Written by The Business Journal Staff
Pistachio grower/Professional opera singer
Education: I attended Westmont College from 2000-2004 and graduated with a BS in biology and a minor in chemistry.
Family: I married my wife Dr. Dana Sheely September 23 of last year. She is an internist and chief resident at UC Irvine and we will be moving to Sacramento in June of this year where she will be starting a fellowship in endocrinology.
Tell us a little bit about your pistachio operation, Zach.
My dad Ted Sheely is the owner of AZCAL Management Co., which currently manages just over 1,100 acres of pistachios. We planted our first trees in 1996 and planted two more fields in 2006 and three more fields in 2009. The owners of all the fields are myself and my immediate family and aunts, uncles and cousins.
What kind of growth have you seen in demand for quality pistachios? What is your annual volume and what areas are they grown in? Do you see continued demand for the nuts, Zach?
I was lucky enough to be invited by the American Pistachio Growers to travel with them to China and promote American pistachios. The demand for pistachios in China has gone up 700 percent since 2007 and 7,000 percent since 2003, and I think that it will continue to grow as people are concerned about their health and where their food comes from. The trip allowed us to talk about our product and educate Chinese consumers and suppliers about why our product is superior to our competitors. It looks like the demand for all tree nuts and especially pistachios will continue to rise as the world grows more health conscious. The added pistachio nuts coming to market due to increased plantings have allowed for stability and for users and suppliers to know that they can purchase them reliably when they want them. It also seems like researchers keep finding new health benefits to consuming pistachios.
How and when did you get involved in opera singing, Zach?
I saw my first opera in high school and remembered thinking that they were vocal freaks. I didn’t think that a person could sing so effortlessly without a microphone over a huge orchestra while hitting notes I didn’t know where humanly possible. After seeing my first opera, La Boheme, I was hooked. I was able to see another opera before heading to college where I formed a club that would eventually receive funding from the college to subsidize tickets so that students could go to the opera. I negotiated group rates with the Los Angeles Opera and arranged transportation and tickets for students. It started out with just over 15 students and grew to about 75, which was all I felt comfortable with. In the meantime I sang in the choir and took some voice lessons at Westmont. After studying abroad in Kenya for the summer I came back and participated, somewhat reluctantly in an opera festival institute in Fresno. I met Edna Garabedian and began studying with her, and still do to this day.
Where and when do you perform, Zach?
I perform whenever I am offered a role that will either help my career or sounds interesting, if time permits. I have performed all over California from the Bay Area down through San Diego, mostly with regional and local companies. I have performed in China and a few other places out of state but haven’t made it to Europe yet.
How do you squeeze it into your schedule, Zach?
I love opera and you make time for what you love. It is another way of thinking and being creative and is always a challenge.
Tell me a little about Golden Gate Opera, Zach.
GGO is an opera company in the North Bay in Marin. They were one of the first to offer me a role and continue to invite me back. They have a great staff and audience and I love working with everyone there.
What is the best business advice you received, Zach?
The best business advice I have received to date is from my dad. He told me to find something I love and to work hard at it.
Besides singing, what do you like to do in your spare time? What do you enjoy most about it, Zach?
I love fly-fishing and my dad Ted, brother Jacob and I recently became owners of Rainbow King Lodge in Alaska with Rodger Glaspey of Allenberg, a friend of the family who also markets our cotton. It is a once-in-a-lifetime experience every time I go there and I am excited to get more involved in the operation. We became owners because we wanted to make sure that Rainbow King continued to be one of the best fishing lodges there is.
What was your first job, Zach?
My first job outside of the farm was interning for the National Weather Service the summer of my freshman year of college. I learned a lot during my time there and it encouraged me to embrace new technologies and think of how they can be applied to agriculture. The summer of my junior year I worked for a NASA-funded company where we worked with aerial imagery during the Ag 20/20 project to create prescriptions to address variability in the field. This was a huge learning experience and started a seed of inspiration that encouraged me to become involved with apps and cloud technology.