Dan Manassero never doubted he wanted to be a farmer growing up, and his wife Anne has become his partner and inspiration.
Grandfather James Manassero started it all. He began farming in Yorba Linda in 1922. Grandson Dan Manassero remembers visiting his grandfather’s giant garden when he was a kid to pick vegetables and watch him take care of his orange and avocado trees, asparagus patches and tomato rows. Later, in high school, Dan began driving tractors for his father and uncle in their farming operation.
It didn’t take Dan long to learn the tricks of the trade from all three–grandfather James, father Steve, Sr. and uncle Emille Boisseranc, Jr. –before he started his own farming business with his older brother Steve when he was 21. Although Steve went out on his own years ago, Dan has been farming under the name The Original Manassero Farms since 1976, making the business 40 years old this year. Dan, who has four brothers, explains.
“I called the farm The Original Manassero Farms to differentiate from my brothers’ farming businesses.”
Today, Dan’s farm is 60 acres with farms in Cerritos, Brea, Tustin and two in Irvine, with fruit and vegetable markets in all the cities.
“I love farming,” he says. “It’s fun. You plant a crop of strawberries in October, and they’re ready by Christmas.”
Dan grows both certified organic and conventional crops. He is best known for growing the most delectable strawberries in the county–a Manassero signature. Unlike many large commercial growers, Dan grows berries that are known for their taste and color, not their ability to sit on store shelves for unknown amounts of time. His berries are picked and delivered each morning at the height of ripeness.
Dan also grows a large variety of produce, including heirloom and beefsteak tomatoes, sweet corn, green beans, cucumbers, cantaloupe, watermelon and many varieties of summer and winter squash.
It took a native of Abilene, Texas, to shake up Dan’s farming world. Anne Shedd and Dan met on a blind date at a cast party following a CHOC Follies performance that Anne was featured in (Anne was a professional singer on cruise ships at age 19). Married in 2003, Anne admits she didn’t know anything about farming, but it seems she was slowly gearing up to it her entire life. She has a photo of herself at age six holding a basket of strawberries.
“Coming from a long line of great home cooks, I’ve always loved to cook and eat,” she says. “My favorite thing growing up was to go to the local farm stands with my mother and grandmother,” she says.
It wasn’t long before Dan needed help with the business, and Anne stepped in. A dynamo of energy, she enhanced the business with her expertise in design and merchandising. She was a self-taught interior designer, helping friends with their homes, with her home in Mammoth ending up on a home tour.
“Our fruit and vegetable stands looked like everyone elses,” Anne says, “so I changed the look of them.”
It was after she bought and fully refurbished and remodeled a classic 1920s house in downtown Austin, Texas, that Anne gained the confidence to turn the Manassero Farms Market location in Irvine into a successful event venue, market and gift shop.
“From the amazing produce that has been walked in–not trucked in–to the pick-your own-herb garden, to private labeled jams, jellies, honeys, gourmet foods, handmade soaps, lotions, candles, and much more, your experience is charming and fun,” she says. “I always get such a kick out of watching people strolling around the farm grounds taking pictures.”
Anne is proud to say the Irvine market has the only gift shop in Irvine.
Anne’s design influence also created their special events venue, aka “The Barn,” where guests find an artfully decorated space full of architectural salvage, rustic tables and elegant comfort.
The newest Irvine Market location brought chef/restaurateur Pascal Olhats into the Manassero’s world two years ago when Anne met him at a charity event. The two have now teamed up on a unique venture, billed as ”The Farmer’s Wife and The French Chef.” Together, they have combined talents to introduce easy lifestyle lessons in taking your house to a home and your food from good to gourmet. Gourmet-inspired chef dinners, quick lunches and a variety of private events prevail, with Pascal’s mini cooking classes and Anne’s engaging banter creating a fan base. Many are hungry for farm-to-table cuisine and know that the produce used is from the farm’s bounty. Another popular event is the location’s Breakfast in the Barn, which is held once a month with local award-winning chefs cooking you breakfast.
“It has brought people in who didn’t know about us and has helped the bottom line tremendously,” Dan says.
“Pascal has been an integral part of the success of this entire venture,” Anne adds.
Dan is pleased that the emphasis these days is on healthy eating.
“Our goal is to be as organic as we can with all the crops,” Dan says. “The events have worked out well for us with people wanting to eat organic and more healthy,” he says.
Texas loving Anne convinced Dan to begin planting the organically grown Texas 1015 onions, so named as that is when they are typically planted in Texas.
“They’re an awesome large, sweet onion,” she says. “I like them because they’re not as sweet as the Vidalias and Mauis, so you can use them in any application, and they still caramelize like a regular onion. You can even eat them raw.”
As to the business end of Manassero Farms, the two say it isn’t easy. Over the years, they have seen first-hand the influence of government regulations, labor resources, trade, large commercial growers, and big box stores that have changed the face of urban farming.
Dan says that all the farmers in Orange County lease the land.
“We can’t afford to pay $4 million an acre,” he says.
With that being said, the successful farming duo feels blessed that things have come together in such a winning way at their newest Manassero Farms Market location in Irvine.
It definitely helped that they were both business majors in college-Dan at Fullerton Junior College and Anne at the University of Phoenix. Their children from previous marriages are no slouches, either, although no one is in farming. Dan’s son Jeff, 32, is a principal at Clear Light Partners, and Samantha, 30, and Carly, 28, are both nurses at Children’s Hospital of Orange County. Anne’s daughter Laurel, 26, is in law school at South Texas College of Law in Houston.
As part of an Orange County third generation farming family, nearly 100 years old, Dan is fine with his kids wanting a different path.
“All of our kids are headstrong, smart, and know what they want out of life and hard-working enough to make their own goals a reality,” Dan says. “Nothing could make a dad more proud.”
It does seem that Dan always knew he wanted to be a farmer.
“My grandmother told me I needed to be a doctor,” he laughs, “and I told her, ‘No, I think I’ll be a farmer.’”
As to retiring, Dan’s pretty clear.
“I love to golf and travel, but I plan on doing this the rest of my life.”