By Tom Berg for the Irvine Standard 

They arrive each year just before Christmas: sweet, organic strawberries at a farm that’s been serving Irvine for decades.

“They’re picked fresh every morning and literally walked over to our stands,” says third-generation farmer Dan Manassero, who runs two Jeffrey Road farm stands, one at each end of the 35-acre Manassero Farms.

Dan and his wife, Anne, also sell vegetables. And that’s not all you’ll find at their little red barn in front of Irvine Valley College. You can cut your own herbs; browse the gift shop; learn to make pies at one of Anne’s workshops; or attend cooking classes with local chefs.

“If you come to a butter-churning workshop, you’re going to be eating homemade bread and butter,” Anne says. “If you come to a pie workshop, you’ll be tasting all the pies. And if you come to a chef’s three-course lunch, you’re going to be eating and talking with the chef.”

Look for fresh-picked strawberries at Manassero Farms beginning in mid-December.

Farming tradition

Irvine’s agricultural history dates back to the late 1800s, when James Irvine II transformed the 93,000-acre Irvine Ranch into one of the most thriving agricultural centers in California.

His Valencia orange groves helped give “Orange” County its name. And his farm produced more lima beans than any farm in the nation.

Irvine still is home to one of the nation’s most productive avocado orchards, as well as three family-run farms — Tanaka Farms, Smith Farms and Manassero Farms.

The Manasseros, whose Irvine farm dates back to 1976, are proud of that tradition.

“When produce is picked fresh,” Dan says, “it tastes better, it looks better, and it’s much healthier for you.”

Farm-to-table

Manassero Farms opened its first Irvine farm stand in 1988 and its second in 2012.

“When we opened the second location, I just wanted a little gift area and an herb garden,” Anne says. “We had a little sign that read, ‘Dan’s Farm. Anne’s Garden.’ ”

Soon, a customer suggested they host events there.

Dan and Anne Manassero run Manassero Farms, where you can buy fresh fruit and vegetables or pick your own herbs.

“I was like, ‘Really? Would anybody come?’ ”

But after meeting Chef Pascal Olhats – chef-owner of Café Jardin in Corona del Mar – Anne invited him to put on a Mother’s Day brunch that she named

“Breakfast in the Barn.” It was a hit.

Soon she was hosting two farm-to-table events each month with local chefs. “They prepare three-course meals and come out after each course to talk with the audience,” she says. “Customers learn how their meals were prepared and can ask questions, so it’s fun and interactive.”

Anne also hosts workshops in the barn that include pie-making, preparing hors d’oeuvres and creating edible table arrangements. And private parties use the open-air barn for weddings, baby showers and corporate lunches.

For now, events are on hold due to the coronavirus, but the farm stand, herb garden and gift shop all remain open, with cooking classes and workshops due to return soon.

“What we’ve created is a labor of love,” Anne says. “There really is nothing else like it in Orange County.”


VISIT IRVINE’S FAMILY FARMS

Irvine is home to three family-run farms, each offering fresh produce year-round, and each run by third-generation farmers. Here’s something you can do at each farm this month.

SMITH FARMS

Visit seven days a week for organic fruit and vegetables. December produce includes several varieties of tomatoes, lettuce, kale and peas. McKay Smith was one of Orange County’s first organic farmers.

“I believe in organic farming,” he says. “I am doing my part for sustainability and not harming the land or ecosystem.” 5481 Bryan Ave.

Sign, fresh veggies this way

TANAKA FARMS

Visit “Hikari – A Festival of Lights” now through Jan. 10. Drive through more than a mile of dazzling lights that illuminate Christmas trees, scarecrows, tractors, sugar cane and more. Glenn and Shirley Tanaka’s farm also offers a drive-thru produce stand, “U-pick” activities and fresh Christmas trees, wreaths and garland. 5380 3/4 University Drive.

Tanaka Farms vineyard, Irvine California

MANASSERO FARMS

Visit from 2-4 p.m. Dec. 12-13 for free photos with Santa, who will sit on an antique Farmall tractor while kids sit on a bench in front.

To help Toys for Tots, bring a new, unwrapped toy ($10 value). The farm, owned by Dan and Anne Manassero, also offers fresh produce, a pick- your-own herb garden, gift shop and kids’ play area. 33 Irvine Valley.

Tractor in front of Manassero Farms Market building in Irvine, CA