Put yourself in the driver’s seat, cruising along the highway near Alamogordo, N.M., enjoying the most-visited site in the state — White Sands National Monument — when out of nowhere appears a 30-foot-tall pistachio nut.
It’s the highway magnet for PistachioLand, home to the world’s largest pistachio replica, nestled between a 95-acre orchard of mostly Kerman variety trees alongside about 15 acres of vineyard growing five kinds of wine grapes, all of it adjacent to a 12,000-square-foot retail outlet where the nuts, the wines, and pecans from other local growers are available.
“I was 12 years old when we moved from back East to the northern end of the Chihuahuan Desert and quickly came to the abrupt realization that there was nothing here but desert,” says Tim McGinn, who helped settle the 111-acres with his father.
Dad, Thomas, came from a food background (South American banana plantations for United Fruit Company, then a stint with General Foods making Mrs. Smith pies) while his son brought a business degree to the partnership.
“Dad wanted a high value crop with high barriers to entry. If you farm corn, you can grow a crop one year and plant another crop on the same land the next year. With pistachios, you need to have patience because it takes eight years to establish the first bearing crop. But New Mexico is a great place to grow pistachios because of its hot, dry climate.”
With his father’s passing in 2007, Tim took over the company reins and one of his first projects was to build a sculpture in honor of his dad, a historical memorial with bronze plaque that also showed tourists what was grown on property.
“I handed a home builder friend a pistachio nut and challenged him to ‘Build me a big one that looks like this.’ Four months later, after pouring five yards of concrete and going through three dozen gallons of paint, we had a 30-foot-tall pistachio nut as our marquee.”
And what a magnet it has been to draw in not only tourists, but stars. NBC’s Al Roker and Matt Lauer showed up to film a segment of the Today Show. Ozzie Osborne, The Prince of Darkness, and his kids did a cooking show on-site. Other celebs include Sean Penn, Larry the “Get ‘er Done” Cable Guy, and Norman Reedus, star of The Walking Dead. They all indulged in the many flavored varieties of pistachios that McGinn and crew grow, harvest, and process.
“We began with about 17 or so acres in 1980, added another 10-15 acres in 1981, and continued to plant trees till we filled up the property,” he says. “At last count, we have about 12,250 trees.
“Because pistachios are an on-year/off-year producer, our harvest numbers run between 140,000 and 200,000 pounds annually,” he says. “We grow the nuts, pick them, harvest them, roast them, package them, and sell them. We’re a one-stop shopping center for pistachios.”
With the trees all now at bearing age and the vineyards producing wine grapes for Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Zinfandel, Chardonnay, and gewürztraminer, selling the products is currently the focus of their 12,000-square-foot retail outlet to satisfy a growing tourist traffic flow — a far cry from the first outlet, a simple log cabin structure that father and son hand-built.
“Corporate tourist entities are numerous, but people are hungry to go to unique destinations. They like something different and there’s only one largest-pistachio-in-the-world place they can visit.
“Farming can be a do-or-die business every year with so many variables that make the difference between profit and loss. Wherever possible, including an owned-and-operated retail outlet can cut out the middleman expense and make a difference in bottom line profits.”
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