Almond Board of California is celebrating its community by running occasional features on farmers, processors, and others who support the industry, highlighting their commitment to sustainability.1
There are around 6,800 California Almond farms and over 90% are family farms.2 One of these families is the Gardiners, where third-generation farmers – brothers John, Jim, and Joe – work together through a vertically integrated operation to grow and supply our favorite nut.
Their grandfather started Gardiner Farms in the early 1900s growing cotton. When the demand for cotton declined, the family looked at growing something new. In the 1980s, the brothers’ father, Keith Gardiner, planted the farm’s first almond orchards.
Today, John Gardiner – the middle brother – lives on Gardiner Farms and oversees the orchard, tending to the trees as the crop develops all the way through each fall’s annual harvest.
“You have to think constantly about how to sustain [the almond trees],” he says.
The Gardiners – like all almond farmers – depend on bees for pollination and a healthy crop. Four years ago, they decided to take a more hands on approach to these essential pollinators, taking over a beekeeping operation, United Honey Bee.
“We’ve seen so much media hype with the honey bee, and the news often mentions the almond industry. So I just wanted to learn as much as I can about bee health throughout the year, and get in front of it as much as possible,” says Jim, the eldest Gardiner brother, who tends to the bees at United Honey Bee.
In preparation for bloom each year, Jim takes the hives to the farm and works with John to make sure the bees remain healthy and every tree gets the attention it needs.
“The bees are [on the farm] for a short amount of time, but they are very important to us and we are very important to them,” Jim said. “It’s always been our point of view that time stands still during bloom. That is the time for nature to work its magic, and we have to do everything we can to allow that to happen.”
Once the trees have been pollinated Jim’s honey bees, and the crop has been harvested by John in the late-summer, the almonds make their way to Treehouse Almonds, a wholesale distributor where the youngest brother, Joe sells and ships the family’s almonds after they go through hulling, shelling, and processing.
This vertically integrated supply chain – from Jim’s bees to John’s orchard management to Joe’s processing – allows the Gardiner brothers to control the quality of their almonds from beginning to end.
“Sure, our almonds taste good,” says Joe. “But what makes them so special is this legacy that my brothers and I inherited. We want to continue what our grandfather started, and what our father added to it.”
In addition to caring for bees, responsible orchard management and processing a safe crop, the brothers incorporate sustainable practices across their operations to ensure the future success of their operation. Gardiner Farms strives for zero waste with ultra-efficient irrigation systems and by diverting almond hulls (the fuzzy outer layer) for cattle feed and burning the shells for fuel.
The brothers’ father Keith sums up the family’s commitment to growing nutritious food, stating, "farming is our livelihood, our love, our tradition and is something worth protecting.”
Read more about the Gardiner brothers in this Blue Apron blog post.
1California Almond Sustainability Program definition: Sustainable almond farming utilizes production practices that are economically viable and are based upon scientific research, common sense and a respect for the environment, neighbors and employees. The result is a plentiful, nutritious, safe food product.
2USDA. 2012 Census of Agriculture. Oct. 2014.