Meet The Grower: Kitayama Brothers Farms

May 22, 2021

Meet The Grower: Kitayama Brothers Farms

What makes the Farmgirl world go round? A ton of burlap, extra hot venti quad oat milk lattes (that is no joke our Customer Support Manager’s daily coffee order), and, of course, the farm partners that grow the bits and blooms that make up our bouquets. And we’re so very proud to call Kitayama Brothers Farms (based in Watsonville, California) one of our longest-standing partnerships and home (ICYMI – we moved onto this well-regarded, family-owned operation’s farm after the March 2020 shelter-in-place mandate forced the closure of our original HQ in San Francisco).

Many of you might already be familiar with the Kitayama name because of a March 2020 Instagram post of a pile of daisies (pictured below). Snapped back in March 2020 by Mr. Robert Kitayama a day after shelter-in-place orders brought our industry to an abrupt halt, this photo just about broke our little corner of the internet. Seriously, to this day we’ve never received nearly the number of comments, DMs, or emails on any other single post!

So now that we’re a little over a year out from that record-breaking photo we figured it was high time to check back in with Robert and KB Farms. Here he is talking flowers, farming, family, and more!

On pivoting during the pandemic –
“Because we’re located on the West Coast and a majority of cut flowers nowadays come from South America, we became a popular supplier for customers who had to seek out local options when transportation options shut down [due to COVID]. To maximize our limited production, we also started focusing on building “partners not buyers.” Farmgirl is the poster child for this pivot because they work with our team to plan a year’s worth of flowers at a time.”

On that pile of daisies –
“Farmgirl coming to our farm was a huge pivot last March. At that time, we had excess warehouse space and flowers and Farmgirl needed warehouse space and flowers so it was a very fortunate circumstance. That pile of gerbs represented the opportunity, and the daisy arrangements we make for Farmgirl are the result.”

On being a California grower –
“Growing flowers in California is very challenging. The costs of labor and other inputs rise annually. This year energy costs have skyrocketed and agricultural labor during the pandemic continues to be short. We are doing a lot of analysis of crops we grow to measure profitably and we’re going to stop growing LA-hybrid lilies and winter lisianthus as a result of our analysis. We are increasing mini callas, mini gerberas, ranunculas and snapdragons. It is hard to know what the long-term outlook is, but my belief is we must build new energy and labor efficient greenhouse to be able to continue into the future.”

On working with family –

“Right now there are only two Kitayamas who work full time for KB Farms: my brother Stuart and myself. We work well together because our skill sets are very different. Stuart is an engineer and handles facilities, maintenance, and rentals while I have more of an administrative and sales role. We also have a lot of family shareholders who have roles on the Board of Directors or the Oversight Committee.”

On sustainability –

“To be any kind of agricultural grower in Santa Cruz County, California means to be highly regulated and attentive to sustainability concerns. Not only do we have to be mindful of the regulations, but the costs of material and labor to apply it are high, and minimizing all costs is a big concern. At the end of the day, we are very aware that we and our families live here, so it is very important that we take care of our facilities, land, and resources.”

On his favorite flowers –

“Yellow gerberas (that’s for Christina’s benefit).* Right now I am amazed at how well the Italian ranunculus open and last. I think they are often better than the peonies when they are fully open.”
*Spoiler alert – we weren’t always crazy for daisies, but the gerbs grown by KB farms made us converts.

Want more? Robert Kitayama joined Farmgirl Founder and CEO Christina Stembel for a CNBC interview right before Mother’s Day 2021. Watch here!

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