Bethany Clough

Forget Gilroy. Fresno makes a play for title of garlic capital with its own festival

Gilroy is the garlic capital of the U.S., right?

Nope. Not according to the numbers. It’s actually Fresno – and it’s getting its own garlic festival to celebrate.

The first Fresno Garlic Festival happens from 4 p.m. to 10 p.m. Tuesday, May 28 at the River Park Shopping Center. It is free. It will feature about 100 kinds of garlic-infused foods, from traditional ones like garlic french fries to unusual ones like a sweet garlic cream-filled cannoli.

But hold up a minute. What about Gilroy? It has hosted the gargantuan Gilroy Garlic Festival for decades and is generally known as the garlic capital of the country.

So here’s where we look at the numbers. When it comes to growing garlic, Fresno County blows Gilroy and the county it’s in, Santa Clara County, out of the water and has for years, according to each county’s official crop reports.

Fresno County grew 25,060 acres of garlic in 2017. Santa Clara County grew 761 acres.

In dollars, Fresno County brought in $144 million from growing the crop. Santa Clara brought in $5.4 million.

About 90 percent of the state’s garlic is grown in Fresno County, with a little in Kings County, said Bob Ehn, technical manager of the California Garlic and Onion research Advisory Board.

But Gilroy has the festival and two large processing plants, including the one Fresnans drive past on their way to the Bay Area that sends the smell of garlic wafting into their cars. Christopher Ranch, a huge garlic grower, processor and shipper, is a sponsor of the festival and is based in Gilroy.

The food

But back to the Fresno event. It’s a beefed-up version of the farmers market that happens every Tuesday at River Park, an event that has grown significantly recently.

There will be a 20-foot tall inflatable garlic bulb at the event for selfie takers.

The more than 100 garlic-infused foods that will be available include garlic tacos, garlic calamari, garlic kettle corn, five kinds of garlic fries, four garlic pesto pastas, garlic bacon cheeseburgers and garlic pot stickers.

Free garlic ice cream will also be available, along with two live bands and bounce houses.

Farmers, food trucks and vendors that typically attend the farmers market will be there, too.

Peter De Young, the executive director of the California Fresh Farmers Market Association and organizer of the River Park Farmers Market, acknowledged that the Fresno Garlic Festival is starting small – but so did the Gilroy festival, he said in a new release emailed to The Bee.

“We love the Gilroy Garlic Festival, it’s a fabulous event,” he said. “But they have worn the crown long enough. It’s time our local growers take it home.”

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Bethany Clough covers restaurants and retail for The Fresno Bee. A reporter for 20 years, she now works to answer readers’ questions about business openings, closings and other business news. She has a degree in journalism from Syracuse University and her last name is pronounced Cluff.
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