Letter: A few thoughts pondering the town’s garlic history

Dear Editor,

Webster defines PIONEER as “one who goes before – preparing the way for others.”

I like to think of my late father Harry Semas as a pioneer. He moved to Gilroy in December l932, at the height of the Great Depression, hoping to make a living off the land for his small family, my mother and

4-year-old me. Growing sugar beets was his expertise. Somehow, Wells Fargo Bank took a risk in those difficult times and granted him a loan. He rented some land, grew some sugar beets, and hauled them himself to Spreckles Sugar Company in Salinas.

In time his acreage grew and, as good row crop farmers know, crop rotation is a must. Intermittent years of tomatoes, lima beans, peas, and finally garlic followed. At the time garlic was only grown in private vegetable gardens in our area. But he talked with other farmers seeking their opinions. In his l950’s journals are such names as, Hirasaki, Dellanina, Kishimura, Yamane, Noll, Fugikawa and Allemand.

And one day he and my mother took off in their green pick-up for eastern Nevada to buy garlic seed from small farms there. My dad and other farmers took a gamble – as farming often is a gamble and requires bravery. They took the chance of growing garlic in our area in substantial acreages and sold it to Gentry Food Processors.

Ultimately, garlic became one of Gilroy’s major crops and we were dubbed “The Garlic Capital of the World.” But that is not the end of my pioneer story.

In 1979 Dr. Rudy Melone, Don Christopher and Val Filice founded a phenomenon, The Gilroy Garlic Festival. It became a premier food festival in our country. Expert chefs came forward. The culinary genius and talent of our own SakaBozzo was born along with wonderful recipes, music, fun and great community spirit.

I think my “Pioneer Dad” would have fancied a Pepper Steak Sandwich or perhaps a new Surf and Turf Wrap. And I’m sure he would have loved what the Gilroy Garlic Festival does for our community.

Jacquelyn Keaveney, Gilroy

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