A Sustainable Harvest
In the Kitchen blog
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Because of their health benefits, flavor and overall appeal, strawberries
add vibrant color to almost any kind of salad. Not only that, they can add depth and
sweetness to enhance more traditional salad dressings.
Orange County fresh produce and the Kawamura name are virtually synonymous. Matt Kawamura is a 3rd generation strawberry grower and shipper whose family heritage is deeply rooted in southern California farming and agriculture. Today, Matt runs Orange County Produce, LLC that he co-founded along with his brother A.G. Kawamura who currently serves as Secretary of the California Department of Food and Agriculture, appointed by Arnold Schwarzenegger in 2003.
With practically a lifetime of experience under his belt, Matt grows 600 acres of strawberries – and is the largest hand-picked green bean grower in the western U.S. In addition to growing, he also stays connected to the sales side of the business in order to maintain the good, long-term relationships he has forged with the retailers. He says they appreciate working directly with him and that he’s “proud to be the last of the regional shippers.”
While Matt’s strawberries are shipped across the nation to the largest retailers in the world, he is happy to see the growing excitement around locally-grown produce since a majority of his berries are shipped primarily in the Los Angeles area. Local residents can find Orange County Produce at the local farmers markets because Matt enjoys interacting with customers and providing them with another good local choice.
Family and Community
Matt has been married to his wife Jeana for 24 years. Together they have raised their two children, one in college, and one who recently graduated. As long-time Orange County residents, Matt and Jeana are woven into the community and have a passion for working, living – and giving – in their community.
With a passion for helping young people get the guidance they need to pursue a college education, Jeana volunteers her time with Girls Inc – a non-profit organization that develops research-based informal education programs that encourage girls to take risks and master physical, intellectual and emotional challenges. Matt serves as a student mentor for the local high school where he graduated. Additionally, he is the largest fresh produce donor to the local Second Harvest Food Bank.
As long-time tenants, real estate and local business owners, they are good citizens and stewards of the land and feel a tremendous obligation to preserve agriculture and the strawberry crop in Orange County. They say with pride that they want to keep the legacy alive, not just for their family and employees, but for the local community and beyond.
Matt says that he’s proud to have survived the urbanization of Orange County and attributes his success to his family history, culture, and work ethic that began when his grandfather arrived here from Japan in the early 1900s. But he’s also quick to add that “success doesn’t come without challenges,” when it comes to the economic crunch, environmental changes and water issues. He and Jeana light-heartedly admit that every year they ask one another if this year could be the last one, all the while knowing that it’s not.
When asked about other challenges, including weather and other unforeseen circumstances, Matt says, “All farmers know they are in one of the riskiest jobs on the planet, but despite that fact, you’d have to look far and wide to find a farmer who doesn’t know how to graciously handle when things go wrong.”
In Matt’s spare time, he enjoys playing blues and jazz guitar, body surfing in Newport Beach and traveling with his family.