Harry Iwamoto farmed ancestral land in Japan until he immigrated to the U.S. in the late 1950's. Applying his horticultural skills in the U.S., he first became a landscape gardener in southern California for about 10 years. Then in the late 1960's, he heard that one could make good money growing strawberries so he leased 11 acres of land and began to teach himself the art of strawberry farming. 29 years later his son Kaz Iwamoto, daughter (Molly (Iwamoto) Gean) and their respective spouses (Yoshiko Iwamoto and Rick Gean) carry on Harry Iwamoto's strawberry growing tradition.
Shifting Family Fortunes
From his start with 11 acres, Harry Iwamoto's farm peaked at 200 acres in 1983, and until 10 years ago he and his family were farming 100 acres and selling mainly to wholesale distributors. But falling prices from wholesalers combined with increasing costs of farming ($28,000 per acre to plant, grow and harvest an acre of berries), led them to re-evaluate the nature of their business. Ten years ago they began a gradual shift out of the wholesale business and into selling directly to consumers at farmers' markets throughout the State. By 1993, they were selling 100% of their produce direct to consumers, so they were able to cut back the size of their farm to 35 acres that are intensively cultivated. Molly explains that it was a "lifestyle decision" and that they are happy to have made the transition. Today, as the President of the California Federation of Certified Farmers' Markets, she is an enthusiastic promoter of the farmers' market movement throughout the State and of increasing consumer awareness of the benefits of buying directly from growers.
Harry' Berries grows about 700 tons of strawberries annually as well as various specialty vegetable crops. Their produce is shipped to 46 farmers' markets throughout the state of California from their farm in Oxnard. To supply the Bay Area's farmers' markets, they make 3 deliveries a week to a distribution center run by relatives in Vacaville. From there, a local sales staff heads out to all the farmers' markets in the Bay Area, including San Francisco's Ferry Plaza Market on Saturday mornings.
Small Differences Make for Sweeter Berries
Harry's Berries strawberries from the Iwamoto & Gean Farm are among the most superior to be found at the Ferry Plaza Market, except perhaps for Stony Farms which produces only a very small quantity and for a very limited time. Iwamoto & Gean grow 2 common varieties:
|Chandler||Strong berry flavor and perfume; softer, juicer texture.
Available January - July
|Seascape||Low-acid with "wild berry" flavor; firmer texture.
Available year round.
Other strawberry farmers grow exactly the same varieties. So I asked Molly why their berries are so much sweeter and more flavorful. She explained that most growers who sell wholesale and at farmers' markets, pick berries according to the wholesale market standards (when they're still firm) so the berries can withstand shipping over long distances. Those same berries are also brought to the farmers' markets. Because Harry's Berries sells only directly to consumers, their berries undergo less handling so they can pick their berries 2 - 3 days later than commercial growers. To preserve the fragile ripe berries, Iwamoto Gean chill them as soon as they're picked and ship them in refrigerated trucks. The berries are no more than 2 days old when they're at the farmers' markets, radiating a sweet ripe strawberry aroma.
Look for the Harry's Berries truck at the Market February until October.
Saturday Market Home Page
To contact the vendor, please use information at the top of this page.