Chinese Garlic Stinks

Those of you who live in the area know that the sweet-smelling town of Gilroy is known as the “Garlic Capitol of the World”, right?

Wrong. It really should be called the “Garlic Festival Capitol of the World.”

Gilroy self-proclaimed itself the Garlic Capitol back in 1979 in an effort to generate the largest attendance rate of a garlic-related festival in the world and, more specifically, to beat out the previous record holder of the town of Arleux in France.

Garlic is consumed more and more each year in the United States, but Gilroy can’t claim to be the world’s major production location. According to the Economic Research Service arm of the US Department of Agriculture, the average American consumed half a pound of garlic in 1981. In 1991, the number jumped to 1.2 pounds per person. The latest figures (from 2001) show 2.0 pounds per year is now the norm, down from an astounding peak of 2.7 pounds per person in 1999. Despite the increased usage, the United States production of garlic is decreasing and imports of cheaper products are increasing. In 1968, all garlic consumed in the US was made in the US. The Chinese have stolen the apocryphal title of garlic production king from Gilroy, and are supplying us with a large percentage of the consumable product.

Beginning in 1994, a glut produced by over-eager Chinese exporters dropped the delivered price of garlic in US ports to a low of just 10 cents per pound. Now the wholesale price is around 15 cents per pound, but despite a federal import tariff of almost 400% on garlic imported from China, American growers cannot economically compete when their wholesale prices approach 80 cents per pound. The difference? A Chinese farming community that is three times larger than the entire population of the United States and that works for incredibly low wages. Gilroy’s (and the nation’s) largest garlic producing company, Christopher Ranch, and its nearest competitor, Bakersfield’s Garlic Company, have been importing garlic from China since mid-2003. What else can they do when US farm workers earn a salary 68 times that of the prolific Chinese? Even the Mexican garlic industry can’t compete with wages that are five times higher than those in China.

Christopher Ranch grew 100 million pounds of garlic for American consumers in 1998. That was slightly more than 18 percent of all garlic grown in the United States, and 12 percent of all garlic consumed. In contrast, this year, Christopher Ranch’s production will be less than 60 million pounds, only 6 percent of the United States’ consumption. Domestic production will only continue to fall as Christopher Ranch, like other withering major garlic producers in the US, succumb to the economic necessity of selling cheap imports from China.

Within a decade, all but the most perishable crops or expensive organics will be imported into the United States. Farming will become a part of American history, as has the textile and apparel industries. Thank you, free trade.

So, anyone know how to get to this year’s Yichang-Wanzhou Garlic Festival?