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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Gilroy Gala Glorifies Garlic Goodness

GILROY, California -- Never mind that one of the star attractions is a frozen concoction of milk, sugar and granulated garlic.

Forget that traffic on the only freeway through town is backed up for miles (kilometers) or that it's so hot -- 35 degrees Celsius and rising -- that the endless clouds of dust are starting to stick.

This is the Gilroy Garlic Festival.

And Marilyn Novara, an employee of Gilroy Foods, one of the country's leading garlic processors, knows exactly why she's cooped up in a sauna-like tent serving garlic ice cream to the masses.

"Garlic," she says, "is gold."

The festival, which started in 1979, has earned Gilroy the title of Garlic Capital of the World. But festivals like this have come to mean more than bragging rights. The millions of dollars they generate, for charity and local business, have become enough for many small towns across the country to put up with the inconvenience for a few days.

"You go anywhere in this country, and they've heard of the Gilroy Garlic Festival," says Bruce Skinner, president of the International Festival and Events Association. Skinner's group has 2,400 member festivals worldwide, including the Kentucky Derby, Taste of Chicago and the Tournament of Roses in Pasadena.

But it's the little towns that are most challenged to make room for only a few days a year, installing rows of portable toilets and banks of pay phones.

Consider Gilroy, a bedroom and farming community just south of San Jose that has sometimes attracted more than 150,000 people - about four times its population -- during the three-day festival.

The Garlic Festival has brought in more than $5 million for charities since it began and millions more for local business. It's been so lucrative that surrounding towns are attempting to get a piece of the action.

Nearby Castroville now celebrates the artichoke. Stockton has the asparagus, Watsonville focuses on strawberries and Morgan Hill hosts the Mushroom Mardi Gras.

The fungus fest has some Gilroy residents scoffing.

"It's OK, I guess. But not really," Gilroy resident Edesa Forslan says.

Her biggest complaint? "It's too small."