Picky About Perfect Strawberries
By Kirsten Fairchilds
Paul Tao knows quite a bit about strawberries.
The Watsonville native knows how to store them: “Take a sealable container and line it with a paper towel. Put the unwashed berries in, seal it up and put in the refrigerator. The paper towel keeps the condensation off of the fruit.”
He knows how to freeze them: “Wash them first and take the calyx off — that’s the cap. Dry them off and place them on a cookie sheet. Put it in the freezer until they’re hard — maybe a couple of hours. Then put them into a ziploc freezer bag. They will not stick together.”
But perhaps what customers at the Monterey Bay Certified Farmers Markets appreciate most about Paul’s wealth of knowledge on the subject is how well he knows how to grow strawberries.
As co-owner of P&K Farms with his wife Kim — Paul is the “P” and Kim is the “K” —he represents the third generation of the Tao family to farm in the Monterey Bay area. His grandfather Keitaro farmed vegetables in the early 1920s while his late father Akira began farming berries in the early 1950s in Watsonville.
“I had no interest of being in farming when I was younger,” said Paul, giving a tour of his still-producing strawberry fields on a recent weekday in late November. “As kids, we had to work on the farm all the time.
“In 1984, I came back to help my parents on a temporary basis,” Paul continued.
“It turned out long-term,” added Kim, who grew up in Mountain View in a family that farmed cut flowers.
Established in 1994, P&K Farms grows its berries in two locations in Castroville on approximately 15 acres, all of which are planted by hand. Strawberries are harvested as early as February up until as late as December, which has been the case this year.
In addition to growing strawberries, the Taos also grow blueberries, which they first planted in 2006. The harvest typically begins at a slow pace in January and then wraps up by early September.
After selling solely wholesale for years, P&K Farms began selling at the Del Monte market in 2009.
“I felt we needed a different outlet for our product,” said Paul, a 1976 Watsonville High graduate. “It was a matter of survival. Selling directly to the consumer was very appealing to me.”
For Kim, it has brought a number of benefits.
“It’s nice seeing the same customers coming by to say hello each week,” she said. “It’s also great when our kids are there and get to socialize. We bring them to the Aptos market every Saturday.”
Steven, 17, Melissa, 15, and Alex, 12, are often joined at the Aptos market by Paul’s mother Mitsuyo.
“The reason why we need so many people is that we sort through all the fruit at the market,” Paul said. “At first, everyone thought I was too picky — both the family and even the customers. But I told them that I wanted to put out the best quality. I don’t want to sell anything that I wouldn’t eat, and I’m picky.
“I eat a lot of strawberries,” he continued. “Even when we don’t have berries, I’ll order a strawberry pie in a restaurant. I love strawberries.”
Market Profile: more about P&K Farms>
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