Don Christopher, who grew a handful of garlic fields into an internationally recognized brand and whose philanthropic work helped youth reach their educational goals, died surrounded by his family on Dec. 12. He was 88.
Christopher, a third generation farmer, founded Christopher Ranch in 1956 on 10 acres of land in Gilroy after receiving a loan from his father.
By the 1980s, the ranch was growing 10 million pounds of garlic, and at the decade’s end it had reached 100 million pounds annually, a feat that continues to this day.
Christopher was one of the co-founders of the Gilroy Garlic Festival in 1979, which started off as a way to draw some attention to the burgeoning industry, but quickly turned into a cultural phenomenon that attracted attendees from all over the world.
Later in life, Christopher, still working part time at the ranch up until 2020, took it upon himself to make sure the young people of Gilroy could attain their educational goals, providing not only hundreds of scholarships, but also contributing millions of dollars and countless hours to the Don Christopher Sports Complex at the eponymous Christopher High School, among many other activities.
That philanthropic spirit led to the creation of the Christopher Family Foundation in 2019, which supports educational programs for youth.
“He had four loves in his life: his family, the ranch, the Gilroy Garlic Festival, and his commitment to the next generation of Gilroy’s youth,” said his grandson Ken Christopher. “When you think about legacy and what you leave behind, I truly don’t think he understood the magnitude and gravity of what he accomplished in just one life. It’s almost like he lived 10 lives.”
Erik Chalhoub is editor of the Gilroy Dispatch.