Farming with Fathers

June 16, 2005

As fewer and fewer children of farming families continue the farming tradition, the average age of farmers in the United States climbs. The 2002 Census showed that only 5.8 percent of operators were younger than 35. But many children of the farmers in the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market have made crop cultivation (or other aspects of the farming business) their profession and are still working with their parents, oftentimes on the land where they were raised. In honor of Father’s Day, we are sharing brief profiles of farmers who work with their farmer-fathers.

Hamada Orchards

Father: Yukio

Yukio’s father, Shotaro Hamada, arrived in San Francisco in 1901. After laboring in the construction of the transcontinental railroad over Donner Summit, he was employed by a farm in Lindsay where he developed expertise in growing oranges and strawberries. By 1921 he owned his first parcel of farmland. After Shotaro’s son, Yukio, graduated from UCLA with a degree in business accounting, Yukio and his wife Yonki joined the family farming business, and managed it together for 47 years. Yukio recently transferred the ownership of the farm to his three adult children. Although they are active in its day-to-day operations, Yukio has retained his role as farm manager.

Balakian Farms
Father: John

John and Stella Balakian bought their property over 50 years ago. Their daughter Ginger was born and raised on the farm and has now joined her parents in farming along with her husband, daughter and many aunts and uncles. John’s father was an immigrant from Armenia who planted a vineyard in the Reedley area. He was born and raised on the vineyard, which is still producing grapes today.

Blossom Bluff Orchards
Father: Herb

Herb’s parents, Daniel and Babette Litchi, bought the land that has become Blossom Bluff Orchards in the 1930s when Herb was a teen. He began farming with his parents, married, and raised a family on the farm. Herb’s daughter, Fran, married Ted Loewen in 1971. Fran and Ted moved back to the farm shortly after they married and Ted, a lawyer by training, began farming full-time while Fran taught elementary school. Fran recently retired from teaching and will now be farming full-time. Herb, now 83, continues to work on the land almost daily.

Elston Farm
Father: Dennis

Dennis and Gaylo Elston bought their farm in 1971 and started farming alfalfa. When the price of water became too expensive, they took a break from agriculture and leased their land to other farmers. When Dennis’ nephew became interested in greenhouses, the Elstons decided to try cultivating tomatoes on their own land, and built their first greenhouse in 1997. Dennis and Gaylo’s daughter Mary has now joined the operation, and comes to the market every week with her father.

Hidden Star Orchards
Father: John

Both children of Dutch immigrant farmers, John and Clazien met and married in the United States, raising seven children. In 1969, they started a dairy ranch in Linden, then converted it to an apple orchard in 1985. Over the years, they added other fruit trees including cherries, peaches, nectarines, pluots, and grapes. The Clazien’s son Johann began farming with his parents 12 years ago; he sells at the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market, often with his own children, every Tuesday and Saturday.

Sciabica & Sons

Father: Joseph

In 1936, Nicola Sciabica and his son Joseph began cold pressing olive oil in California. Joseph and his family, including wife Gemma, sons Nick and Dan, and grandson Jonathan, continue to produce olives and olive oil on the same Modesto land.