Califonia Bountiful

Tanaka Farms

Determined family learns to survive in urban area

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Farming in California is full of uncertainties: uncertain weather, uncertain markets, uncertain harvests. But farming in one of the state's most densely populated areas—well, that presents a whole other set of uncertainties. Just ask the Tanaka family of Orange County.

Glenn Tanaka has farmed in the area with his family for 30 years. Today, he and his wife Shirley and son Kenny are learning how to build on their farming legacy by adapting to the latest uncertainties, which involve the year-to-year leased farmland they are on.

Finding themselves without a permanent place to grow the crops they did when farmland in the area was plentiful, the family sought an alternate way to thrive in an ever-expanding urban landscape. They began by establishing a small farm stand and a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) business based on the variety of crops they could grow on their 30 acres of leased land in Irvine. After finding a customer base with the CSA business, they decided to open their farm to the public—a public eager to know where their food comes from. That led to the family hosting farm tours for local school groups and the students' parents.     

The tours work like this: After guests meet the Tanakas, they take a wagon ride around the farm with tour guides, who offer a glimpse of what it takes to run an organic farm. Guests get to see, learn about and taste a variety of fruits and vegetables. Then, at the end, they get to harvest their own farm-fresh produce to take home.

This special hands-on approach to educating kids and adults has proven to be a good business move for the small family farm, which once owned 23 farming operations in the area but now has just one.

"We used to ship our produce all across the country, so in a sense we were feeding the country," Glenn said. "That was great, but now we're educating our community right here. And to tell you the truth, today I consider myself a farmer and an educator, too."

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