Gilroy, California Is Known As The 'Garlic Capital Of The World'

When you get close to the town of Gilroy, California, the air changes. All of a sudden, the scent of garlic fills your nostrils and stays there for as long as you're in the proximity of the town. The explanation for this is the fact that Gilroy is home to Christopher Ranch, the largest garlic grower, and processor in the nation. Their annual harvest regularly exceeds 100 million pounds, which is grown all across the state, but all of which comes to Gilroy for processing. Those kinds of numbers are bound to leave a mark or at the very least, a stench.

The city, home to about 60,000 residents, has become known as the "Garlic Capital of the World," a title bestowed on it in the late 1970s, but the town isn't just a center of agriculture highlighted by the aromatic bulb. With a theme park, plenty of outdoor activities, wineries, and businesses, Gilroy is a thriving, family-friendly town located within driving distance of the entire Bay Area. However, it was one man who saw the potential of highlighting the city on a larger scale that put Gilroy on the map as a destination for foodies and garlic lovers around the world, and he looked to France for inspiration.

A brief history of Gilroy

Following the California Gold Rush in the mid-1800s, many miners found Gilroy to be a suitable place to live because of the vast, fertile land on which they opened new businesses and grew crops. Slowly, elements that attracted people began to be established, like hotels, a blacksmith shop, and railroad access. In the middle of the 19th century, German immigrant Heinrich Kreiser purchased land and cattle in the town, eventually dedicating over 12,000 acres to cattle, making Gilroy more known for dairy and meat than agriculture. 

By the end of the century, Kreiser's property was broken up, sold, and turned into farmland, for the most part. Orchard crops (like fruit trees) dominated the area until the 1960s when they began to be replaced by row crops such as tomatoes and garlic where they positively thrived. The yield was so large that Rudolph J. Melone, the president of a local community college, believed the city could benefit from a festival dedicated to the crop. 

He had learned about a garlic festival in France in a town that called itself the garlic capital of the word and believed his town could outdo it, so he used the title to market Gilroy's first ever Garlic Festival in 1979 and the moniker has described the town ever since. The festival was a wild success and immediately became an annual event, raising millions of dollars for charities over its decades-long run.

Gilroy's claim to fame is the Garlic Festival

Despite Gilroy's impressive growth through the 20th and 21st centuries, the city remains true to its small-town, agricultural roots, and one way it showed this was by hosting the Gilroy Garlic Festival for over 40 years. Upwards of 100,000 people would come from all over the world to celebrate the lauded culinary ingredient during the two-day festival that took place every July. Guests would enjoy live entertainment, craft booths, cooking competitions, food demonstrations by renowned chefs, and a huge choice of garlic-laced food available.

A stretch of vendors sold treats like garlic bread, garlic fries, pasta, calamari, and even the polarizing garlic ice cream. Much to the despair of residents and fans of the festival, it was announced in 2022 that the long-running event was canceled indefinitely. There was talk of it moving to another city but that never came to fruition. Some outlets reported that it was canceled because the festival wasn't bringing in enough money and because of rising costs to put it on. 

The Gilroy Garlic Festival Association still organizes golf outings and dinners to raise money for local charities, but there is currently no word on if the festival itself will return. However, the garlic industry here is as strong as ever and you will still find plenty of businesses and mementos honoring Gilroy's most famous symbol. While the festival is gone for now, the town is still known as the Garlic Capital of the World.