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Eat This, Riverside: Fresh strawberries from Corona Family Farm - they may not be around forever!

Facing the dual threats of agricultural quarantine and the potential loss of their land, Corona Family Farm's fresh, locally-grown strawberries symbolize the sweetness and challenges of farming in Riverside's cherished green spaces.

If you haven’t tried out Corona Family Farm, Victoria Avenue's greenbelt stalwart for fresh, local produce, it’s time to remedy that oversight. Corona Farm is a treasure and a weekly stop on my Riverside food-shopping rounds. You should consider making it a regular stop on your shopping expeditions too – and start soon: you may not have that option forever.

My Chicago friend Ira says that when he first visited California and tasted the fruit on offer year-round at markets and grocery stores, it made him mad. He felt he’d been lied to his whole life about what fresh fruit should taste like. Once exposed to the depth and flavor available as a matter of course from CA farms, he couldn’t help but feel deprived when he returned to the Midwest and had to settle for the shriveled oranges and tasteless strawberries that stared back at him from the produce section shelves during the nine months of the year that don’t coincide with the brief local growing season. 

CA’s fresh produce bounty is a true gift to Riversiders, and Corona Farm (located on Madison Ave between Victoria and Lincoln) is a great example. Started 15 years ago by the Corona family (the name’s homonymity with our neighboring town is coincidental), this nearly 30-acre farm operates year-round and offers a rotating selection of fruits and veggies, dictated by the season.

Right now, we’re at the start of the berry season - Corona Farm’s strawberries are justly famous, and the crop this year, so far, is terrific. Sizeable and sturdy with deep strawberry flavor, these are the kind of berries you’ll eat half a pint of in the car on the way home, leaving a trail of berry tops behind you between the royal palms on Victoria Ave. The coming months will provide waves of different strawberry varieties until the summer heat sets in and the seasonal options rotate in other directions.

Brassicas are well-represented in the fall and winter months: giant cabbage, broccoli, and cauliflower are on offer right now, as well as exquisite romanesco, whose fractal florets add some welcome chaos theory to any dinner table.

My regular shopping basket includes fresh carrots (they’re huge this year, thanks to the heavy rains), scallions (also girthier than usual), dill and basil when the weather permits, hot Serrano chilis, fresh cilantro, pickling cukes and ruby-red beefsteak tomatoes. 

In spite of inflation, prices at Corona Farms are uncommonly affordable, especially compared to the certified organic farmers' market stalls downtown and the neighboring produce stands.  

These are uncertain times for Corona Farms. Along with salutary rain and mild temperatures, this winter has brought a series of unexpected challenges for the Corona family. 

In December, the dreaded Oriental Fruit Fly reared its ugly head, along with its concomitant Citrus Greening quarantine. Produce that can risk spreading the fruit fly’s territory is not permitted to leave the property on which it was grown. Corona Farms inspired a mild panic among customers when they posted on their Facebook profile a list of summer produce that would be affected by the quarantine.   

If you’re not attuned to the agricultural quarantine - read up! The restrictions on the movements of produce grown within the extensive quarantine zone are intense. Subsequent to the farm’s Facebook post, the county released guidance about pesticide treatments that can be applied to summer crops to make them possible to sell. So, tomatoes, melons, peppers, and more will be on the menu so long as the family keeps up with the required spraying regimen.

When asked about how the fruit fly is affecting their outlook now, Esmeralda Corona (her brother Juan says, “she’s the boss,” though she is quick to correct him: “our dad Fidel is really in charge!”), is careful to strike a measured tone: “We will be fine; we will do everything required of us by the quarantine, including spraying as instructed.”

But the Oriental Fruit Fly is not the only storm on the horizon that’s causing uncertainty for Corona Family Farm. The family farms on leased land. In January, their landlord let them know of their intention to sell the property. The farm’s lease will allow the family to remain for two years after any property transfer, but the Coronas are feeling the pressure of that ominous deadline looming in the unknown future.

Again, the family strikes a philosophical tone. On their Facebook page, they replied to concerned comments: “Once it sells, we are not sure what’s going to happen. We don’t want to leave, but there is not much we can do.” The property may not sell quickly. There are restrictions on density for greenbelt acreage that may make the parcel a less appealing purchase for residential developers. Even if it does sell, the family doesn’t know what the new owners will do. But it could be that Corona Farm’s days are numbered at their current location. 

“If you know any millionaires that are looking to buy the property and continue to lease it to us for our farm, please send them our way,” Esmeralda adds. The Corona family would be happy to have a more stable outlook for the long term. Customers who overheard my conversation with her were alarmed at the prospect of being deprived of Corona Farm’s produce: “We depend on this farm! We come every week. We need to know what’s happening with you and to find you if you ever have to move''.

Corona Farms is open from 8:30 a.m.-4:00 p.m. Monday - Saturday and on Sunday from 8:30 a.m.-3:00 p.m. The entrance to the farmstand is on Madison Street, between Victoria and Lincoln. They accept cash and Zelle, but no credit cards. Get there early in strawberry season: they pick throughout the day but often run out. To keep up on the news affecting the farm, befriend them on Facebook.

How’d I do, Gazette readers? Is Corona Family Farm your top choice for strawberries and cabbage, too? Where else do you go for a fresh produce fix? What are you doing with your quarantined backyard lemons? Let me know with an email to the tipline:

After my last column on Los Altos Meat Market, reader Larry Robillard emailed to suggest I expand my ordering at Los Altos to include their chorizo, bean, and egg burrito and their nachos with buche (pork tripe): “I work down the street and have to limit my visits to not get gordo!”. Another correspondent bemoaned the state of local carne asada: “Seems like everyone pre-cooks the meat, and it becomes more like jerky than taco meat😡”. Any suggestions to get this discerning taco-lover the carne asada he so richly deserves? Share the wealth! The tip line is open!