Kern agricultural powerhouse The Wonderful Co. on Sept. 26 announced the second-largest gift ever to a U.S. academic institution: three-quarters of a billion dollars to fund cutting-edge research on environmental sustainability.

The company said it will give Caltech $400 million plus $350 million for sponsored research on solar and climate science, energy, biofuels, decomposable plastics, water and environmental resources and ecology and biosphere engineering.

"In order to comprehensively manage the climate crisis, we need breakthrough innovations, the kind that will only be possible through significant investment in university research," Wonderful Co. co-owner, President and Chairman Stewart Resnick said in a news release.

The gifts are but the latest examples of philanthropy by a company that has made large donations not only in Southern California but also in Kern County, where Wonderful employs at least 4,000 people.

The privately held company behind the locally produced brands Wonderful Pistachios, Wonderful Halos, and Pom Wonderful has invested extensively in health and education initiatives benefiting its employees and their children in Lost Hills and Delano.

While the company has donated to Bakersfield College and works with Cal State Bakersfield on its agricultural programs, it said Resnick and his wife, Lynda, decided to donate this time to Caltech because of a decade-long relationship with the university. It also asserted there is no academic institution better suited than Caltech to research sustainability and climate change, "both of which have a profound impact on the agriculture industry in the Central Valley."

Caltech President Thomas F. Rosenbaum said in Wonderful's news release that climate change is "the challenge of our times," adding that the Resnicks' contributions will allow the Resnick Sustainability Institute, established at Caltech a decade ago at a cost of $30 million, to "mount efforts at scale."

"This research will no doubt change the world," M. Sanjayan, CEO of Conservation International, said in the same news release. "It may even save the world. It's that profound."

One planned outgrowth of the Resnicks' gift is a new, 74,000-square-foot building to be named the Resnick Sustainability Resource Center, which is to house new research and undergraduate teaching labs.

Wonderful said the gifts will also further the company's commitment to instituting environmental challenges and sustainability research into all aspects of its operations.

John Cox can be reached at 661-395-7404. Follow him on Twitter: @TheThirdGraf.

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