The Last Stand

Tapia Brothers­—selling homegrown produce for more than a quarter of a century

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    Rachel Heller •

Before there were farmers markets in the Valley, there was Tapia Brothers Farm Stand.

Nearly 30 years ago, the Tapia family moved south from Valencia and put down roots—literally and figuratively—on a bucolic Encino patch at Hayvenhurst and Burbank Boulevard. Marked by a red and white awning and rustic wooden signs, the stand still churns out its specialties of yore: crimson tomatoes, sweet corn and strawberries so plump you almost need two hands to hold one.

Much has changed in the Valley since Tapia Brothers opened back in 1984—so naturally, things have changed on the family farm too, right?

Tom Tapia, 52, wrinkles his brow before answering. “We haven’t changed much,” the farmer notes with a shrug. As he says of their tractors, many of which predate the family’s Encino relocation: “Why buy new stuff if the old stuff works fine?”

Words of wisdom—Tapias’ trademark recipe of fresh produce and friendly service has carried them through the years as their competitors gave up or moved away, making them the last remaining produce farm in Encino. Even now, in the age of commercialized organic markets, this old-school stand still holds its own. On a typical summer day, count on a line at the cashier.

“I’ve been working on the farm my whole life,” says Felix Tapia, Jr., 55, Tom’s brother. “It feels good to be here so long.”

The farm stand brims with color on a recent afternoon as vibrant flowers welcome visitors to the wooden counter. There, bins overflow with pristine produce. Still growing in the family farmland—just a stone’s throw across Hayvenhurst—are tomatoes, green beans, sweet onions and cabbage.

The Tapias grow about 80% of their fruits and veggies themselves, 30% of which is organic. Whatever they don’t grow personally, they import from local orchards and farms. “We try to keep everything close,” Felix, Jr. says.

That work ethic can be traced back three generations to Felix, Sr. and Tom’s grandfather, Primo Tapia. Primo migrated from Michoacán state, Mexico, and began farming in Canoga Park and Panorama City in the 1930s. He then moved into Simi Valley in the 1950s with his sons, Felix, Sr. and Charles, and to Valencia in the 1960s. But suburban development squeezed the family business south again, and the Tapias scooped up their Encino parcel from the faltering Maria’s Corn Stand in 1984.

Felix Tapia, Sr. long ago turned over daily operation of the business to his sons. Yet at 82, he still calls the shots when it comes to managing the family’s acreage.

The stand’s entryway sign, proclaiming “Tapia Bros.” is actually somewhat misleading; more accurate would be “Tapia brothers, sons, fathers, uncles, cousins and friends.” At any given time, there’s a partial family reunion in progress. “There’s my wife Carylyn helping the customers; I’ve got a few cousins on the tractor out back, and my father and brother are in the office,” says Felix, Jr. 

The two brothers, whose soil-stained hands bespeak a lifetime of wrestling roots and vines from the earth, know Tapia Brothers Farm Stand won’t survive into the next generation.

“When we retire, that’s it,” says Tom, who encouraged his children to follow their own interests.

For now, however, they’re taking it year by year. Despite slim profits, Tom says it’s a labor of love. “We’ll be here, farming, as long as we can be.”