Uncovering the South Valley Roots of Pistacia Global
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Depth of their RootsNovember 2015
By Jordan Venema
Sometimes things have a funny way of coming full circle. Vahid Salehi attests this truth, recalling his first visit to the valley when he was 8 years old. “I remember coming out to Visalia for a summer visit,” he says, and seeing the fields for the first time, his uncles’ orchards.
Almost 30 years later, Salehi now calls Visalia home, and he recently began his own business, Pistacia Global. “Pistacia is actually the genus of the family that the pistachio tree belongs to,” explains Salehi. “We were looking for names of our company, and we wanted to be a little different and a little creative. But we didn’t know we were going to make it harder for ourselves,” he says with a laugh.
Pistacia Global officially began in 2007, but pistachios have been a part of Salehi’s family for generations. “Actually, I’m the fourth generation,” says Salehi. “My father, my grandfather, and his father – they all farmed pistachios.”
It wasn’t until the 1970s that his family first planted roots in California, which is when pistachios really began to take hold in the American market. In that sense, his family included some of the first pistachio farmers in California.
When the market for pistachios began to boom, three of Salehi’s uncles moved from Minnesota, where they were physicians. His father, who studied engineering in Minnesota but went back to Iran, followed his brothers in the ‘80s, after the Iranian revolution.
“Long story short,” says Salehi, “they were interested in pistachio farming because that’s what their father did.”
Since the 1970s, America has blossomed into the world’s second largest pistachio producer, though it grows only about half the pistachios that are grown in Iran. In fact, about 90 percent of pistachios grown in California belong to the Kerman variety, named after the Iranian city where Salehi’s family farmed. “Everybody in that area, the majority of people farm pistachios,” says Salehi, saying it’s like corn in South Dakota – it’s everywhere.
Salehi, who moved to California when he was 14, had no intention to follow the family tradition. “I studied business and finance,” explains Salehi, “and after graduating from college in 2004, I did banking and finance mortgage for a couple years.” But, he says, “I just didn’t enjoy it.”
Salehi reconsidered following his father’s footsteps. “So I decided to come back and get into our roots, farming.” Salehi wanted to work side-by-side with his family, but he also wanted to maintain his independence, so he started his own company, beginning with just 40 acres of his own and another 40 acres “that was the land of a friend who wanted to work with me.”
Whether it was his background in business and finance or the family familiarity with the nut, Pistacia Global grew from 80 acres in 2007 to almost 1,600 acres this year, most of which are in Terra Bella and areas south of Porterville.
Salehi, however, believes the growth has a lot to do with the pistachios themselves: they couldn’t be a much better investment if they grew themselves. He also describes the market as unique. “Pistachios are a great investment, proven long term, which doesn’t swing like stock markets,” he says. “If you look at the curve of farming over the last 20, 30 years, the point has always been up.”
Though the investment is proven, it still requires foresight. Once planted, a pistachio tree takes at least five years before it yields its fruit. Much of the success of Pistacia Global has come word of mouth, from connections of friends and family wanting to invest long-term. Much like the pistachios themselves, the growth was natural.
“We find the ground that’s suitable,” says Salehi, and with the investment purchase acreage. “Once the land is purchased, pretty much everything from A to Z is done through our company.” The investors, he says, don’t even need to worry about farming.
With a little foresight, Salehi has grown a product that’s as good as gold – Nature’s Gold. Pistacia Global sells in bulk, but they also package and sell flavored pistachios in 16-ounce bags, under the name Nature’s Gold. Chili-lemon, jalapeno and garlic, “but roasted and salted,” says Salehi,” nothing compares.”
Nor does belonging to the family tradition. Salehi remembers as a child, “going to the farms with my dad, and sitting in the truck with him… There’s times when I reminisce, and think about him.”
Salehi wasn’t just drawn to pistachios because they’re a proven investment – he was going back to his roots, which had already dug deeply in the ground, both in Iran and here in California.
“We have an attachment to this valley,” says Salehi. “It’s more than a business. It’s about keeping a family tradition going.”
Pistacia Globa • www.pistaciaglobal.com