Christopher Ranch boosts wages

$15 per hour minimum for garlic workers

Workers remove skins from garlic bulbs as they pass by on a conveyor belt at Christopher Ranch in this file photo.

The approximately 600 workers at Christopher Garlic’s production facility in Gilroy in July received a raise that’s part of an aggressive plan to increase wages in the nation’s biggest garlic producer.

The increased wages benefit not only the workers but also the company, said Ken Christopher, Christopher’s executive vice president.

Christopher Ranch increased the minimum wages for its workers from $11 per hour to $13 an hour in January 2017, and increased the company minimum again in July 2018, to $15 per hour.

“We now offer one of the highest minimum wages in the nation, and unlike many other agribusinesses, we’re at full employment and even have a waitlist,” Christopher said.

Christopher Ranch was stung by a Netflix documentary in January that alleged that it benefited from imported garlic harvested by Chinese prison labor. The company has vehemently denied the allegations that it uses any imported Chinese garlic in its products, and believes its wage increase should go a long way to counteract any negative publicity from the documentary.

Field workers are provided by the federal H2A Temporary Agricultural Program. Unlike many other farms, Ken Christopher claims that Christopher Ranch has had no trouble attracting farm workers.

“They work at piece rates, and they are incredibly efficient,” Christopher said. “They make above our corporate minimum wage.”

Gilroy may be the “Garlic Capital of the World,” but only 300 acres out of Christopher Ranch’s 5,500 acres in production in California are in Gilroy.

“Fresh garlic costs between 50 cents to $1 per pound to harvest, with the variance depending on different fields yields and whether it was harvested organically or not,” Christopher said. “From there, depending on the end product, costs will vary wildly whether we sell it as fresh garlic, peeled garlic, roasted garlic or pureed garlic.”

This year Christopher Ranch celebrated the Gilroy Garlic Festival simultaneously with one of its most robust harvests to date, over 100 million pounds. This bumper crop was due in part to increased water and labor availability. Christopher Ranch will only sell American garlic, foregoing imports from Argentina and Spain.

“We have absolutely not, never, used Chinese garlic, past, present or future,” Christopher said. “We take pride in our integrity. We’re not a faceless company. We’re a 62-year family farm that has had success.”

Donating money and product to the Garlic Festival has been a long-term effort by Christopher Ranch and the Christopher family. It’s also a show of gratitude for the support that Gilroy has shown Christopher Ranch.

“Christopher Ranch and the Christopher family donated approximately $200,000 to the Gilroy Garlic Festival this year, with about half of those funds going to sponsoring celebrity chefs,” Christopher said. “About $20,000 was donated in the form of scholarships for the Gilroy Garlic Queen competition.”

Christopher Ranch has invested hundreds of thousands of dollars in new software to track mentions of Christopher Ranch on social media, and Ken Christopher has committed himself to answer emails or requests for tours of the plant.

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