Looking at the master-planned suburban sprawl of today's Irvine, it is hard to believe that the city was once dominated by agriculture. Back around World War I, Irvine was brimming with lima beans and nearly 60,000 acres of bean bushes carpeted the landscape. These days, glimpses of agriculture can be found at small strawberry fields scattered around the city and Tanaka Farms, a 30-acre farm that offers year-round fun for visiting families, keeps the agricultural spirit alive in Orange County.
The Tanakas are no strangers to agriculture. The family has been farming in the US since great-grandfather Teru immigrated from Hiroshima-ken, Japan 100 years ago. After decades of farming on the Southern border of the city, development in the late nineties led the family to move their farm to its current location, a quiet valley near Strawberry Farms golf course. The farm is 100% organic and offers the community a wonderful Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program, but the seasonal farm tours are what have made Tanaka Farms a household name in Orange County.
Thanks to Irvine's mild climate, there is always something growing and plenty of outdoor fun to experience at Tanaka Farms. During the spring (mid-March to the end of June), Tanaka's famous strawberry tours take place. Visitors hop on board a tractor pulled wagon for a guided tour of the farm, learning about the varied seasonal produce grown on the farm and sampling a few tasty items along the way. Then they hop off the tractor and get to pick their own strawberries straight from the patch. Each visitor gets to fill up a one pound basket with strawberries and encouraged to stuff as many strawberries in their mouth as they can while they pick. You haven't had a successful day at the patch until you have sweet strawberry juice dripping down to your elbows!
During the summer months (July to August), watermelons are the stars of the show. Visitors are once again given a tractor tour of the farm as well as a chance to sample Farmer Tanaka's famous "candy" sweet yellow melons before selecting their very own watermelon to take home. Saturday Harvest Tours are also popular during this time of the year and give guests the opportunity to take a walking tour of the farm, collecting their own veggies along the way to take home.
During the fall (late September through October), Tanaka Farms becomes a pumpkin patch. Farm tours, a petting zoo, and a corn maze, are just some of the fun experiences encountered. Weekends include games, crafts, and more. The true highlight of an autumn visit is picking out your perfect pumpkin from the patch. If you are spending the holidays in Irvine, stop by Tanaka Farms and pick out a fresh Christmas tree from their varied selection of trees.
Finally, if you are planning a picnic or looking for some fresh, local, and organic produce, the Tanaka Farms produce stand is the place to shop. In addition to a wide variety of fruit and veggies, the stand also sells fresh baked breads, homemade tortilla chips and salsa, and all sorts of snack mixes. My son is especially fond of the lemon bread and you can't ever go wrong with the vine-ripened seasonal fruit.