Don Christopher, Who Turned Lowly Garlic Into a Staple, Dies at 88


Mr. Christopher and his friends thought they would draw a few thousand people to the festival; instead, more than 15,000 came. Within a few years it was attracting more than 100,000 attendees, who noshed on garlic bread and sipped garlic wine, made with crops donated by Christopher Ranch. They watched “Iron Chef” contestants and Food Network stars cook up garlic-centric dishes and posed for photos with Herbie, the festival’s mascot.

The festival’s success, which earned Gilroy the nickname Garlic Capital of the World, reflected the boom in sales nationwide. From 1975 to 1994, America’s annual garlic production more than tripled, to 493 million pounds from 140 million.

“We’ve made garlic fun,” Mr. Christopher told Linda and Fred Griffith for their 1998 book, “Garlic Garlic Garlic: More than 200 Exceptional Recipes for the World’s Most Indispensable Ingredient.” “You’ve got garlic festivals everywhere. And all those health considerations. It’s always in the news.”

Donald Clair Christopher was born on Aug. 4, 1934, into a family of farmers in San Jose, Calif. His paternal grandfather, Ole Christopher, was a Danish immigrant who settled south of the city to raise plums, which he dried into prunes. It was good, steady work, and Don’s father, Art, joined him. His mother, Clara Ann (Hansen) Christopher, was a homemaker.

Along with his grandson Ken, Mr. Christopher is survived by his wife, Karen Christopher; his brother, Art; his sons, Robert and Bill; his stepchildren, Erica Trinchero, Suzie Cornia, Vince Rizzi and Kevin Rizzi; eight other grandchildren; and four great-grandchildren.

Don wanted to be a farmer like his father, but he found prunes dull. And he wanted his own land, but the ground around San Jose was already suburbanizing. After he studied business administration for a few years at San Jose State University, he and his brother headed south, to Gilroy, where in 1956 they bought Christopher Ranch’s first acreage. They planted lima beans, sugar beets and, as an afterthought, 10 acres of garlic.

The man who sold them the land, Mr. Christopher later remembered, told him, “Young man, I’m glad someone is coming in who wants to be a farmer.”