Since he was 2 years old, Makoto Chino has been immersed in a farm life, born into the family who runs Chino Farms Vegetable Stand in Rancho Santa Fe. By age 12, he fit in working the fields and vegetable stand in between homework and basketball practices.
Now the19-year-old Bishop's School grad can be found behind rows of broccoli, berries and Brussels sprouts, helping customers pick their produce and speaking with great passion and knowledge about his family's beautiful and bountiful harvest.
"It's such an important thing," Chino said. "I couldn't see it not being here, it has to continue."
Chino said there is a big difference between roaming the produce aisle at the local grocery chain and making a trip to Chino Farm's humble-looking stand on Calzada del Bosque.
"I think there is too much emphasis placed on storage and making vegetables hold up a long time," Chino said.
Their vegetable stand takes an opposite approach, Chino said. They put an emphasis on flavor and smell and having freshly picked, "amazing quality" veggies and fruits on display every day.
Chino Farms has been family-owned since 1969. The Chinos previously had a farm north of Rancho Santa Fe, but they were sent to a Japanese-American internment camp during World War II.
"They lost everything they had," Makoto Chino said. "When they got out, they wanted to restart. They came here and have been here since then."
Now Chino is behind the produce almost daily, alongside his father, Tom, who shyly lets his son do all the talking.
On about 35 acres of farm, they grow just about everything you can imagine, from swollen summer-friendly watermelons to exotic-looking Romanesque cauliflower. Chino said their most popular items are their corn and their strawberries.
"I love it," said customer Kris Panikowski from Carmel Valley. "The vegetables are perfect, so sweet and fresh."
Last Thursday, Panikowski was loading up on oranges for fresh orange juice, corn, heirloom tomatoes, basil, true blue potatoes, Japanese cucumbers, strawberries and shelled peas, which she said are so good she could eat them for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
Chino Farms is one of the only spots to find Mara des Bois strawberries, a French berry that comes from a Spanish plant. It's a very perishable berry, so not many places are able to sell them. It's not cost-effective - starting next year, Chino's will be the only place in the nation where you can get them.
"Our clientele here, they appreciate the difference, and that makes it all worthwhile," Chino said.
That clientele Chino speaks of includes some of the best fine dining establishments in San Diego.
Milles Fleur in Rancho Santa Fe is among their daily customers - manager Alvin Chun said that the chef often tailors his menu around what is available at the farm.
Menu items even give a shout-out to the stand in their names, such as the "Soft Shell Crabs on Chino Farms Corn."
Chun said their lobster salad is the most popular menu item contributed to by Chino Farms; it pairs greens with Maine lobster, avocado and papaya.
Chino himself is crazy for the eggplant, often using it in his cooking.
His favorite recipe is slicing the eggplant up into "bread-size" pieces, scarring it up, rubbing on some olive oil and putting it on the grill.
Chino says to "let it get delicious" on the grill and then put it on some garlic toast with goat cheese.
"It's the best thing ever," Chino said.
Visit Chino Farms Vegetable Stand
- 6123 Calzada del Bosque, Rancho Santa Fe
- Hours: 10 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays; 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Sundays