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Sunday, Apr 14, 2024

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For generations, the Tapia brothers have been supplying local residents with some of the freshest produce to be found. They are the last of a dying breed farmers who grow crops within the city of Los Angeles. Currently, Tapia Bros. Inc. leases about 100 acres in the Sepulveda Basin and sells corn, tomatoes, pumpkins and strawberries at its produce stand at Hayvenhurst Avenue and Burbank Boulevard, as well as other outlets. But times have changed since the first Tapia came to the fertile San Fernando Valley in the early 1900s to farm. As the city’s infrastructure and population grew, farmland dwindled and farmers like the Tapias were forced to look to the valleys that surround Los Angeles to grow their crops. The business is strictly a family operation, where brothers work side by side with their father, and wives, mothers, sisters and children help out wherever they can. Edward Tapia, who is carrying on that tradition, recently spoke with the San Fernando Valley Business Journal. Question: How did your family start in the farming business? Answer: My brothers and our cousins are actually the third generation of farmers in my family. My grandfather, Primo Tapia, came from Mexico in 1916 to farm in the San Fernando Valley. At first, he worked for someone else, then started his own business on a five-acre parcel. In the early 1960s, my grandfather and his sons were farming more than 400 acres of land. Those places are now called Warner Center, Woodley Park, Woodley Golf Course and Lake Balboa. My father and his four brothers took over the business when my grandfather died in 1964. There are only two of the original Tapia brothers left and they still run the business side of things. Q: How long has Tapia Bros. been at its current location? A: We have been at the Sepulveda Basin for 16 years now. Before that we had a stand in Saugus, close to where my father and his brothers were farming 2,000 acres in the Santa Clarita and Antelope valleys. But in 1982, the land in Santa Clarita was being developed into a shopping center and we had the opportunity to move back to the San Fernando Valley, and we did. We have a long-term lease here with the Army Corps of Engineers. We just renewed it this year and will renegotiate it again in about five years. Q: Who will eventually run the business when your father and uncle retire? A: Me and my brothers will take it over. Everybody has their thing that they are good at, and will keep doing it. I run the farming part of the operation, my one brother runs the produce stand and my other brother is a mechanic and basically helps wherever he is needed. Right now he is out in our Lancaster farm helping plant onions. Q: What are some of the crops that are grown at the Lancaster Farm? A: We have 400 acres out there where we grow corn, pumpkins and onions. Then we will haul it down here to sell it. We don’t have enough ground here to grow it. In the Valley, we basically grow the corn, tomatoes and fresh produce that we sell at the stand. Q: How has El Ni & #324;o affected the family’s farming operation? A: It has put us behind. Hopefully we will have corn for the Fourth of July because that is a big weekend for us. We make a lot of money selling corn. Already, we won’t have enough strawberries for Mother’s Day weekend. It is usually a good holiday for us, but we don’t have any berries. They were all bad because of the rains. The rain is good for strawberry (plants) when they are little and there are no berries on them, but once they start getting red and the rain hits them, it just ruins them. The tomatoes were also damaged. They are all full of a fungus from too much water. My workers and I are trying to figure out what we can put on them that would help them. Q: How do you manage to stay in business when something like El Ni & #324;o hits? A: Well, mostly because my family works hard and we do almost everything. There are a lot of hours for all of us. We have been doing this all of our lives. There are me and my two brothers, my three cousins, my dad and uncle. Right now, because of El Ni & #324;o, we are just a bit slower than normal. A lot of people are even surprised we are open. When we close here it means all the streets shut down because of the flood basin. Q: Is farming more difficult when it is done in a flood-control channel? A: It’s different. Normally farmers can plant a winter crop, like lettuce. But not here. During the winter, this area is mostly under water. In the beginning, we used to try and plant during the winter months, but the crops would get ruined, so now we don’t even try. But we think it is still worth it to farm here. We make a living like anybody. We are not rich, but it is in our family, in our blood. We have been doing it a long time, since we were kids. My mother would bring us out here while she worked the (produce) stand as my dad did the farming. Q: What is the basic cost for your produce? A: It is hard to say in numbers because we are dealing with fresh produce. There isn’t a market value here. We are not big enough that we would go by what the market says. It is basically like, what we grow and sell is what we take home. Right now, we sell a half flat (each containing six green cartons) of strawberries for $7. Normally we sell it for $5, but we are a little high right now because we are trying to catch up. Everyone will be doing that because everyone was affected by the rains. Eventually, the strawberries will get cheaper because of supply and demand. For example, during an entire strawberry season, which lasts from about March to June, a good crop of strawberries will yield about 4,000 boxes. Each box weighs about 20 pounds. In a bad year, the crop may only yield 2,500 boxes. Right now, because of El Ni & #324;o, we hope to get at least 3,000 boxes. Q: Who are your biggest customers? A: Most of our business is retail. We have a lot of regular customers who have been coming here for years. Some people come all the way from Valencia and Saugus because we have the best corn and tomatoes. We don’t do a lot of wholesale customers but we do have some. We send our corn to the L.A. Market (on Olympic), and we also sell produce to a few mom-and-pop markets in the Valley. Q: What kind of labor do you use? A: We use migrant workers who travel back and forth to Mexico. Some guys have been with us for over 20 years. They go home to their wives in Mexico for the winter, and in the summer, when we need more help, they come back and work. We aren’t a big enough operation to have a union. During the winter, we have about eight workers, besides me and my brothers. In the peak months of the summer, we have about 15 full time, then a few part-timers at the stand. Mostly our three sisters and our wives help out at the stand when it gets busy, like on Fourth of July and Halloween. Edward Tapia Position: Supervisor of Farming Company: Tapia Bros. Inc. Born: July 20, 1964 Education: Notre Dame High School, Sherman Oaks Career Turning Point: Becoming a farming supervisor Most Admired Person: His father, Felix Tapia, and mother, Betty Tapia, because they brought the company to where it is today. Hobbies: Softball Personal: Married, two children.

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