Gilroy Garlic. Over the years, the words have become so synonymous it is hard to think of one without the other. Growing up in Gilroy, as a member of the third generation of a “garlic family,” the association of this identity has become part of my DNA.
Waking up this morning to news alerts proclaiming the end to the Gilroy Garlic Festival as we all know it was taxing to say the least. To think of the end of our cherished, time-honored event is frankly quite unnerving.
While the Garlic Festival belongs to all Gilroyans, it has always held a sacred place in my family’s heart. Over 40 years ago, my grandparents were instrumental in launching the very first Festival. Back then they had no idea what a cultural phenomenon they were about to start. Years later, it’s astonishing to look back and see the legacy that they helped to build.
In no way should the tragedy of the summer of 2019 be forgotten. The loss that the families and our community endured was incalculable. But it was my great hope that we’d find a way to chart a path forward, together. In rebuilding that which was lost, I imagined that we’d all be able to heal and pivot to a brighter future.
Sadly, it looks like this will not be the case. But it’s not for lack of effort.
Social media has a funny way of amplifying grievances and ire. Too often, those not in know have a maddening and often strange way of expressing their opinions on online channels, and I want to try to set the record straight:
The end of the Gilroy Garlic Festival as we know it is not due to a lack of effort. The Gilroy Garlic Festival Association is built on an incredible bedrock of volunteers that have endeavored to make our hometown great. The Board of Directors exhausted every single avenue for staging a return for Gilroy’s cherished summer Festival. Every idea, every thought, and every curiosity that could be proposed, was proposed, but sadly they were met with barriers in one particular direction.
It seems to me that the City of Gilroy simply gave up on the Gilroy Garlic Festival. The Festival had a multi-decade partnership with the City, but now it seems that the City no longer wants to be a partner. In requiring outrageous insurance coverage for the event, our local officials put an end to something that means so much to so many.
Attendance needed to be improved, yes. And busing wasn’t ideal. But the City’s refusal to budge on insurance requirements is what served as the greatest roadblock to staging the return of the Festival. The City also failed to offer assistance in alternate venue sites, even for a smaller scale event.
The fear of lawsuits and liability seems to plague Gilroy’s local officials, and this fear has culminated into the end of our hometown’s annual homecoming. We shouldn’t be living in a world of fear. We should be living in a world where we work together to achieve greatness. And that greatness was witnessed each and every year at the Gilroy Garlic Festival.
With over $12 million going back to countless non-profit organizations over the years, the Festival has made an impact like no other. Our hometown is better for it, and I for one will always remember to look back and remember what it meant to me and my family.
Ken Christopher is the executive vice president of Christopher Ranch.