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A lot of pumpkins and a little magic

Tanaka Farms in Irvine offers seasonal products, as well as tours of the patch.

September 28, 2012|By Sarah Peters
  • Pumpkins lay ready at Tanaka Farms in Irvine. The free pumpkin patch tours started Friday and include wagon rides, a petting zoo and corn maze. The tours wrap up in the Tanakas' hands-on organic vegetable patch.
Pumpkins lay ready at Tanaka Farms in Irvine. The free… (KEVIN CHANG, Daily…)

There's something nearly magical that occurs in a pumpkin patch — no Disney fairy godmother required.

"What's amazing is that you see these 3-year-olds, who never would have eaten a vegetable soup before, come back to the classroom after visiting the farm and want to eat the vegetables," said Sandi Breakbush, principal of Grace Christian Schools in Lake Forest.

Each fall season, Grace Christian and other schools across Orange County take hundreds of young students to Tanaka Farms in Irvine.

The 30-acre, family-owned operation near Turtle Rock offers seasonal strawberry, watermelon and vegetable patch tours, in addition to pumpkin-picking fresh off the vine.

"At this age, children learn through their experiences, through their senses," Breakbush said. "They aren't able to pick up a book yet. So when they grab these fuzzy green leaves and pull up from the dirt and there's a carrot all of a sudden, you can you imagine how magical it is for them."

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The free pumpkin patch tours started Friday and include wagon rides, a petting zoo and a corn maze. The tours wrap up in the Tanakas' hands-on organic vegetable patch, where guests can harvest green beans, radishes, cauliflower and pumpkins.

"I get a real joy out of seeing the kids with strawberries all over their face and shirts," said Kenny Tanaka, 29, who helps run the farm with his father, Glenn Tanaka, 55. "Parents tell me that they've never seen their kid eat so many fresh vegetables before."

Farming, a once-common but now unusual career choice in Orange County, came naturally to the younger Tanaka. The family's ties to land started in 1941 in La Puente, with Kenny Tanaka's great-grandfather who emigrated from Hiroshima, Japan, in 1910.

The craft has been passed down from one generation to the next, Kenny Tanaka said.

"I don't think it's anything you'd get into unless you were born into it," he said with a laugh.

While the Tanakas once had fields as vast as 300 acres, moving from Riverside County to Huntington Beach over the years as urban sprawl unrolled across the state, the family now maintains the relatively small Tanaka Farms.

The family opened it to tours when Kenny Tanaka was born, realizing it as an invaluable and rapidly disappearing resource to schoolchildren, Glenn Tanaka said.

Even parents, many just one generation removed from relatives who may have farmed, benefit from the visit.

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