“It’s the family business,” says Glenn Tanaka, owner and operator of Tanaka Farms in Irvine. “I’ve never had a job outside of farming.”
The Tanaka family has farmed for generations, growing crops like strawberries and tomatoes on leased land all over Orange County. Tanaka is a “sansei,” or third-generation Japanese American, who grew up in Fountain Valley and studied agribusiness at Cal Poly Pomona. In 1998, he and his wife, Shirley, began organically farming the current 25-acre property on University Avenue near Michelson Drive.
But a challenging economy and seasonal variations forced Tanaka to find creative ways to keep his small farm in business. In the early days, they had a small pumpkin patch. Kids from his son Kenny’s preschool were the first visitors. When Tanaka Farms moved to its current location, Glenn started offering strawberry tours, allowing folks to pick and taste the fruit right from the field.
Those early tours grew to become a substantial part of the Tanaka Farms business. Today, thousands visit the farm each year, enjoying whatever is in season, from strawberries to pumpkins to Christmas trees.
Glenn’s son Kenny Tanaka is now taking his turn working on the farm. After graduating from Cal State Long Beach with a degree in finance, Kenny Tanaka brings a new skill set to the family business. Kenny and his wife, Christine, live in Irvine with two preschoolers of their own.
“I like being the local farmer,” he said. “When I was a kid, there were places I could go and see where food was being grown right near my house. Kids today don’t get as many chances to see where their food comes from. I like seeing families have fun on the farm, but I like educating the kids even more.”