Today, over 80% of the world’s almonds come from California—where John, Jim, and Joe Gardiner, tucked away in the fertile San Joaquin Valley, are working together across three locations to grow and supply some of the best.
Success in the almond industry certainly wasn’t foreseeable when the brothers’ grandfather started Gardiner Farms, where the almonds are grown today. Like many local growers, he invested in a different crop: cotton. But as the cotton boom of the early 1900s subsided, its prices fell. The San Joaquin Valley’s “holy grail” soil and rare Mediterranean climate (warm, dry summers and cool, wet winters) perfectly suited almonds, a harder-to-grow but more promising crop that virtually no one in the area had planted yet. In the 1980s, the brothers’ father risked the transition, planting their first orchards—and, in order to distribute the nuts, partnered in Treehouse Almonds, a wholesale supplier located 25 miles to the north.
“That’s the evolution of a farm,” says John, the “introverted” middle brother, who lives on Gardiner Farms. Today, he oversees everything from the almond trees’ development to the late-summer harvest. “You have to think constantly about how to sustain it.” Sometimes that means adding a new crop. Sometimes it also means adding a new business.
As the almond crop took off, the Gardiners, like most growers, depended on beekeepers who rent out hives to pollinate their almond trees during the bloom. But confronted with an ever-greater need, the brothers, like their father before them, decided to take a leap. Four years ago, they took over United Honey Bee—a beekeeping operation and apiary where, by early spring, more than a billion bees rouse from their winter’s rest.
Jim, the eldest brother, “runs with the bees,” or tends to them at the apiary (the location of the hives) and transports them from place to place. In preparation for the bloom, he takes the hives to the farm and sticks around to make sure that every tree gets plenty of attention. “Bees are the key to pollinating almonds,” he says. “When it comes to, say, pistachios, a little wind will do it. But almonds need bees, and bees need almonds to build up their strength after winter.”
Once the trees have been pollinated and, months later, the almonds have been harvested (special machines shake them off the trees and then gather them up), the almonds make their way to Treehouse—and into the capable hands of Joe, the youngest brother. First, they’re hulled and shelled, then blanched, roasted, sliced, slivered, and more. Next, they’re shipped, along with house-made products like almond flour and almond butter, to well-known retailers around the world.
The beauty of this family-driven, three-linked supply chain is that it empowers the brothers to control, from beginning to end, the quality of their almonds. But John, Jim, and Joe strive for more than just quality—they also champion sustainability. One major challenge in growing almonds is managing water waste: using water responsibly in a state that faces frequent drought. But Gardiner Farms relies on ultra-efficient irrigation systems to protect the precious resource. The brothers also cut out waste around the almonds themselves. Once the edible kernel has been removed, the hull is used in cattle feed, and the shell burned for fuel.
“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.”
And how often do the brothers actually eat almonds? “I constantly look for restaurant menu items that contain almonds. I eat them every day,” admits Joe. Jim adds: “Especially dark chocolate-covered almonds. Or homemade almond milk.”