Farewell, Hamada Farms

May 19, 2017

If you have marveled at the beauty of the bizarrely shaped and brightly fragrant Buddha’s Hand citron or tasted a painstakingly dried hoshigaki persimmon at the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market, you have Hamada Farms to thank. The Hamadas have been a cornerstone farm at the Saturday and Tuesday markets, offering a diverse array of lovingly grown fruit throughout the year.

But many market patrons have felt their conspicuous absence the last two months, and CUESA is sad to report that the Hamadas have decided to retire from the farmers market. According to Clifford Hamada and his father, Yukio, some of the family’s properties were recently sold, leaving fewer orchards to sustain their market business. After a rough winter season damaged this year’s cherry crop amidst other farming challenges, they’ve decided it’s time to move on.

An Unforgettable Farming Legacy

Shotaro Hamada immigrated from Japan to Hawaii in 1898, then to the Bay Area in 1901 to work on the transcontinental railroad. He relocated to the Central Valley in 1908, where many Japanese immigrants came to farm, and eventually started his own operation near Kingsburg, growing stone fruit and grapes. The first half of the 20th century was a dark time in California’s history, with discriminatory Alien Land Laws and Japanese internment, and still the family and farm survived.

In the 1950s, Shotaro’s son, Yukio (known as “Yuk”’), served in the Korean War, then studied business accounting at UCLA. After graduating, Yuk and his wife, Yonki, returned to the family farm to help Shotaro as he was getting older. The couple managed the farm together for 47 years.

“My dad lived to be 101, and I’m now 87,” says Yuk. “I don’t know if I’ll live that long, but life has been good, and it’s been hard.”

After working with packing houses for many years, Yuk and Yonki began selling their tree-ripened fruit as it was meant to be eaten: direct from the farm at farmers markets. In the early 1990s, they were one of the founding farms at the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market, and became known among chefs and market shoppers for their unusual varieties of stone fruit and citrus.

Yuk and Yonki transferred ownership of their 235-acre farm to their children, Clifford, Preston, and Donna, in 2002. Yonki passed away in 2003, followed by Preston in 2014. Cliff and the dedicated market staff have been the friendly faces of Hamada at the Ferry Plaza in recent years, and Yuk remained active managing the farm with Cliff.

“They were all very, very nice people,” Yuk recalls about the market community. “I don’t know if it was just stroke of luck that we met so many nice people. We were all in the same boat. We were working hard, and working hard was easier then than the world we live in now. But we appreciate the business they gave us and the friendships we developed, and I’ll never forget them.”

Words of Gratitude

We asked members of the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market community to share their memories and reflections about Hamada Farms.

Chris Cosentino, Cockscomb and Boccalone

I started buying from Yuk and Yonki back in the days at Green Street  [when the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market was located there]. It’s been a long, long run. Their stand was a home base for every chef, and they watched everybody’s children grow up. They were just good people. I remember hanging out with Yukio on Green Street, eating and talking and learning. Not only were they amazing farmers, but great teachers. It’s sad to see it all go.

Tatiana Graf, Boccalone

Hamada Farms has been an amazing partner. For a lot of us, they became like family. My first impression of them was seeing their big stalks of cherry blossoms at Green Street. From then on, I just loved the Hamadas. When we told our son the news, the first thing he said was, “Oh no! I grew up in the back of their truck!” And he’s not alone. A bunch of chefs’ kids would hang out in the back of the truck and eat whatever fruit was in season. They had a kid-sized dust pan and broom, and the kids would sweep up cherry pits or whatever. We will miss the Hamadas and their fruit.

Amy Brown, Marla Bakery

Cliff Hamada is one of the most careful, meticulous farmers I know. I started working with him at Boulette’s Larder around 2006, and later at Nopa. It was through Hamada that I was introduced to the wild and wonderful world of pluots and apriums. When Joe and I started Marla Bakery, Hamada was one of the first farms we worked with.

We would laugh about how if you asked Cliff for a flat of something, you’d come back in 30 minutes, and he’d still be carefully picking every fruit that went into it, and it would be beautiful. I appreciate how much time he took, how honest he was, and the integrity he had in what he offered. If a fruit wasn’t quite ready, he told you to wait. There was also the loyalty of generations working at the stand. They’re just some of the nicest people in the world, including the people who worked for them. I miss checking in with Cliff and Janet and Gordon. Gordon’s daughter and his grandson were sometimes there. It mirrors how Joe and I run our business, with kids running around. You could feel how connected everyone was. I wish them the best.

Jesse Friedman, Almanac Beer

If you’re a customer of Hamada, you’re like family. Whenever you’d stop by the stand, Cliff was always there, hand-polishing chefs’ orders in the truck, such a perfect example of the attention and care that infused everything that they did. When I had their Buddha’s Hand on my cart, I couldn’t make my way through the market because so many people would stop me to ask it what it was. I loved sending people to get fruit from them. Their stone fruit, their grapes, their dried fruit—what Hamada had was always a perfect temperature of what was really good at the market. 

Stan Devoto, Devoto Orchards

Cliff is a really good friend, and he’s probably one of the most generous farmers I know. If you ask him a favor, he’ll do anything for you. All his family members were the same, too. A grower like him makes everyone step up their game. It sets the bar very high.

Annie Somerville, Green Restaurant

Greens Restaurant and I miss Cliff and the amazing Hamada crew terribly, and we wish everyone well. They’ve been such an important part of the market for so many years, and have given so much so generously and so beautifully. 

Lulu Meyer, Director of Market Operations for CUESA

Long before I ever worked for CUESA, I discovered Hamada Farms as a regular Saturday market shopper. I have the Hamadas to thank for my appreciation for Buddha’s Hand citron and Sudachi. Years later when I went to work for CUESA, I got to learn even more about the family, their history, and how utterly unique truck farming operations like Hamada Farms are. Several years ago I even got the chance to visit Yuk and Clifford at their farm, where I was treated to enchiladas in Yuk’s kitchen and a tour of the operations. Over the past 13 years, Clifford, sometimes accompanied by Yuk, always arrived for the Saturday market long before anyone else and was usually one of the first people I would say hello to on those early mornings. The Hamada stand and Clifford’s truck has been a gathering place each Saturday for so many of my friends in the restaurant industry, and I know that I am not alone in saying that their absence will be deeply felt, and we will all miss them dearly.

Marcy Coburn, Executive Director of CUESA

We are heart-broken, as Hamada Farms has anchored our Saturday market since 1994. The Hamadas embody the farming ethos that CUESA strives to cultivate in our markets, and their spirit, generosity, and warmth will be deeply missed. Their family farm was with us through it all, with perfectly ripe cherries and stone fruit in the summer, and impeccable persimmons and citrus in winter, all grown with loving care. We wish Cliff and the Hamada family the very best in all of their future endeavors.

Photo of Clifford Hamada on the farm by Jesse Friedman, Almanac Beer Co.