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MaxLove Project Farm Walk looks to cultivate family fun

A display of pumpkins and other produce from Tanaka Farms in Irvine.
(Anne Watson)

Orange-based nonprofit MaxLove Project has had a longstanding relationship with Irvine’s Tanaka Farms.

Owner and farmer Glenn Tanaka has long hosted events for the nonprofit dedicated to increasing quality of life for families surviving childhood cancer, such as the food-focused Farm to Fork gala. On Sunday, May 1, the partnership will introduce a new event, the MaxLove Project Farm Walk.

“The event is a walk around our farm, which is really a unique thing, especially here in Orange County,” said Tanaka. “For the general public to walk around a working farm is really quite a treat.”

Tickets for the farm walk start at $40 and include a bushel of family-friendly activities.

The barnyard will be open, and guests will receive a “MaxLove x Tanaka” tote bag they can fill with produce picked along the walk, highlighting Tanaka Farms’ popular U-pick program.

“The walk is about a mile long, and it is really a chance to get back to nature,” Tanaka said. “Most kids and most parents really haven’t seen how their food is grown. And then to be able to pick something fresh right off the vine is definitely not an everyday experience. Anyone who has a garden knows what a difference fresh produce is.”

Heirloom carrots from Tanaka Farms.
(Anne Watson)

MaxLove Project was founded in 2011 by Audra D. Wilford and inspired by her son Max Wilford, who was just 4 years old when he was diagnosed with brain cancer. With a classically trained culinary arts background, Wilford turned to food as medicine.

Max has undergone five brain surgeries and two chemotherapy protocols since his diagnosis, as well as 30 radiation treatments in the spring of 2014 and Gamma Knife radiation treatment in 2016.

Today, Max thrives on a therapeutic super-boosted ketogenic diet Wilford designed. In order to support families in similar situations, she started MaxLove Project to provide care with a focus on culinary medicine and help other parents use nutrition to aid their children battling disease.

“Right away, she created MaxLove not only to help herself but to help others,” said Tanaka. “And that is really a fantastic thing. Really selfless.”

The culinary medicine element of MaxLove’s work will be present in Chef Andrew Johnson of Kitchen Curative and MaxLove’s Fierce Foods Academy cooking demos, featuring fruits and vegetables from the walk.

Chef Azmin Ghahreman at a past MaxLove event.
Chef Azmin Ghahreman at a past MaxLove event.
(Anne Watson)

“Hopefully the people that do the walk won’t be too hungry because they will be sampling lots of blackberries and strawberries,” said Tanaka.

The event ends with an ohana luau dinner prepared by Chef Cathy McKnight and Electric City Butcher’s Chef Michael Puglisi.

“We call our MaxLove family our ohana [a Hawaiian word for extended family], so we decided to go with a luau theme,” said McKnight.

The menu is also reflective of MaxLove’s nutritional philosophy.

“Most of the kids that are in the process of treatment or are in recovery are on a ketogenic diet, and the food that we are producing is in line with a medical ketogenic diet, which is a lot different than the fad keto diet,” McKnight said.

Puglisi is donating the pork from his Santa Ana-based butcher shop for the event.

“We are doing a luau pork bowl and turkey meatball bowl,” said McKnight, “and both of them will have grilled sweet potatoes and roasted farm vegetables that all the people that are coming are going to hand pick. One of the most fun things is having the people pick the vegetables. I think that is a really neat component.”

Donations from Melissa’s Produce and Rossi Ranch Avocados will round off the menu.

Sapphire Culinary Group with culinary volunteers at a past MaxLove event.
(Anne Watson)

“Rossi Ranch is donating a bunch of avocados, so we will make a beautiful avocado dressing to drizzle over the bowls. And Melissa’s Produce is donating all the ingredients for our aloha salad, which is a chopped romaine with fresh pineapple, coconut flakes and macadamia nuts,” McKnight said.

The event will also include a special flowerbed installation for MaxLove SuperFamilies. Donors can plant a sunflower seedling in honor or memory of a SuperKid and in honor of SuperSibs.

“The sunflowers are about four or five weeks old,” Tanaka said, “and they will be able to plant them in our field.”

Superfamilies will then be invited to return to Tanaka Farms to visit the sunflower patch for a special harvest event. Those unable to attend the event in person can still sponsor a sunflower in the name of a child for $40 at the event website.

McKnight said she is looking forward to the event and grateful to Tanaka Farms for hosting.

“What Glenn is doing at Tanaka Farms and allowing the space for families to come in and make it such a hands on experience is amazing,” said McKnight.

Visit maxloveproject.org for tickets and donations.

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