have had another important meeting — and for the fact that her own voice was faint; she had cancer. “Oh no, you talk great,” the woman replied with a warm smile, before she began handing out copies of her book,Rubies in the Orchard: How to Uncover the Hidden Gems in Your Business. “To my friend with the sweet voice,” she wrote inside Tijerina’s copy.
It was only later that Tijerina realized the woman owned the almond groves where Tijerina’s husband worked as a pruner. Lynda Resnick and her husband, Stewart, also own a few other things: Teleflora, the nation’s largest flower delivery service; Fiji Water, the best-selling brand of premium bottled water; Pom Wonderful, the iconic pomegranate juice brand; Halos, the insanely popular brand of mandarin oranges formerly known as Cuties; and Wonderful Pistachios, with its “Get Crackin'” ad campaign. The Resnicks are the world’s biggest producers of pistachios and almonds, and they also hold vast groves of lemons, grapefruit, and navel oranges. All told, they claim to own America’s second-largest produce company, worth an estimated $4.2 billion.ps need water. Having shrewdly maneuvered the backroom politics of California’s byzantine water rules, they are now thought to consume more of the state’s water than any other family, farm, or company. They control more of it in some years than what’s used by the residents of Los Angeles and the entire San Francisco Bay Area combined.
Such an incredible stockpiling of the state’s most precious natural resource might have attracted more criticism were it not for the Resnicks’ progressive bona fides. Last year, the couple’s political and charitable donations topped $48 million. They’ve spent $15 million on the 2,500 residents of Lost Hills — roughly 600 of whom work for the couple — funding everything from sidewalks, parks, and playing fields to affordable housing, a preschool, and a health clinic.
Last year, the Resnicks rebranded all their holdings as the Wonderful Company to highlight their focus on healthy products and philanthropy. “Our company has always believed that success means doing well by doing good,” Stewart Resnick said in a press release announcing the name change. “That 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.”
But skeptics note that the Resnicks’ donations to Lost Hills began a few months after Earth Island Journal documented the yawning wealth gap between the couple and their company town, a dusty assemblage of trailer homes, dirt roads, and crumbling infrastructure. They claim the Resnicks’ influence among politicians and liberal celebrities is quietly warping California’s water policies away from the interests of the state’s residents, wildlife, and even most farmers. “I think the Wonderful Company and the Resnicks are truly the top 1 percent wrapped in a green veneer, in a veneer of social justice,” says Barbara Barrigan-Parrilla of Restore the Delta, an advocacy group that represents farmers, fishermen, and environmentalists in the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta, east of San Francisco. “If they truly cared about a sustainable California and farmworkers within their own community, then how things are structured and how they are done by the Wonderful Company would be much different.”
Lynda Resnick’s friends, on the other hand, say she has found her calling. “The work is extraordinary, and rooted in a genuine desire to make a difference in people’s lives,” says media mogul Arianna Huffington. She brushes off any notion that Resnick is in the business of charity for the sake of publicity. “She even turned me down when I asked her to write about it for HuffPost!” she told me. “She does this work because at this point in her life, it’s what she wants to do more than anything.”
In a state of land grabs and Hollywood mythmaking, the Resnicks are well cast as the perfect protagonists. But is their philanthropy just a marketing ploy, or a sincere effort to reform California’s lowest-wage industry? “If you call yourself the Wonderful Company,” Lynda Resnick told me, “you’d better damn well be wonderful, right?”
Sunset House, the Resnicks’ 25,000-square-foot Beaux Arts mansion, is imposing even by Beverly Hills standards. Its cavernous reception hall is bedecked with blown-glass chandeliers, its windows draped with Fortuny curtains, and its drawing room adorned with a life-size statue of Napoleon so heavy that the basement ceiling had to be reinforced to bear its weight. The Resnicks purchased and tore down three adjacent houses to make room for a 22-space parking lot and half an acre of lawn. The estate employs at least seven full-time attendants. “Being invited to a dinner party by Lynda Resnick is like being nominated for an Oscar, only more impressive,” local publicist Michael Levine told the Los Angeles Business Journal. Visitors have included Hollywood A-listers like David Geffen, Steve Martin, and Warren Beatty — or writers like Thomas Friedman, Jared Diamond, and Joan Didion. “I am an intellectual groupie,” Lynda told me. “They are my rock stars.”
A petite 72-year-old, Lynda has a coiffure of upswept ringlets and a coy smile. In conversation, she reminded me of my own charming and crafty Jewish grandmother, a woman adept at calling bluffs at the poker table while bluffing you back. Growing up in Philadelphia in the 1940s, Lynda performed on a TV variety show sponsored by an automat. Her father, Jack Harris, produced the cult hit The Blob and later moved the family to California. Though wealthy enough to afford two Rolls-Royces and a 90210 zip code, he refused to pay for Lynda to attend art school, so she found work in a dress shop, where she tried her hand at creating ads for the store. By the time she was 24, she’d launched her own advertising agency, Lynda Limited, given birth to three children, and gotten divorced. She was struggling to keep things afloat.
