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Tanaka Farms expands from Irvine to Costa Mesa, planting roots with Hana Field

Sunflowers in the "gold rush" variety are picked by a guest on the Sakioka family fields in Costa Mesa.
Sunflowers in the “gold rush” variety are picked by a guest on the Sakioka family fields in Costa Mesa. The fields are being leased by Tanaka Farms to grow flowers for the public to view and pick on the weekends.
(Don Leach / Staff Photographer)

Just as young sunflowers follow the sun, visitors craned their heads skyward to greet some of blooms towering over them.

People cradled white, plastic vases with bunches of sunflowers — some yellow, some red — and zinnias, their small pruning shears at hand in case they might spy another flower to take home.

Beneath a bright summer sun late Friday afternoon, Hana Field — hana, being the Japanese word for “flower” — was bustling with enthusiasts that’d largely heard about its existence by word of mouth or through Tanaka Farms itself, who are the newest lessees and operators of the plot of land at 427 Anton Blvd.

James Ogawa holds a bunch of sunflowers and zinnias as he walks along on the Sakioka family fields in Costa Mesa.
James Ogawa holds a bunch of sunflowers and zinnias as he walks along on the Sakioka family fields in Costa Mesa.
(Don Leach / Staff Photographer)

“We just started leasing the field from the Sakioka family this year,” said Ken Tanaka, a fourth-generation farmer who owns and operates Tanaka Farms with parents Glenn and Shirley Tanaka.

“We have our main farm in Irvine and when they offered us to lease the field in Costa Mesa we thought it might be a good opportunity to try something new. We have never grown flowers on this large of a scale, so we thought it would be a great ‘u-pick’ flower opportunity plus a great picture opportunity as well,” Tanaka said.

The 30-acre field opened to the public on Mother’s Day weekend in May, and Tanaka estimates that at least 12,000 people have visited since then. Field manager Brandon Flores said the field’s currently on its second crop of sunflowers and will soon be on its third.

A variety of colorful zinnias grow adjacent to the crowded 55 freeway offramp on the Sakioka family fields in Costa Mesa.
A variety of colorful zinnias grow adjacent to the 55 freeway offramp on the Sakioka family fields in Costa Mesa.
(Don Leach / Staff Photographer)

It’s also currently abloom with zinnias, snapdragons and black-eyed Susans in addition to sunflowers, but Flores said that he feels sunflowers are the biggest draw for visitors.

“So many people show up with different clothes that have sunflowers — shirts, skirts, tattoos,” Flores said, laughing.

“I think it’s a 50-50 split between people wanting to cut flowers and take pictures for social media [visiting],” Flores said. “There are times where we have those same people come back to the front and want to pick their own flowers too. It’s been good feedback.”

Mission Viejo residents Carolyn Coleman and her daughter, Alyssa Coleman, were visiting the field on Friday after Coleman heard about it through Instagram. Coleman said they were looking for sunflowers, which the two said were their favorites.

“We did this when the kids were younger at Tanaka Farms for the vegetable garden and the strawberries. It’s such a great experience for the kids to see [food] in the ground and know where they come from and be able to pick them,” Coleman said.

A youngster walks past rows of "Black-eyed Susans" along on the Sakioka family fields in Costa Mesa.
A youngster walks past rows of “Black-eyed Susans” along on the Sakioka family fields in Costa Mesa.
(Don Leach / Staff Photographer)

Alyssa said she thought it was great that there was an open farm around Orange County, which is mostly suburban.

Los Angeles resident Nancy Tran and her friend, An Pham, who lives in Garden Grove, agreed. Pham said she knew about the field through Tanaka Farms in Irvine, which she frequented.

“I was born and raised here in Orange County. Especially toward the Irvine-Costa Mesa border, there’s a lot of cities and corporate buildings like that. I think it’s a refreshing kind of break in between all the city life to have the flower field,” Pham said.

Tran said that it was a nice change in scenery, adding that she felt that there wasn’t enough space for anything similar like Hana Field or Tanaka Farms in Los Angeles and it was different.

“It’s flowers [near] an interstate, but it’s cute,” Tran said.

A variety of colorful zinnias grows adjacent to the crowded 55 freeway offramp on the Sakioka family fields in Costa Mesa.
A variety of colorful zinnias grows adjacent to the crowded 55 freeway offramp on the Sakioka family fields in Costa Mesa.
(Don Leach / Staff Photographer)

Hana Field operates only on weekends, beginning Fridays at around 3 p.m. with a general admission fee of $5.

That doesn’t include flower picking, which will require interested parties to bring their own cutting tools and $20 for a souvenir vase that holds up to 15 blooms.

Sunflowers in the "gold rush" variety on the Sakioka family fields in Costa Mesa.
Sunflowers in the “gold rush” variety on the Sakioka family fields in Costa Mesa.
(Don Leach / Staff Photographer)

The rest of the week, Flores is watering and maintaining the fields with the assistance of laborers that switch between the main farm in Irvine and Hana Field.

The team recently planted an acre of pumpkins for the upcoming fall. Tanaka said people should also expect more sunflowers and some orange flowers.

The hope is to be able to have a ‘u-pick’ pumpkin patch up for Halloween, though Eileen Sagara, a spokeswoman and special events coordinator for Tanaka Farms, said they aren’t sure yet which activities will be available when Halloween rolls around.

The field manager Flores said he basically grew up on Tanaka Farms and that his father, Rocky, brought him to help with the farm work when he was 13 because he was hanging out with the wrong crowds.

Because of that, he said he felt that a lot of the novelties of a ‘u-pick’ were lost on him — someone who regularly saw the birds, bees and insects naturally drawn to flowers and crops.

But, he said he was glad to be able to provide the opportunity for people to see what he saw as a “privilege” of a childhood and job now as a field manager.

“It’s all about the experience. It’s about going in there [to Hana Field] and seeing not just the good flowers, but the bad flowers and being able to pick the ones you like and not getting them pre-cut already,” Flores said.

“I think it opens up a good gateway for people to come out and being able to see how stuff grows.”

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