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Market to market: Sunny Cal Farms vends to O.C. restaurants and farmers markets

Sunny Cal farms owner Shaun Rosendahl hands out fruit samples to visitors at the Irvine Regional Park Farmers Market.
Sunny Cal farms owner Shaun Rosendahl, center, hands out fruit samples to visitors at the Irvine Regional Park Farmers Market on Tuesday in Orange.
(Kevin Chang / Staff Photographer)

The name Sunny Cal Farms might not sound familiar at first, but if you dine at Orange County restaurants and breweries or visit area farmers markets, you’ve probably eaten the grower’s produce. The farm, based in Reedley in Fresno County, has an influence that can be felt at tables across O.C.

Sunny Cal Farms vends at farmers markets in Dana Point, Fullerton, Ladera Ranch, Laguna Beach, Laguna Niguel, Orange, San Juan Capistrano, Surf City Nights in Huntington Beach and in Irvine at the Great Park on Sundays and Irvine Regional Park on Tuesdays.

On a recent Tuesday at Irvine Regional Park, Shaun Rosendahl, partner and market rep for Sunny Cal Farms talked to marketgoers about the winter citrus he had available and straightened stacks of bagged almonds and dried fruit.

Roasted almonds by Sunny Cal farms for sale at the Irvine Regional Park Farmers Market.
Roasted almonds by Sunny Cal farms for sale at the Irvine Regional Park Farmers Market on Tuesday in Orange.
(Kevin Chang / Staff Photographer)

“We are at three markets on Saturdays and three markets on Sundays,” said Rosendahl. “So that is three teams out. Divide and conquer.”

Rosendahl has owned Sunny Cal Farms for five years and said the farm comes down to O.C.’s markets because they tend to be less competitive than the farmers markets in Los Angeles.

“It is a little harder for the farmers to get down here, so it is a little less competitive for us down here. There are not as many people doing what we are doing. We are fortune to have a hub down here, and all my employees live down here,” said Rosendahl, whose brother runs the farm, while he handles the markets.

Sunny Cal Farms specializes in stone fruits and specialty citrus, and its presence at markets makes it a favorite with area restaurants with farm-to-table formats.

“We have a lot of chefs that buy from us every week,” said Rosendahl.

Brick in San Clemente, Fermentation Farm in Costa Mesa, Haven Craft Kitchen in Orange, Rye Goods in Newport Beach, Lido Bottle Works in Newport Beach and Craft House in Dana Point are just a few eateries whose owners think Sunny Cal’s juice is worth the squeeze.

This week, Yelp announced its Top 100 Places in America to Eat for 2022, and Fermentation Farm and Lido Bottle Works were included on the list (Nos. 3 and 58, respectively). Anaheim breweries Honey Pot Meadery and Modern Times also source from Sunny Cal Farms.

Blake Mellgren, owner and chef at Craft House in Dana Point, said Sunny Cal Farms is a staple on the menu.

“Quality is I think the biggest reason why,” said Mellgren. “When you have things that are grown in season, you are going to get the best quality from the ingredient and in turn the best flavor profile for the customer.”

Mellgren said the restaurant uses Sunny Cal Farms produce on its menu in a variety of ways.

“We use their apples in pastry applications. Whether it is their Pink Ladies or their Fuji Crips or Granny Smiths, they always make their way into our desserts,” said Mellgren. “We also have a full-time dish on the menu, which is farmers market burrata salad. So it’s burrata, tomato, mixed greens and a mélange that we get from Sunny Cal.”

Mellgren said right now that means winter citrus and Asian pear, but in the summer the salad might include more cherums and pluots.

Fresh apples by Sunny Cal farms for sale at the Irvine Regional Park Farmers Market in Orange.
Fresh apples by Sunny Cal farms for sale at the Irvine Regional Park Farmers Market on Tuesday in Orange.
(Kevin Chang / Staff Photographer)

“That salad is ever-evolving based on what they have in season,” Mellgren said.

Chef Joel Gutierrez at Lido Bottle Works on the marina in Newport Beach also utilizes Sunny Cal Farms.

“It helps us create a sense of community,” said Gutierrez. “We can pull people into the restaurant and show them this is where their food is coming from. It is not coming from another state or another county. It is coming from your own backyard. We like being able to give people that knowledge — that there are these resources for them, right outside their back door.”

Rosendahl said local chefs appreciate their Chef’s Crates program, which lets them fill a crate with as much or as little of whatever produce they need.

“The chefs come throughout the seasons, and they can just fill up their box, and they can get a variety of things versus a chef having to get a whole case of one item,” said Rosendahl. “It gives them a lot of flexibility to change their menus every week.”

Both Gutierrez and Mellgren have benefited from Chef‘s Crates.

“They have always kind of let us pick and choose what we want by the pound,” said Gutierrez. “Sometimes they have a new product that we want to showcase or try something out for a new dish. It is a really good opportunity to do that because we don’t have to buy cases and cases of that same product. We can just have a small amount of it to try out.”

Gutierrez highlights local vendors in his Sunday Supper Club menu, which is a four-course menu that changes each week based on the produce and protein available.

“We created this supper club to showcase our purveyors and have it be a more intimate setting,” said Gutierrez. “That gives us the opportunity to go out to the table and let them know about what they are eating right now — where it came from, what farm and talk to them about it.”

Gutierrez said he makes an effort to have at least one course that is strictly vegetable-forward, to give the farms a chance to shine. He is a fan of Sunny Cal Farm’s winter citrus, and it may end up on the next Sunday Supper Club menu.

Blood oranges by Sunny Cal farms for sale at the Irvine Regional Park Farmers Market in Orange.
Blood oranges by Sunny Cal farms for sale at the Irvine Regional Park Farmers Market on Tuesday in Orange.
(Kevin Chang / Staff Photographer)

“Right now, the moro blood oranges are fantastic. They blur that line between sweet and tangy all at the same time,” said Gutierrez. “Oro blanco should be coming in soon too. We usually pair that with fish dishes or aguachile.”

Gutierrez said the farmers are a big part of the equation when it comes to making a memorable meal.

“Purveyors like Sunny Cal Farms, they get us these amazing ingredients,” Gutierrez said. “It is not just the chefs, if we didn’t have these amazing products to start with, we wouldn’t be able to do what we are doing with it.”

Mellgren agrees. “They make my job easier,” he said. “It is fun working with people who know what I want and what I need and who care just as much about the restaurant as I do.”

Pomegranate juice by Sunny Cal Farms for sale at the Irvine Regional Park Farmers Market.
(Kevin Chang / Staff Photographer)

You can find Sunny Cal Farms full market schedule at sunnycalfarms.webflow.io/.

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