The organizers of a new garlic festival in Fresno County say the event is not meant to rival Gilroy’s long-standing tradition, but rather, is a celebration of the California-grown bulb and the people behind it.
The National Garlic Festival, put on by National Food Festivals, Inc., will run May 13-15 at the Fresno Fairgrounds, organizers announced Feb. 16.
The Gilroy Garlic Festival’s 2022 series of events, meanwhile, are expected to be announced soon.
“It’s very important to us that the people of Gilroy not think we are trying to take something from them or belittle them for the great work they do and have done,” National Food Festivals CEO Peter DeYoung said. “We are Gilroy’s biggest fan. We share the same goals, to promote California garlic. We have enormous admiration for their festival and hope that it returns.”
National Food Festivals hosted a smaller garlic festival in 2019 to gauge interest among those in the Central Valley. It drew more than 20,000 people who braved the 108-degree heat, DeYoung said, and now with a bigger venue, organizers hope the 2022 event will surpass the world record for attendance at a garlic festival of 109,067 attendees, set by Gilroy in 2011.
DeYoung acknowledged that the rhetoric surrounding that 2019 event was a bit too strong, with organizers proclaiming Fresno County to be the “real” Garlic Capital of the World, noting that its acreage dedicated to growing the bulb far surpasses that of Santa Clara County.
And while that is true—Fresno County harvested 24,660 acres to Santa Clara County’s 450, according to their respective 2020 crop reports—DeYoung said that is no longer the angle the festival is taking, and he expects that language to be eliminated from its marketing materials.
“Our garlic that comes out of the ground in Fresno County may be the largest such crop in the United States, but it’s nothing without the people that turn it into consumable goods,” he said, pointing to the “symbiotic relationship” between garlic growers and processors such as Christopher Ranch in Gilroy. “This is really about California garlic, not about who’s better than someone else.”
DeYoung said the festival hopes to find ways to work with the Gilroy garlic industry, helping promote the importance of the locally grown bulb that faces challenges from Chinese exporters flooding the market.
“We’re open arms, not a fist in the air,” he said, adding that festival organizers have been in contact with Christopher Ranch, the nation’s largest garlic producer. “We shouldn’t be looked at as an adversary. We have much to do for California garlic, and we need to do it together.”
Ken Christopher, executive vice president of Christopher Ranch, said National Food Festivals has been in touch with the Gilroy company to explore ways to promote the crop.
“Nothing has been finalized on our end, but our focus has been and always will be on championing American grown produce, in particular California garlic,” he said. “If Fresno would like to be a part of that narrative, we welcome them in supporting and promoting California garlic farmers.”
The Fresno festival plans to feature more than 300 garlic-inspired foods, a garlic agriculture showcase, performance stages, a carnival and more, in addition to Food Network celebrity chefs teaching attendees garlic-inspired dishes.
Healthcare workers who show their work ID will receive free admission to the festival.
For information, visit nationalgarlicfestival.com.
Jeff Speno, the 2022 president of the Gilroy Garlic Festival Association, said the festival plans to be more than one signature event.
After a canceled 2020 event, the festival returned in 2021 with a drive-thru Gourmet Alley, golf tournament and dinner.
“We will continue to work to connect our community with various smaller events, educational activities and giving opportunities throughout the year,” Speno said, adding that the 2022 events will be announced shortly.
Since 1979, the nonprofit has distributed more than $12 million to local organizations.
“While there are many other garlic festivals throughout the United States, there is only one Gilroy Garlic Festival which is truly the heart of the community,” he said. “Our historic mission to strengthen the bonds within our community is an ongoing commitment.”