Life is too short to eat bad food! Sharing great recipes, farm life, stories and photography from our Northern California dairy farm.

September 14, 2011

TT: Family Farming on 30,000 Acres

To continue on from yesterday's post, the first stop on the Know a California Farmer Farm Fresh Tour began at a family farm that produces lettuce as its main crop.

Tanimura and Antle Farm in the town of Spreckles, close to Salinas, farms produce on 30,000 acres in California and in Arizona.  This family farm provides 20% of the nation's lettuce supply.  Some of their products include artisan lettuce and artisan red onions, iceberg, beets, bok choy, celery, and broccoli just to name a few.

The Tanimura family, as first generation Japanese-Americans, built a successful iceberg lettuce business in the 1920's.  During WWII, they lost everything and spent three years in Japanese internment camps.  In 1947 the Tanimuras began farming again.

Lester Antle began as a lettuce packer in 1930.  Lester and his son, Bud, opened their own lettuce operation in 1942.  The two families worked side by side and in 1982 formed Tanimura and Antle.

I had never visited a family farm of this size before but have driven by many going through California's Central Valley and was very excited about getting an up close look at the hands-on farming I witnessed at Tanimura and Antle.  I found the farm's employee statistics and benefits interesting as well.  Here are some of them:
  • They employ 2,500 people, 133 of them are proud members of what they celebrate as their "20 Plus Years Club". Employees for 20 years or longer.
  • Employees are given full benefits
  • Vision and life insurance
  • 401 {k} with  match and profit sharing
  • Free bus transportation
  • Free on sight day care for children up to five years old
  • pay can range up to $16.00 per hour
Even with all the benefits at Tanimura and Antle and the high unemployment rate in California, Americans don't seem to want these jobs. Brian Antle told us that after publicizing a hiring of 450 field jobs, not one American applied.

This is Tanimura and Antle's artisan lettuce, planted in rows with five varieties.  Harvested at the same time, it is packed in boxes or clam shells right in the field and sent off to restaurants and stores.  From farm to truck within hours of harvesting.


















The farm gives a lot back to their local community.  Brian Antle, third generation farmer and Harvest Manager, explains to us that after the packers sweep a field of lettuce, left in the field are lettuce heads that are either too light in weight, not the right size for packing or just not esthetically pleasing enough to sell at market, but perfectly good to eat.  The farm invites their local shelter to come out once a week to peruse the swept fields for any produce they would like to collect to feed families in need.

Awesome, right?!


The women packers {top of photo} carry on a long time tradition of covering their faces while working to keep the dust and sun off their faces. 















Food safety is also a huge part of running this family produce farm.  Since the spinach scare of 2007, which changed the industry overnight, says Brian, three full-time employees are dedicated to food safety alone.  They live food safety day in and day out by cleaning harvest equipment daily, all produce handlers are trained twice a year for hygiene and good manufacturing practices.  Only approved compost is used and ranch locations are examined to ensure that they are not in close proximity to livestock lots, sewer treatment plants and garbage disposal sites.

Each box of produce is labeled and numbered referring back to the field from which it was grown and harvested, just in case a head of lettuce needs to be traced back.
After our morning tour we were invited back to the outdoor patio at Tanimura and Antle's headquarters for a fresh cooked lunch by the house chef.
Mixed artisan greens topped with sliced oranges and vinaigrette.  Nothing like eating fresh greens harvested on the very same morning.


Here's one of three pizzas that was cooked up in their outdoor pizza oven.  This one topped with sweet red onion and an egg!  I've had egg topped hamburger patties in Portugal before but never on a pizza until now. 


BLT Pizza {my favorite}

Broccoli and cheese pizza.

This was a new one for me; lightly grilled petite romaine topped with Parmesan and oil and vinegar, salt and pepper...so good!  Chef John, a blogger at Food Wishes, who was on the tour, posts a fabulous how-to-grill-romaine video he filmed as the Chef was preparing this for us.









Roasted sweet onion soup.

To answer yesterday's question, "Guess what Jay Baer is doing here"..........making lettuce angels!
It was incredibly interesting to hear how this family farm began with its humble beginnings only to grow into the farm it is today, expanding generations, offering opportunities, contributions to the community and safe, farm fresh delicious produce all at the same time. 




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