California Studies Association

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John Gibler writes on the water/agricultural empire of Stewart and Lynda Resnick

Few people play a more controlling role in California’s water and agriculture than the billionaire owners of Paramount Farming (Roll International) in the San Joaquin Valley – Stewart and Lynda Resnick.  Among other maneuvers that have delivered huge amounts of water for questionable farming practices, the Resnicks managed to get their hands on a large, publicly-developed water bank in Kern County.

Their story and that of the poverty-stricken farmworkers who labor in their fields is told in brilliant detail and aching contrast by author John Gibler in the current (Winter, 2011) issue of the Earth Island Journal. (To link to the article click here.)

Gibler describes the tainted water given to the farmworkers who must then either pay for bottled water from their meager $8 per hour wages or get sick.  The Resnicks deliver better water to their crops than to the people who work for them, writes Gibler.  His descriptions recall conditions that gave rise to the French Revolution:

“During the pounding heat of a summer day most people here are out working in the fields; those at home take refuge indoors from the sun. Only children seem to venture out, spraying each other with garden hoses and seeking out patches of shade in which to play. Around 4 p.m., cars and vans start rolling back into town: Men and women emerge, shoulders hunched, carrying small coolers, and walk, exhausted, to their doors. Many stop off at the Village Market store to buy bottled water or fill up five-gallon jugs at a vending machine……..”

“The Resnicks live in a Beverly Hills mansion on Sunset Boulevard that has been compared, favorably, to the Palace of Versailles. Amy Wilentz, one of few writers to gain access to the Resnicks’ home and publish an account of her visit, described walking through the Resnicks’ house with Lynda as “like taking a tour of pre-Revolutionary France.” Wilentz also cited a “vanity essay” penned by Lynda Resnick that describes her house as “topped off on all four sides with rows of balustrades through which a queen might peek out and utter, ‘Let them eat cake.’”

The article is critically important to on-going deliberations over water allocations in California, not least because it deals with the toxic lands of the west side of the San Joaquin Valley, marginal land that should never have been irrigated, according to UC Berkeley professor of geography Richard Walker, a founding member of the California Studies Association, who is quoted in the story.  The Resnicks bought and planted a big chunk of the Westside and have been fighting ever since for the water to irrigate it – distorting the political process as they go.

As the California Studies Association prepares for its next annual conference this April, which will be all about agriculture in California, this is a must-read article.

Submitted by Patricia McBroom (Dec. 9, 2010)