Celebrated California farm sows seeds for next generation

Tue Nov 25, 2014 10:25am EST
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By Mary Milliken

RANCHO SANTA FE, Calif. (Reuters) - Growing up among rows of purple haze carrots, delicate Mara des Bois strawberries and corn sweet enough to eat raw, Makoto Chino might have been one of the best-fed kids in America.

He would see celebrated chefs like Julia Child and Alice Waters visiting his family's Southern California farm and learning from his father Tom Chino about the painstaking attention to quality and experimentation. The chefs would sign the kitchen wall in homage to the work of the Japanese-American family.

There was never a guarantee that Makoto, Tom's only child, would carry on with the farm. When asked about his son's plans, Tom would utter the Japanese phrase to convey resignation: "shoganai" or "it can't be helped."

"His second favorite saying is 'the protruding nail gets hammered down,'" Makoto, now 25, said with a laugh, a humorous acknowledgement that his father may have convinced him to take up the mantle of what some regard as the nation's finest vegetable and fruit farm.

"I just feel like there is a great gravity towards the farm," added Makoto, who is about to graduate from law school but has no intention of practicing law. 

The gravitational pull of Chino Farm is legendary. Since they don't ship, everyone - whether a top chef or a traveling foodie or a local resident - comes to the farm stand, simply called "Vegetable Shop," on a dusty corner of this affluent San Diego County town, hemmed in by sprawling housing estates.

On a hot Sunday in November, Sean Brock, one of the most acclaimed chefs in America today for his revival of Southern cooking, stopped at Chino Farm while on his cookbook tour.

"I haven't seen produce this beautiful anywhere else," said the 36-year-old Brock, whose love of vegetables is patent in the colorful tattoo that covers his entire arm.   Continued...

Yellow and green zucchini are seen on sale at Chino Farm in Rancho Santa Fe, California May 15, 2012. REUTERS/Mike Blake