Bruins Farms can be counted on to be the first grower of the season at the Saturday San Francisco Ferry Plaza Farmers' Market to offer locally grown, juicy, vine-ripened tomatoes. This year they made their seasonal debut at the Market on April 13 and will be there until the end of August. After a long winter without tasty vine-ripened tomatoes, customers line up 8-10 deep patiently waiting to bag a few pounds of these early red beauties.
The Bruins Brothers Become Tomato Farmers
The Bruins brothers, Paul and Bart, grew up in Holland's "sea of glass", an area south of the Hague with the world's largest acreage of greenhouse farms run by many small individual growers. In the 1960's, the Bruins family moved to California and both Paul and Bart earned degrees from the University of California, Paul in chemistry and Bart in plant genetics. Paul headed off for a job in the Department of Chemistry at U.C. Davis and Bart went to work at Plant Genetics, a Davis area genetics firm, as a plant breeder. Finding the area particularly suited to growing tomatoes in greenhouses that they remembered from their childhood in Holland, the Bruins brothers found a used 5,000 sq. ft. greenhouse, dismantled it and moved it to Winters in 1974 in their first attempt to grow high quality gourmet tomatoes indoors. They pursued their passion for raising high quality tomatoes on a part-time basis for more than 10 years, selling their harvest at local farmers' markets in the Davis area, fruitstands and high-end grocery stores. But by 1984, the demand for their tomatoes had become so intense that Bart decided to give up his job and to concentrate on growing tomatoes as a full-time business with Paul and Eva (Paul's wife) as partners. They have now expanded to a 150,000 sq. foot greenhouse, but demand still far outstrips supply.
Farming in greenhouses allows the Bruins to have vine-ripened tomatoes for sale from mid-March through the end of August. The constant spring-like conditions in their greenhouses enables them to raise the tasty beefsteak variety which is otherwise difficult to grow in California's hot Central Valley. As their harvest is tapering off in mid to late summer, other vendors at the Market begin to bring in their field-ripened tomatoes. So Bruins Farm fits a perfect niche and tries to fill a seemingly endless appetite that the Market's customers have for a good-tasting, early-season tomato.
Mainly Beefsteaks and Techniques
Most of the 25,000 tomato plants cultivated each season in the Bruins Farms greenhouses are beefsteak varieties, selected for their superior flavor and texture. By carefully controlling all growing conditions -- such as watering, fertilizing, and night time and day time temperatures, while taking advantage of the ample sunshine in California, the Bruins are raising some of the tastiest tomatoes in the Bay Area. An important part of their marketing success is growing tomatoes without pesticides and practicing biological control of all major tomato pests. Another secret the Bruins are willing to share about their success in raising of tasty beefsteaks is the ample use of redwood compost.
Eva -- The Bruins Brothers' Marketer
Eva is a full-time market representative for Bruins Farms tomatoes. Paul and Bart credit the success of Bruins Farms to her marketing skills and rapport with customers. She can be found at one of the farmers' markets around the Bay Area every day of the week where she sells about 75% of the Bruins Farms' harvest. The balance is sold to specialty stores and restaurants. During the hectic months of June and July, all members of the Bruins family help out, including Eva and Paul's 3 college-age children who are eager to pitch in with the selling to earn some of their college expenses.
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