Local California family farming vs. big business farming

Southern California farmers support each other, while big business hides behind the smog of pesticides and chemicals  

(Frank Rocha/Gaytan Farms produce display)

Going into local Sprouts Farmers Market or Trader Joe’s to get produce is quick and sometimes smooth, but where do they come from. And why is my purchase so different than those ads promoting fresh, crisp, and delicious apples or sparkling ruby red grapefruits tantalizing in their photo. And why these blackberries are bleeding at the base of the container and the blueberries are molding green and grey in the bottom of the cheap plastic packaging. There is a clear answer why they look good on those ads; a crafty intern whose job is to Photoshop their advertisements, to trick the customer into leaping at the latest deal.

But if you look at the real farmers market and the local families who provide the same produce those images try to replicate, the bountiful, healthy, pesticide and chemical-free produce can be purchased locally and just adjacent to your local market, cheaper than those deals listed and educate on why its produce is different those dying produce you will find at marked down price.

The Orange County Certified Farmers Market believes that “money spent at certified farmers’ markets directly supports family farms that are part of the community rather than large grocery chains. A larger diversity of produce is available at farmers’ markets; produce that is rarely found at grocery stores,” said on the Orange County Farm Bureau website. “You can purchase fresh fruits, vegetables, plants, and value-added products directly from the farmer.”

The Irvine Farmers Market was relocated due to the rising costs of its location near IVC’s campus on Campus Drive to the Mariners Church in Irvine, only ten minutes away from its original location and located at the church’s parking lot, which includes venues of produce, food, and designer clothing from diverse cultures and an exquisite world of family-run businesses that are inspiring and are evolving from their ancestor’s original avenue of income and giving their businesses new life.

But “it’s not always everyone’s season,” says Louis Suarez of Louis Farms, a third generational farmer and owner. Louis was a part of the family business as a child, learning everything from his forefathers and now runs the family business. “We do about 30 plus shows per week,” says Gonzales. Asking about the local farm that is only 10 miles away, and resides only a mile away to the once location of the Irvine Farmers Market. For Louis Farms produces over 20 different products, to keep the business thriving, even when a crop doesn’t harvest or is damaged, there is always a plan B. Asking if Suarez knew of Tanaka Farms, which is minutes away from the market, “Tanak who?”

“A little change, but overall it has gotten better or even bigger,” says Mario Diaz (aka Koah), an aspiring music artist, generational farmer, with a charcoal grey Louis Vuitton scarf, greets locals with an open heart and positive outlook on life. “Take a shot with me,” handing over a green concoction, in a mini plastic solo condiment container, “sir would like a shot too,” pointing to a fellow attendee, which the customer gladly partakes. A wheat shot grass, juiced from the luscious and healthy stalks of baby wheatgrass grown at his family-owned greenhouse, which had been chilled in the cooler below the stand at a proper temperature, giving a refreshing morning treat to start the morning.

“Family has been doing this for over 15 years,” says Diaz, recently his family farm which grows mostly sprouts and assortment of beans, and small quantity of onions, wheatgrass, seeds, due to their hydroponic future and different avenues of income. And just recently opened there own green family house. Asking if he had any knowledge of Tanaka Farms, “never even heard of it,” says Diaz. But appreciated Tanaka Farms humbling origin story of Tanaka Farms, which mirrors his family’s story of going to over 20+ shows a week, twice or three times a day.

“All about family, we are a local company.” Joanna Gonzales, a generational farmer, and vendor. “We have been around for 20 years here.” Gaytan Farms recently opened their restaurant, Antojitos Tierra Caliente, in Mira Loma, “we make majority of food using our produce of Gaytan Farms,” says Gonzales. Their farm to table approach is expanding the brand, as well there lines of new salsas. As for the farmer of yesterday would on rely on one avenue of earning money, which set up the business for failure, has recently changed or expanded with the new generation farmers, who see the bigger picture, and create success even when there is a bad season for a certain crop, which sets up the farmer for failure.

(Frank Rocha/Pile of persimmons at the Irvine Farmers Market)

Since 1998 the Tanaka family farm has been located in the valley in the heart Irvine. Just parallel to the Strawberry Farms Golf Club. It’s tucked away from the outside world, to a world of pure vegetation. The 30-acre fields supply fruits and vegetables that provide the produce food stand,

Today Tanaka farms get over 100,000 guests. Before 2002, Tanaka farms were doing 30 to 35 farmers markets a week, two or three a day, just like Louis Farms or Gaytan Farms endure today. From Irvine Tanaka, Farms would travel to Los Angeles, up to Pales Verdes, Santa Monica, and had been in the local markets in Irvine and other parts of Southern California vending their produce.

Entry Package, weekends only, $20 (2 years and under are free) includes Farm Tour, admission to the farm, visiting with our rescue flock of chickens, seasonal maze and play area. Active and retired Military personnel are eligible for free entry with ID.

Seasonal Harvest Festivals happen, weekends only from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Each season has its theme that celebrates what’s being harvested that time of year with games, arts & crafts, as well as guided farm tours, including eating free vegetables or fruits on your tours wagon ride.

