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Manassero Farm in Irvine celebrates 100 years of home grown produce

A hundred years after his grandfather settled in Orange County and began growing barley, tomatoes and other crops on several acres he rented in Yorba Linda, Dan Manassero is keeping the family tradition alive at The Original Manassero Farms – through the challenges facing farmers today.

Manassero and his wife, Anne, celebrated the farm’s centennial on Saturday at its market and event space in Irvine, where they shared samples of freshly grown tomatoes, watermelon and onions.

The strawberries grown on Manassero Farms were at one time distributed to major grocery stores in the United States, Canada and overseas in Europe. At its height, the farm was operating on about 120 acres, Dan Manassero said.

But in the last decade, in response to rising costs including for water, labor and fuel, the Manasseros have shifted to a more local model for growing and selling their products.

On roughly 50 acres the farm leases from Southern California Edison, the family grows sweet corn, heirloom tomatoes, squash, cauliflower and a host of other vegetables throughout the year. They’re sold at the farm’s stands in Irvine, Tustin and Brea, along with local honeys, balsamic vinaigrettes and household items.

The switch from wholesale to small retail and agricultural tourism has been “a learning curve” for the family, Anne Manassero said, “because that’s not something that we ever intended to have to do.”

At the farm’s flagship location in Irvine, off Jeffrey Road, community members can rent the space for weddings, parties and corporate events. Farm staffers always try to incorporate a lesson on the produce in any event the farm is hosting, Anne Manassero said.

And a play area for kids allows them to hop on a carousel or other rides while surrounded by local artwork featuring fruits and veggies.

After a cake-cutting on Saturday, visitors splayed out in lawn chairs for a movie under the stars: “Casablanca,” one of Anne Manassero’s favorites.

“We basically wanted to show our customers how much we appreciate them, because obviously we wouldn’t be around if they weren’t still coming in and buying from us all these years,” she said.

After three generations, it’s unclear whether the farm will be passed down after Dan and Anne Manassero, who are both in their 60s, eventually retire. Of their four kids, “none of them are going to be going into farming,” Anne Manassero said, and she doesn’t blame them for not following in their parents’ footsteps.

“Farming is obviously gotten really, really difficult in California, and so I don’t encourage them to follow, unfortunately,” she said.

While it’s getting “harder and harder to have a place to farm” in the state, Anne Manassero touted the benefits of eating local produce, which doesn’t have to travel across countries or be stored in warehouses for days. When the product comes from your back yard, she said, “not only is it better for the farmer, but it’s also healthier.”

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