Jimi Valov, a man known as much for his generosity as his farming acumen, is Tulare County Farm Bureau’s Agriculturalist of the Year. Valov, of Tulare, is a grower of pistachios, almonds, alfalfa and grain on 1,800 acres spread throughout Tulare, Kings and Kern counties. Forty years ago, he was one of the first farmers to plant pistachio trees in the San Joaquin Valley and today he is a true ambassador of the crop. He regularly greets friends and acquaintances with a bag of salted pistachios in hand, fresh from the grower cooperative he helped to establish, Horizon Nuts. “I love giving away pistachios to people,” said Valov, who was sporting a vest emblazoned with the words ‘In Nuts We Trust.’ “I love handing them out because I grew them.”
Farming runs in the Valov family, and today the operation reflects the family’s Russian lineage. The Valov family originally farmed near Tblisi, Georgia until leaving for the United States in the early 1900s, eventually settling in the Bakersfield area. Jimi’s father, John, found land prices more reasonable in Tulare County and began growing cotton. Jimi farmed with his father, eventually convincing him that cotton should not be their main source of income — it should be pistachios.
Setting a goal of planting their initial 40 acres in 1983 is an achievement he looks back on fondly, and as an example of perseverance for young agriculturalists. “There will always be people to tell you ‘It can’t be done,” and I had a lot of that, especially when I planted pistachios. Everyone should have a goal in life, and strive for it,” he said.
Today, pistachios grow on 800 acres of Valov Family Farms land. Valov has been married to his wife, Tammy, for 25 years. He explained that in the Russian culture, the father’s name is given as each child’s middle name; for example, he is Jimi John Valov. He speaks proudly of his children, all of whom have an interest in the family operation. They include daughter Journey Jimi Valov, and sons Jade Jimi Valov and Jimi J. Valov, a recent plant science graduate of Cal Poly, SLO who is working alongside his father. Daughter Shyannah Jameson came with his marriage to Tammy, and together, he and Tammy have also raised their niece, Harmony Donaldson, a student at California Baptist University. Valov shares coffee each morning with Tammy, a special time for the couple to get caught up on family activities. It was during this moment that his phone rang, and he learned he had been selected Agriculturalist of the Year.
“I put it on speaker phone so my wife could hear,” he said. “I was blindsided!” This is not the first time he has been recognized for his role in the agriculture industry and the community. In 2015, he was named Farmer of the Year by the Tulare Kiwanis Club. Childhood friend Brian Watte (TCFB’s 2018 Agriculturalist of the Year), first met Valov in kindergarten class at Waukena School. He said the Valov family’s philanthropy seemingly knows no limits.
“He’s one of those guys who gives and gives, along with his wife. They are a team,” Watte said. “They give freely of their time and Jimi is well known to do a real good job barbecuing lamb on a custom barbecue. In the last 20 years, when someone in the community he knows, or a family member, passes away, he is the first one to offer up to help with food at the service. He drops whatever he is doing and contacts the family to take that burden off of them.” Valov will do just this on May 12 at the funeral service of his dear friend and fellow pistachio industry friend, Ken Purrier. Purrier co-owned Pioneer Nursery with Corky Anderson, another industry giant, who helped put American pistachios on the map.
Valov said it was the example of these two men that prompted him to become more involved in the industry. As a board member of American Pistachio Growers, a non-profit trade association representing over 800 grower members in California, Arizona, and New Mexico, he played a part in opening the nut’s export market to China. “I was standing at the Great Wall of China when I was asked if I could serve as chairman,” he said. “How about that!”
Jimi and Tammy share a beautiful home in Tulare, and their backyard is often the site of various community and political fundraisers. They have hosted numerous Tulare County Farm Bureau events, as well. Valov said supporting youth in 4-H and FFA is especially important, and he is known to purchase 10-15 lambs each year at the Tulare County Fair Livestock Auction.
“The main thing is that Jimi is such a giving person, in his private life, with local schools, or in agriculture,” Watte said. “If a neighbor who is getting into ag needs some mentoring, changing from row crops into trees, he’s right there to help you out. He’ll lend you equipment, and check on your trees as if they were his own.”
Valov said he has seen other growers cash out and leave California, but that’s not on his agenda. He intends to keep their family farm operating, and eventually pass it down to his children and three grandchildren, Hazel, (who was born on his birthday) River, and Ledger. — Article By Lisa McEwen, Tulare County Farm Bureau