‘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.’
The story of Stewart Resnick – the billionaire that made, and continues to make, his fortune as America’s greatest producing farmer – is the sole focus of the features section in the latest issue of The California Sunday Magazine. With spreads dedicated to the story running back-to-back from page 22 to 75, A Kingdom From Dust is almost 20,000 words long.
This is not the typical way that The California Sunday Magazine, let alone magazines in general, approach lead features. “We figured it would need to be a big piece,” writes Doug McGray, the magazine’s Editor-in-Chief. ”Resnick has lived a big life, a fascinating life, and until now, he has mostly declined to talk about it in public.”
Resnick’s empire spans over 120,000 acres in California’s San Joaquin Valley. When it comes to pistachios alone, he produces 65 percent of America’s yield. The story, however, is not just one of monopoly and wealth; Resnick’s shrewd control of water in the area means that, despite California’s well-documented drought, his produce continues to grow.
The feature has been assigned to just one writer, one photographer, and one illustrator. Mark Arax is an investigative journalist and author who specialises in long-form reports concerning his home state of California. While at first this sole authorship seems somewhat shortsighted – surely such a vast feature would benefit from a plurality of voices – in fact it is Arax’s candid storytelling that make you turn the page. Trent Davis Bailey’s reportage shots provide visual emphasis to the words, focusing on the heat, dust and scale of the sites, an impression at contrast with Denise Nestor’s illustrated chapter numbers featuring idealised, monochrome hanging fruit (above).
This is not just a tale of the Resnicks; Arax gives the essay greater poignancy when told through his own personal anecdotes and recollections. “These places that I am visiting are places where I’ve done time, you know? You have this familiarity and you have friends and family members who work in farming. So you know where to go to find out stuff. But then when it comes time to write, you’re writing about your own home and your own place, and you’re hanging out its dirty laundry. You’re telling its secrets.”
Such huge scope given to one feature also allows a level of detail and scene-setting that stringent magazine word counts rarely afford. A nice example of this are the several opening paragraphs that describe the minutiae along Arax’s drive to the farm. The infamous Highway 99: “The old road,” writes Arax,”that brought the Okies and Mexicans to the fields and deposited a twang on my Armenian tongue.”
The California Sunday Magazine is a monthly title produced in San Francisco and distributed for free in several local Sunday newspapers. According to its publisher, the magazine is made for weekend reading and as such indulges in long-form features written to be consumed and considered at leisure. February’s edition of the magazine is an extreme and well-executed case in point.
Editor-in-chief: Douglas McGray
Creative director: Leo Jung