This Holiday Season, take a wagon ride around the 30-acre farm and sample the fresh and crisp winter vegetables, including carrots, celery, baby bok choy, and romaine lettuce, growing along the way. And meet Santa Clause in Tanaka Land, take various Sanrio holiday photo ops and enjoy the blueberry scented fake snow flurry while attending the panoramic and picturesque backdrop of the farm and the surrounding Irvine valley hilltops.

(Frank Rocha/Tanaka Farms blueberry scented snow flurry for the Holidays)

“Now we’re direct retail and agritourism—we offer tours, show people how their fruits and vegetables are grown, and let them pick their own. That’s what saved us,” said owner and fourth-generation farmer Kenny Tanaka to Orange Coast. Due to their financial loss due to a bad season of harvest, and lost revenue, the company was doomed to fail, but in 1998, Tanaka Farms had to find another means to resurrect the business, to peel back the curtain, to show the community their efforts and to educate on what it takes to provide their produce.

On Sep. 30, 2017, another way of keeping the Tanaka Farms message alive financially and commercially was made in their new partnership.  “One of my friends worked for Sanrio and asked me if I wanted to collaborate,” says Tanaka. Sanrio, a Japanese company started in 1960, has created world-famous characters like Hello Kitty, Pochacco, Chococat, My Melody, and more.

(Frank Rocha/Hello Kitty photo-op at Tanaka Farms)

“The collaboration between Sanrio and Tanaka Farms builds on Sanrio’s mission of cultivating unique lifestyle experiences that touch every aspect of their fan’s lives. Hello Kitty and Sanrio friends will be incorporated into the educational programming provided by Tanaka Farms, teaching visitors of all ages the importance of healthy eating, as well as sustainability, responsible farming, and agriculture, all while supporting their local community,” stated on the Sanrio webpage announcement.

“Right now, they’re gauged toward younger kids, but the next step is getting to middle and high school kids, maybe even college kids, and doing a tour based on a more in-depth, science-based curriculum,” says Kenny Tanaka in Orange Coast Magazine. UCI is now looking over Tanaka Farms Bee Sanctuary, with over 10,000 bees, that are tagged by the students to see their growth and location with a small microscopic tag. And more involvement of the college will help to educate other students in the College level.

“All of our produce is handpicked and treated by hand, personally. No sprays or chemicals added. We are trying to use less chemicals around our farm, like tractors burning emissions or the use of compost and organic fertilizers in our soil. The use of underground drip irrigation and use of plasticulture allows us to use up to 95% less freshwater than conventional farms. And we grow over 60 different fruits and vegetables throughout the year. Unfortunately are avocadoes did not have a good season, and we lost them, unfortunately. The produce ranges from exotic fruit to international produce from bananas and Chinese eggplants to noble trees and coffee beans,” says Tour Guide Mike of Tanaka Farms.

(Frank Rocha/Tanaka Farms 30-acre fields)

On the Tanaka Farms website, “Tanaka believes in educating the youth about healthy eating habits.” And “We support Tanaka Farm’s efforts and their education of farming to the community,” says Professor Robert Farnsworth and the department chair of the Horticulture and Landscape Design at Saddleback College.

“We teach about germination to compost, photosynthesis, organic vs. synthetic fertilizers, propagation methods, container gardening, informed pruning, etc. in the department,” says Farnsworth. “It has grown since my ten years here at Saddleback.”

“We are also using aquaponics,” says Farnsworth, which is “a combination of fish and plant production using aquaculture and hydroponics systems, aquaponics is moving from the realm of experimental to commercial,” stated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Fish eat and produce ammonia, and then beneficial bacteria (fish by-product) convert ammonia into nutrients. Plants then absorb the natural fertilizer, and water is continuously recirculated through the system, which mimics a natural ecosystem.

“Our Horticulture and Landscaping design department is growing,” says Farnsworth, “Saddleback College has had this department for 40 years. And we have support from Saddleback to continue our efforts. Our greenhouse will expand and get bigger.”

If you’re interested in gaining some knowledge or anyways to start farming for yourself, Saddleback College welcomes you. “Anyone is welcome to be educated from our department; you don’t need to be just a student,” says Farnsworth. “We are not just trying to educate our students but our community.”

(Lariat/Saddleback College Greenhouse)

And question of how people of today are being educated on farming and its effect on the community, “The involvement in learning sustainable farming comes from people being educated by the difference they see in products they get naturally, different from what they see in stores,” says Farnsworth.

The efforts by the local farmer who supports the community locally is providing to insight, education and ways to farm from the produce vendors in Irvine offering free samples or background of their family’s rich history, Tanaka Farms who started as the average produce vendor, evolved into a 30-acre project that educates youth and adults alike of their organic means of farming, in a fun angle with Hello Kitty’s help. And Saddleback College who program has grown and expanded in its 40-year involvement on campus to educate not only the students but the community.

Farmers are not providing any bad intent or malicious take of being better than the other, but live a harmonious beat that each provides a balanced means of delivering healthy and sustainable farming and pursuit to involve the community as a whole. As vendors don’t see any financial change or a turf war between each other, but find their peaceful corners to spread and grow their educational way of life by providing an organic message and sharing of power between farmers.