Around that time, Lynda started dating Anthony Russo, who worked at a think tank with military analyst Daniel Ellsberg. The Edward Snowden of his day, Ellsberg was later prosecuted for leaking Pentagon documents about the Vietnam War to the press. The trial revealed that he and Russo had spent two weeks in all-night sessions photocopying the Pentagon Papers in Lynda’s office on Melrose Avenue in Los Angeles. She even helped, scissoring the “Top Secret” stamps off documents to “declassify” them. “I did one naughty thing,” she told me. “But if I had to do it again, I would.”he son of a Yiddish-speaking Ukrainian bartender, Stewart paid his way through UCLA by working as a janitor and went on to found White Glove Building Maintenance, which quickly grew to 1,000 employees and made him his first million before he graduated from law school in 1962. When he needed some advertising work, a friend recommended Lynda’s agency. “I never got the account,” she writes in her memoir, “but I sure got the business.” They were married in 1973.
Stewart capitalized on his wife’s marketing prowess. Their first big purchase as a couple, in 1979, was Teleflora, a flower delivery company that Lynda revitalized by pioneering the “flowers in a gift” concept — blooms wilt, but the cut-glass vase and teddy bear live on. In 1985, they acquired the Franklin Mint, which at the time mainly sold commemorative coins and medallions. Lynda expanded into jewelry, dolls, and precision model cars. She was ridiculed for spending $211,000 to buy Jacqueline Kennedy’s fake pearl necklace at auction, but she then sold more than 130,000 replicas for a gross of $26 million.
The Resnicks expanded into agriculture in 1978, mostly as a hedge against inflation. They purchased 2,500 acres of orange trees in California’s Kern County citrus belt. Ten years later, during the state’s last great drought, they snatched up tens of thousands of acres of almond, pistachio, and citrus groves for bargain prices. By 1996, their agricultural company, Paramount Farms, had become the world’s largest producer and packager of pistachios and almonds, with sales of about $1.5 billion; it now owns 130,000 acres of farmland and grosses $4.8 billion.
Along the way, Paramount acquired 100 acres of pomegranate orchards. After the Resnicks’ family physician mentioned the fruit’s key role in Mediterranean folk medicine, Lynda commissioned scientific studies and found that pomegranate juice had more antioxidant properties than red wine. By 2001 she had created Pom and soon was selling juice in little hourglass bottles under the label P♥M, a hint at its supposed cardiac benefits. Less subtle was the national marketing campaign, which showed a Pom bottle with a broken noose around its neck, under the slogan “Cheat death.”
Pom was an overnight sensation, doing millions of dollars in sales by the end of the following year — and cementing Resnick’s status as a marketing genius. “Lynda Resnick is to branding what Warren Buffett is to investing,” Gloria Steinem wrote in 2009, in one of dozens of celebrity blurbs for Rubies in the Orchard.
Sometimes, though, Resnick’s Pom claims went too far. Last year, an appeals judgesided with a Federal Trade Commission ruling saying the company’s ads had overhyped Pom’s ability to prevent heart disease, prostate cancer, and erectile dysfunction. “I think it was unfair,” Resnick told me. “And I think it’s a tragedy if the fresh fruits and vegetables that are really the medicine chest of the 21st century have to adhere to the same rules as a drug that could possibly harm you.”
It wasn’t the first time Resnick had pitched her products as health panaceas. As previously reported in Mother Jones, she marketed Fiji’s “living water” as a healthier alternative to tap water, which the company claimed could contain “4,000 contaminants.” She has pushed the cardiovascular benefits of almonds, touted mandarin oranges as a healthy snack option for kids, and called nutrient-dense pistachios “the skinny nut.” Her $15 million “Get Crackin'” campaign, the largest media buy in the history of snack nuts, included a Super Bowl ad starring Stephen Colbert. Pistachio sales more than doubled in just three months andsteadily increased over the following year to reach $114 million — proving that, sometimes, money really does grow on trees.
With all this newfound wealth, the Resnicks have ratcheted up their philanthropic profile. At first, it was classic civic gifts: $15 million to found UCLA’s Stewart and Lynda Resnick Neuropsychiatric Hospital; $35 million to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art for an exhibition space designed by Renzo Piano and dubbed the Resnick Pavilion; $20 million for the Resnick Sustainability Institute at Caltech, which focuses on making “the breakthroughs that will change the balance of the world’s sustainability.” (W