Stewart and Lynda Resnick of Beverly Hills, California ranked number three on Forbes magazine’s list of the biggest philanthropic gift givers of 2019. They pledged $750 million to the California Institute of Technology (CalTech); the largest gift in the university’s history. The second largest gift to any university, second only to Michael Bloombergâs $1.8 billion to his alma mater John Hopkins. CalTech will use the money to build a 75,000 square foot building; the âResnick Sustainability Resource Centerâ which will fund climate change research and environmental sustainability.
The Resnick family is extremely generous and very controversial.
This story begins back in 1979 when Jimmy Carter was President of the United States. His administration ordered an embargo on all imports from Iran, in retaliation for US diplomats being taken hostage from the US embassy during the Iranian revolution.
The most dramatic and immediate effect of the embargo was the sudden cessation of Iranian oil exports. This caused gasoline shortages and long lines for gas at American service stations. The country was suddenly cut off from Iranâs supply of oil and also itâs supply of pistachios.
Iranian (Persian) pistachio nuts are considered the best in the world and since Californiaâs central valley has the same Mediterranean climate as Iran, farmers in California seized on the opportunity to fill the pistachio gap.
Stewart Resnick had decided to enter the business of agriculture at that time. Forty years after the embargo the USA became the dominant player in the pistachio business surpassing Iran. The company that controls the market is Paramount Farms, owned by Stewart and Lynda Resnick.
Lynda Resnick besides being a mega-farmer is the author of âRubies in the Orchard: How to Uncover the Hidden Gems in Your Business.â This book is replete with tales of marketing strategies that propelled the author and her husband to unimaginable heights of success.
The philanthropic couple also owns a few other well known brands as described in her book. These include: Teleflora, the flower delivery service; Fiji Water, the best selling upscale brand of bottled water; Pom Wonderful, the recognizable pomegranate juice brand; Halos, the preferred brand of easy peel mandarin oranges formerly branded as Cuties; and Wonderful Pistachios , the âGet Crackinâ American grown pistachios. They also have vast groves of almonds, lemons, grapefruit, and navel oranges.
The Resnicks have implied that they control the nations second-largest produce company. They have also estimated that half of American households buy their products.
On one of my road trips, years ago,I drove from Los Angeles to the Mojave Desert to see the aircraft boneyard, northwest of Bakersfield. This is a giant parking lot for commercial aircraft that have been retired from service and sit by the hundreds in the dry desert. It is also where one can still get a glimpse of old TWA , BOAC and PanAm jetliners in there original livery (exterior paint).
Driving along Route 33 in Kern County I found the city of Lost Hills (pop. 2,412). It was there in the heart of the Joaquin Valley, in the springtime where I was able to see 70,000 acres of pink blossoming pistachio and almond trees, blanketing the countryside. This is where 98% of US pistachio production happens, the remainder are harvested in Arizona and New Mexico.
Go on getcrackin.com to watch interesting and amusing pistachio videos.
Resnick bought his first acre of farmland as an investment in 1978. Over the years he bought more and more agricultural land. In 1987 a six year drought brought financial ruin to most of the farmers in the valley, so Resnick started to buy water rights and build aquifers and water pipes. Realizing that crops need water, he managed to work through the byzantine California water rules and legally stockpile water in aquifers and placate his thirsty agricultural crops.
It has been said that this Beverly Hills couple uses more water ( for their agricultural assets) than every home in Los Angeles combined.
Controlling such a massive amount of the stateâs most precious resource should have attracted massive criticism. However, the Resnick empire and their charitable donations have done so much good, that criticism is muted. In Lost Hills alone, they have spent $15 million, funding everything from sidewalks to affordable housing, a preschool and a health clinic, and employed 2,500 local residents.
The Resnicks investment in land and orchards in the Central Valley is now valued at $3 billion. In addition they own 32,000 acres of California citrus trees.
The Resnicks rebranded all their holdings under the umbrella name of Wonderful Company, to accentuate their focus on healthy products and philanthropy. âOur Company has always believed that success means doing well by doing good,â Stewart Resnick explained, âThat is why we place such importance on our extensive community outreach programs, education and health initiatives and sustainability efforts. We are deeply committed to doing our part to build a better world and inspiring others to do the same.â
Lynda Resnick had a long career and an uncanny talent for advertising. In 2001 when her physician casually mentioned pomegranateâs health benefits in Mediterranean folk medicine, she commissioned scientific studies which discovered that the fruit had more antioxidants than red wine. She successfully created and marketed POM pomegranate juice. The unique hourglass shaped small bottles of this healthy elixir became a best seller, under the label POM, which subconsciously suggests cardiac benefits.
Critics argue that POM is more about marketing than science. Stewart, who has survived prostate cancer, drinks 8 ounces of POM everyday along with a pomegranate pill and counters these critics by pointed out that he hasnât had a cold in a decade and has biked 40 miles across Italy at age 77.
They continue to invest in R&D programs to improve drip irrigation systems, to utilize solar power in their facilities, and to cultivate super trees that will yield more fruit while using less water. They have invested $100 million in technological innovations to tackle water shortages and energy costs and alternatives.
The Wonderful Company has also been a leader in minimum wage increases. In 2019 they increased the minimum pay to $15 an hour for all California workers, years before it became state law. Wonderful Education College Scholarships have awarded 2000 college scholarships to students in the Central Valley since 1994. They also continue to support the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles.
More Nutty News
Israel with a population of 7 million people consumes 9 million pounds of pistachios each year, making it the worlds largest pistachio consuming country per-capita more than one pound per person annually. Israelis are also pistachio connoisseurs, and they prefer Persian nuts to the Wonderful âGet Crackinâ pistachios.
Israelis formerly consumed tons of their favorite pistachios until relations between the two countries soured and all trade stopped. Yet, rumors are rampant that Israel continues to import nuts from Turkey that are mislabeled as Turkish pistachios. Many believe that they are actually Persian nuts that are legally shipped from Iran to Turkey and then possibly find their way to Israel. The whole thing is a bit nutty. It is probably time to âGet Crackinâ and crack down on illegal funneling of pistachio nuts.
About the Author: Jake Tewel holds a Masters Degree from YU. He has been a wine seller, caterer and a million miler for the past 15 years. Jake is a best friend, great neighbor, your go to travel person, father, grandfather and loving husband. He is now focusing his efforts on heart healthy nutrition, exercise and travel.