One of the most popular food festivals in America is back but not without controversy.
If you grew up in the San Francisco Bay area, you were lucky to have your pick of food festivals in the Summer months. The king of all food festivals is the Gilroy Garlic Festival in Gilroy, CA. Chefs from around the world come to the festival to cook and enjoy incredible foods found in Gourmet Alley. The festival falls on the last full weekend of July. The festival offered free samples of garlic ice cream to the more adventurous eaters.
On July 28, 2019, everything changed. The Garlic Festival made national headlines when a 19-year-old male used a WASR-10 Semi-Automatic rifle (A Romanian version of the AK-47) to kill three people and injure 17 more. Police shot the gunman several times before he took his own life.
After this incredible tragedy, Covid took over and it wasn't held for the last two years. With all that went on, insurance companies stepped in and raised their insurance rates 250% to between $150-200,000 for the 3 days. In April of this year, the 42-year-old Gilroy Garlic Festival Association announced that the 3-day festival was canceled for the foreseeable future. They did say they would continue holding some of their smaller events including their charity golf tournament, concerts, and smaller dinners.
It only took two weeks before someone wanted to do their own garlic festival. Without contacting the Gilroy Garlic Festival Association, Stockton promoter Tony Noceti announced the festival would live on in nearby Stockton. The event is being held on August 13-14 with the Gourmet Alley coming back. It is called the California Garlic Festival. Noceti is also the sponsor of the San Joaquin Asparagus Festival. He is bringing back the beauty pageants, kids games and attractions, monster truck rides as well as demonstrations and a car show. It will be held at the San Joaquin County Fairgrounds.
Ken Christopher, a 3rd generation garlic grower and the grandson of the Gilroy Garlic Festivals founder, was not happy. He felt Noceti was malicious in holding the festival without their say. Legally a festival can be held anywhere. Garlic festivals are one of the most popular festivals in America. Noceti talks about the importance of the Garlic Festival to non-profits who use it as a great fundraiser every year, as well as the small businesses in Stockton and Gilroy that rely on a big summer due to the business it creates. So far the GGFA says it has raised over $12 million over the years.
Most locals feel the festival should stay in Gilroy and hope some day it returns. Noceti has stated that he may look into having it in Gilroy in the future if he can find a place and pay for the costly insurance. As of right now, the war goes on but so will the garlic festival.