Stewart Resnick is the biggest farmer in the United States, a fact he has tried to keep hidden while he has shaped what we eat, transformed California’s landscape, and ruled entire towns.
Together, the Resnicks have wedded the valley’s hidebound farming culture with L.A.’s celebrity culture. They don’t do agribusiness. Rather, they say, they’re “harvesting health and happiness around the world through our iconic consumer brands.” Their crops aren’t crops but heart-healthy snacks and life-extending elixirs. Stewart refers to the occasional trek between Lost Hills and Beverly Hills — roughly 140 miles — as a “carpetbagger’s distance.” It seems even longer, he says, if you add in the psychological distance of being an East Coast Jew in a California farm belt where Jews are few and far between. Lynda is making the trip on the company jet more often these days. She’s done giving big gifts to Los Angeles museums and mental health hospitals that name buildings after her and Stewart. The south valley — its people and poverty, its obesity and diabetes — is her newest mission.
In Lost Hills, they call her “Lady Lynda.” She shows up in high fashion and stands in the dust and tells them about another charter school or affordable-housing project she is bringing to them. They have no way to grasp the $50 million to $80 million a year that the Resnicks say they are spending on philanthropy. This is a magnitude of intervention that no other agricultural company in California has ever attempted. The giving goes to college scholarships and tutors. It goes to doctors and nurses, trainers and dietitians, who track the weight of workers, prod them to exercise, and wean them off soda and tortillas. As she announces the newest gift, the men and women in the back of the crowd smile and applaud politely and try not to show their faces to the publicity crew she has brought with her to film the event. Many are here without documents, after all.