Since our youth, we are conditioned to look forward to summertime - casting off the burden of school, enjoying longer days and staying out on warm nights. However, to me, summertime does not often come with those free spirited, sun-drenched moments we see in the movies. To me, summertime is synonymous with discomfort, unwelcome heat, sunburns and a yearning for the subsequent, cooler seasons.
However, as the 2021 summer season reared its head, I found myself desiring a very "summer" day.
One of the aspects of summer I truly love is the emergence of summer fruits and vegetables. Luckily, I don't live very far from Tanaka Farms, a true diamond in the rough.
I visited Tanaka Farms with my friend Caitlin a few years ago for their wonderfully fun, family-friendly pumpkin patch, so I already had a very positive impression of this real, working farm in the middle of very manicured Irvine.
Driving up to Tanaka Farms, the view may not be impressive - a regular drive down busy, neatly-paved University Ave turns into dirt roads and an unassuming unpaved parking lot. Suddenly, manicured Irvine fades away and Tanaka Farm's rustic charm takes over.
Having gone to school at UC Irvine, I had known about Tanaka Farms but only started going there recently (many years after graduation). I'd always wanted to partake in their U-pick wagon tours, and there was no better time to book one than during my quest to have a wonderfully summer day.
We arrived at Tanaka Farms a little before 10AM on a Sunday. I purposely booked an earlier time slot to avoid being in the scorching sun too much. However, even before 10AM, the sun was already beginning its summer blaze for the day.
I purchased tickets ahead of time, online, so check-in was quick and easy. I simply presented my QR code and was given a sticker to wear (showing that we were part of a tour) and a box for our strawberries. We were then directed to the tour loading area.
Please note that produce availability is subject to change, and nothing is really guaranteed ahead of time, as far as picking goes.
We only had to wait 10-15 minutes to load the next available wagon. Due to the sensitive nature of our current Covid-19 situation, wagon capacity was still limited, meaning less guests per usual. We loaded the back of the wagon, as directed, and began our U-Pick tour around the farm. A large tractor pulled our wagon through the farm, and a guide gave us some information about Tanaka Farms, its history and farming techniques.
The sun was relentless as our tractor trekked over the bumpy dirt roads, all of us bouncing in our seats and holding our strawberry boxes close. Early on in our tour, we made a quick stop at the water tower for sweet corn samples.
Coolers full of refreshingly cold bite-sized pieces of sweet corn were waiting for us near the water tower. We stayed seated in the wagons while our guide handed us pieces to snack on. This corn was the sweetest, juiciest corn I have ever tasted! As our tractor resumed its journey, we continued to enjoy our corn and were encouraged to toss the leftover cobs over the side of the wagons. It felt strange throwing our waste onto the road, but it was also freeing knowing that everything was all-natural and biodegradable.
Soon after our snack stop, we made our way to the carrot section of the farm. Our guide gave us bags and once we unloaded the wagon, he taught us how to pick carrots! Picking them was both easy and wonderfully satisfying.
We picked 8-10 carrots each, filling our bags with organically grown treasures. Each wiggle and pull was an exciting surprise, a reminder that prizes are often hidden beneath a humble surface. Our guide was very attentive and provided extra carrots for those of us who unluckily picked smaller carrots.
Carrots in tow, our tractor brought us to the famous strawberry section of the farm. We were given a few pointers, like use two hands to break the strawberry stem in lieu of yanking the strawberry off of the plant, don't pick any flowers, and steer clear of green/yellow strawberries.
My favorite piece of advice? Don't get too busy eating strawberries - remember to fill your box!
Tanaka Farms boasts 350,000 strawberry plants, and each plant produces about 2 pounds of strawberries a season. That's 700,000 pounds of strawberries!
I loved being encapsulated in our little strawberry lane. The high walls of strawberries hid the outside world and left us in our own little slice of strawberry summer heaven.
Once our boxes were full, we headed back to the wagon for the last bit of our trip around the farm and for another treat: the barnyard.
Staff gave us some simple ground rules, like advising us to leave our produce on the provided benches outside, and to be gentle with the animals.
We enjoyed some personal moments with sheep, goats, and even some chickens. The Tanaka Farms staff was incredibly helpful and obviously passionate about the animals they were working with.
Our tour was over, but we decided to spend a little more time exploring the farm. We snapped some photos, admired the remaining sunflowers, and enjoyed a peaceful chat in one of the shaded areas.
The atmosphere around the farm was so peaceful, and our visit was exactly what we needed. We peeled ourselves away from our little nook and made our way toward the exit, but not before doing our fair share of shopping.
If you are not interested in touring Tanaka Farms or picking your own produce, I still highly recommend a visit to their market and produce stand, where you can purchase the wonderful organic treats grown at the farm. Since we had sampled the incredible sweet corn, we absolutely had to purchase some... along with some chocolate covered strawberries.
Our farm visit had officially come to an end, but we left Tanaka Farms with big smiles on our faces and plenty of fresh produce in tow.
Tanaka Farms is an Orange County gem that should not be overlooked, especially if you are in search of a fun summer day. Head over to their website for more information on upcoming events and tours.
Will you be picking fruit some time soon?
Until next time,