Trump's tariffs on China and the crackdown on immigration have mixed effects on garlic Town: NPR



Workers are coming out of cosmetically defective garlic (which will be processed separately) at Christopher Ranch's processing plant in Gilroy, California. About 6% of its garlic comes from China; the rest is homemade.

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Workers are coming out of cosmetically defective garlic (which will be processed separately) at Christopher Ranch's processing plant in Gilroy, California. About 6% of its garlic comes from China; the rest is homemade.

Talia Herman for NPR

Gilroy, California is known as the world's capital of garlic. And two Trump administration policies – one on trade, the other on immigration – have a mixed impact on this farming community south of San Francisco.

It is about 50 degrees outside, but for a moment it seems like it's snowing. But the morning air is bitter and salty, and those flakes that fall from the sky are pieces of garlic skin that are moving away from the peeling equipment.

Christopher Ranch in Gilroy is the largest producer of garlic in the country.

Ken Christopher, executive vice president, said that it did not always look so busy. In the 1990s, he says, the industry has been hit hard by imports of cheap Chinese garlic.

"American garlic was trading around $ 40 a box in the 1990s," he says. "Chinese garlic has flooded the market at $ 10 a box and has seriously harmed many American producers."

Gilroy is known for its garlic but only a few farms have survived. Christopher Ranch was the biggest. Ken Christopher says that about 6% of his garlic comes from China. the rest is homemade.

Workers sort the defective garlic at the Christopher Ranch plant. The company employs more than 1,000 people.

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Workers sort the defective garlic at the Christopher Ranch plant. The company employs more than 1,000 people.

Talia Herman for NPR

"It was really difficult," he says. "We are talking about downsizing, reducing the number of hours of work, we had some days off just to get through the year."

This fight lasted for years. Then, in 2016, Donald Trump was elected president. And his position on Chinese imports was pretty clear – tax them.

Christopher went to Washington last year to testify in favor of tariffs on Chinese garlic. This would mean that Chinese garlic in your supermarket would cost a lot more than garlic grown in the United States. When Christopher talks about tariffs, his face lights up. He said ideally that Chinese garlic would be taxed at a rate above 400%. In the end, the Trump administration opted for a 10% fee.

Christopher remembers the announcement: "My colleagues and I started to exchange text messages, e-mails started to circulate, and one of my colleagues actually bought the flag that floated over the US Capitol the day they were adopted. "

A factory worker takes garlic samples to test them. The company Christopher Ranch saw demand for its garlic grow amidst US tariffs on Chinese garlic.

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A factory worker takes garlic samples to test them. The company Christopher Ranch saw demand for its garlic grow amidst US tariffs on Chinese garlic.

Talia Herman for NPR

Shipping trucks (left) are parked at the processing plant (right).

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For many US farmers, who export a large amount of their products, the tariff war with China has taken a heavy toll. Christopher is very sensitive to their fate and thinks that fares are not a long-term solution. But they certainly help. Christopher Ranch said sales had increased about 20% last year. The company even had to extract garlic from the warehouse to cope with increased demand.

But like most US farmers, immigrants make up a significant portion of Gilroy's labor force. And the Trump government crackdown on undocumented work has hit many California farmers hard.

Worker packs garlic into boxes at the factory. Ken Christopher, executive vice president of the company, said that when the Trump administration announced tariffs on China, "my colleagues and I started sending text messages to us, e-mails began to circulate ".

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Worker packs garlic into boxes at the factory. Ken Christopher, executive vice president of the company, said that when the Trump administration announced tariffs on China, "my colleagues and I started sending text messages to us, e-mails began to circulate ".

Talia Herman for NPR

Christopher says that he thinks about it all the time. "If the Republican Party is pro-business, if it wants to support industries across the country, it must realize that immigration is an essential function of that," he said.

Gerardo Barba, coordinator of external relations for Catholic charities, said that the mood had changed here.

"In general, there was a lot more fear … just for fear of going out in public," he says. Barba said that he "had begun to notice changes recently because of the number of arrests actually made by ICE – usually going to people, knocking on the door".

Crossing Gilroy, it is clear that the city has close ties with Mexico. The streets are lined with taquerias, discos and sites on the outskirts of migrant workers occupying townhouses.

The skins of garlic fall on the director of operations Harald Vaernes (right) at the processing plant. The company had to extract garlic from the warehouse to cope with increased demand.

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Christopher Ranch currently employs more than 1,000 people. A man who packs garlic out there told NPR that these are excellent bosses. He is paid 15 dollars an hour, a solid salary for a farm worker. He recently received his green card.

He asked that his name not be used because his family members are undocumented and fear to be deported. If this happens, they asked him to take care of their children.

He says that even if the business is flourishing, there is a lot of fear. And he wonders: if enough people are deported, who will reap all this garlic?

The garlic remains in bins before being processed at the processing plant.

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The garlic remains in bins before being processed at the processing plant.

Talia Herman for NPR

Cold storage (left) and empty the garbage bins at the factory.

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Cold storage (left) and empty the garbage bins at the factory.

Talia Herman for NPR


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