of economic migrants that came to Gilroy for employment,” said grandson Ken Christopher, executive vice president of Christopher Ranch. “He knew that when kids fall behind in their formative years, theres a very real risk that they won’t catch up. This preschool let’s our community’s kids be ready for kindergarten on day one.”

Don Christopher donated the land that was needed to build Gilroy’s second high school, which the School District named Christopher High in his honor. 

Don opened his first endowed fund with the Gilroy Foundation in 2002 and he also opened a designated fund for Christopher High School in 2008. 

Don and Karen Christopher and Christopher Ranch also do pass-through giving of grants and scholarships through the year through the Gilroy Foundation. The largest one was the building of the

“Don Christopher Sports Complex” at Christopher High School, which cost over $4.5 million, over $4 million of that was funding from Don Christopher.

Christopher Ranch has distributed $700,000 of community grants through Gilroy Foundation, while Don and Karen Christopher have run over $200,000 in community grants through the Gilroy Foundation.

Christopher Ranch, combined with Don and Karen have awarded over $800,000 in scholarships to graduating high school seniors, according to the Gilroy Foundation.

“Christopher Ranch is a family-run business that promotes local farming and supporting their employees and our community,” said Donna Pray, executive director of the Gilroy Foundation. “Don Christopher and the Ranch are true supporters of our community.”

Robert Verloop, chief operating officer and general manager of Salinas-based Coastline Family Farms, said Don and the Christopher Ranch family represent the best about the produce industry.

“They have a tremendous product and they have pride in their product, and that pride, that sense of value, transcends all areas,” he said, noting the company’s close-knit family relationships and employee loyalty.

“The community has benefited greatly from the philanthropic efforts that Don and his family and the entire organization have done,” he said.

Verloop said Don Christopher and Christopher Ranch have not done good works for their own attention, but because it is the right thing to do.

“They are part of the roots of the community that their people come from, and the community they serve,” he said. “Those are values that inherent within the produce industry.”

The Packer’s Produce Marketer of the Year and Marketer for All Seasons awards, dating to 1972, are awarded at the annual Produce Marketing Association convention.  

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