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 drew more than 100,000 visitors eating garlic bread and drinking garlic wine made from crops donated by Christopher Ranch. They watched Iron Chef contestants and Food Network stars prepare dishes with garlic and posed for photos with Herbie, the festival’s mascot.
The success of the festival, which earned Gilroy the nickname Garlic Capital of the World, reflected the nationwide sales boom. From 1975 to 1994, America’s annual garlic production more than tripled from 140 million to 493 million pounds.
“We made fun of garlic,” Mr. Christopher told Linda and Fred Griffith for their 1998 book Garlic Garlic Garlic: More than 200 Exceptional Recipes for the World’s Most Indispensable Ingredient. “There are garlic festivals everywhere. And all those health considerations. It’s always in the news.”
Donald Clair Christopher was born Aug. November 1934 to 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; his 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 he found plums boring. And he wanted his own land, but the land around San Jose was already suburbanized. After studying business administration for a few years at San Jose State University, he and his brother moved south to Gilroy, where they bought the first acreage at Christopher Ranch in 1956. They planted lima beans, sugar beets, and afterwards 10 acres of garlic.
The man who sold them the land, Mr. Christopher later recalled and said to him: “Young man, I am glad that someone is coming who wants to be a farmer.”