Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Over the hills and through the farm...

View Larger Map

Tanaka Farms, that is. Nestled to the east of UC Irvine off University Drive is a 10-acre 10-year organic family farm growing forty different fruits and vegetables throughout the year.

Amrit (one of my housemates) and I met up with Katie Baldwin, an employee of Tanaka Farms. Cordial and benevolent, Katie took us on a tour of the farm as we struck dialogue about the farm's history, operations, and connections with UC Irvine.

Leased to the Irvine Company since the start, the farm has stopped selling for wholesale and is now used mainly as an educational tool. Like many small, family-owned farmers throughout the nation, management decided to stop selling at farmers' markets due to economic profit. They do, however, have rich relationships with six elementary schools in the local area who purchase from the farm. Tanaka Farms is one example of how large food companies are taking advantage of the supply and demand for cheap, abundant processed foods.

Up to 20,000 people, particularly elementary school students, tour the farm on a yearly basis. Baldwin, then a college student who originally didn't know where her food came from, decided to work on a farm after graduate school. She notes the surprising unfamiliarity Orange Countians have with not knowing where their food comes from or how its grown.

While the farm is not certified organic due to inability of payment, practices on the land are still of utmost importance. Their methods are still organic in nature. Plant oils are used as natural fertilizers. Cow pea (pictured above) is a cover crop used for nitrogen fixing as the soil rests for the next rotation. All materials not used are placed in a large heap for composting (pictured below), which is one of the most valuable assets to the land, Baldwin describes.

Sitting underneath a tent, Katie an I soon got into the discussion of whether or not UC Irvine can sustain its food system with purchasing agreements from farms like Tanaka Farms in the local community. With somewhat doubt and hesitation on both ends, challenges came up. For example, from March to June, 80% of the land is used to grow strawberries. March to June at UC Irvine is Spring Quarter, and demand for food is an everyday occurrence. In addition, land is scarce in Orange County, as most is planned for development and commercial use. Areas like Tanaka Farms are hard to come by, and feeding prodigious and concentrated populations like that at UC Irvine is arduous in measurement.

I truly had a pleasant time this afternoon. My mind and body were at peace. The air was crisp and welcoming. The produce, picked that morning, couldn't have smelt or tasted any better.

Look at that lettuce - $1.99!

No comments: