Fast forward farms
For a good part of a century, what is now Irvine was one of the most productive agricultural areas in California. The Irvine Ranch covered almost one third of today’s Orange County, with some 110,000 acres producing oranges, lima beans, barley, walnuts, olives, papayas and peanuts, among other crops. Today, most of that land has been put to a myriad of other uses. It’s where we live, work and shop. It’s home to neighborhoods, parks, colleges, a world-class university and 50,000 acres of open space, in Irvine and surrounding communities.
While Irvine’s agricultural heritage is largely a thing of the past, locals can learn about the history at Irvine Ranch Historic Park where ranch buildings, exhibits and events celebrate the “growth” of the region.
But there is still food grown in the Irvine. The Irvine Co. still maintains avocado groves and other fields in north Irvine, where hotel chefs working for the company still forage for fresh produce to cook with. And there are other pockets of productivity throughout the city. Here’s a taste of urban farming in Irvine.
Orange County Great Park
Every Sunday, farmers come to the Great Park to set up shop at Certified Farmers Market, and customers are quick to follow. There are organic and conventionally grown fruits and vegetables available; food trucks offering delicious bites to eat; and vendors offering prepared artisan edibles, native plants and other products for sale. The location of the stands changed recently, as the Marine Way main entrance was relocated to Trabuco Rd . They Farmer’s Market is now on the road near the Palm Court Arts Complex.
At the Farm + Food Lab nearby, one can find hens laying eggs, raised-bed gardens planted to various themes, fruit trees, butterflies, and educational exhibits. It’s all designed to inspire kids and families to appreciate where our food comes from. Speaking of inspirational, the The Incredible Edible Farm is also at the Great Park. It’s an urban farm where Second Harvest Food Bank grows fresh produce and volunteers come out to pick it, all to feed the hungry.
The Great Park Farm is also located on the former Marine Corps Air Station El Toro. It’s one of several plots of organic- and sustainably farmed land in Irvine operated by Orange County Produce. Run by third-generation California growers AG and Matthew Kawamura, OC Produce grows fruits and vegetables on small farms throughout Orange County that are available in markets and restaurants. The Kawamuras believe in educating the public about the art and science of farming, they are dedicated to creating solutions to hunger and nutrition problems in the community.
Joe Manassero is also a third-generation farmer. He still grows strawberries, corn and other crops that thrive in Orange County. With his wife Anne, he sells them at The Original Manassero Farms stands throughout the county, including two Irvine locations on Jeffrey. The one adjacent to Irvine Valley College operates all year long, selling produce and artisan items. The photo-friendly location also hosts gourmet dinners, including those featuring the cuisine of OC master chef Pascal Olhats, and is available for private events.
Tucked away near Strawberry Farms golf course, Tanaka Farms offers an opportunity for families and foodies to enjoy a unique farming experience on its 30-acre site. There’s a wagon ride around the 76-year-old farm that includes pick-your-own produce stops. The popular Farm Stand offers produce and other goodies for sale from Tanaka and other producers. And with each changing season there’s a different fun activity at the farm, including a U-Pick Pumpkin Patch in October and a Christmas tree lot in December. Currently, there are Harvest and Watermelon Tours available, complete with samples.
Very much a modern agricultural operation, Urban Produce has a 100 percent organic indoor vertical farm in Irvine. The 100 percent organic greens – including microgreens, wheatgrass, basil, and lettuce blends–produced there are available in local markets, and now in its new weekly pop-up shop, the Urban Produce Farm Store. The store is open to the public every Saturday from 8 a.m.- 2 p.m. at their indoor organic farm located at 1 Marconi, Suite F, Irvine, and 10 percent of the profits go to Bracken’s Kitchen, a nonprofit that serves the hungry in OC created by OC chef Bill Bracken.
Loaves and Fishes x10
Dan Manassero and AG Kawamura are among the Irvine and OC farmers who give back by allowing volunteer gleaners to visit their fields after the first one or two harvests. Led by local nonprofit Loaves and Fishes x10, the food from the fields goes to Second Harvest Food Bank of Orange County, as well as food pantries, food banks and churches. Founded by Robert Fournay, who works at Irvine Valley College, Loaves and Fishes x10 delivers about 100,000 pounds of fresh produce a year to help people in need.