Food · Fresno

ARPA aroma: Fresno Co. doles $225k of Federal COVID relief to Garlic Fest

The Fresno County Board of Supervisors have, apparently, stumbled on a new type of smell test for COVID-19: a garlic festival.

Tuesday, in a rare moment at the Fresno County Hall of Records, the Fresno County Board of Supervisors found themselves in a bit of a dispute. 

The subject of the argument revolved around one key question: Should the county spend a hefty six-figure sum from its federal COVID-19 pandemic stimulus money from the on garlic? 

The answer turned out to be “yes,” on a split 3-2 vote. 

With the nod of approval Tuesday, the board agreed to allocate $225,000 from its $194 million American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 (ARPA) funds to the 2022 National Garlic Festival and Food Expo, which is scheduled to take place at the Fresno County Fairgrounds in May. 

Festival organizers Peter and Nico De Young said the money will be used to market the inaugural event. 

They also said the event would not be able to be held without receiving the full requested amount. 

Fresno County received $74 million worth of requests from the community for various funding projects, but the county will not be able to fund all of them with its ARPA funds since it has set aside $37 million for such proposals. 

The garlic festival is eligible to receive ARPA funding because it addresses the negative impacts to local tourism and the hospitality sector. 

With 77 percent of California’s garlic grown in Fresno County, Peter De Young urged the supervisors to take action and start a movement. 

“If there’s a question of whether or not this is worthwhile, look at what Gilroy did with our garlic,” De Young said. “If you ask people in the United States where’s the garlic capital of the United States, they’re going to say Gilroy. Well, Gilroy processed it, and they have a great marketing ploy, a great marketing team. We need to bring that home. Fresno County owns this. Our farmers deserve this.” 

De Young ultimately got his wish as the county decided to financially back the event – with the condition that the county is tied to the festival’s marketing – but not before hearing strong opposition from Board Chair Brian Pacheco. 

“I stand in firm opposition to this,” Pacheco said. “In my opinion this should be a privately funded event. I don’t believe ARPA money is intended for this. I don’t see any revenue lost because it was never started, so I find that argument to be weak – $225,000 is far, far too excessive of public taxpayer money essentially going to a festival, in my opinion, and I have a hard, hard time with that.” 

Supervisor Buddy Mendes joined Pacheco in opposition, saying he would be open to giving a lesser amount to the festival, but not the full $225,000. 

However, Supervisors Nathan Magsig, Steve Brandau and Sal Quintero pushed the money through and all agreed that the festival has the potential to bring significant money into Fresno County annually through tourism. 

“I see an opportunity where we’re not just giving money away, but having an opportunity to seed an event that actually will generate more resources than consumed in the process,” Magsig said. “And for me, as I understand it – with the ask being to help to promote the event through commercials, billboards potentially and even signage – one of the opportunities I see is helping to brand Fresno County as a region, helping people understand that we do produce more garlic than any other region.” 

Daniel Gligich is a reporter for The San Joaquin Valley Sun, focusing on Fresno State Athletics and the southern San Joaquin Valley. Email him at daniel.gligich@sjvsun.com.