When Kong Thao’s parents moved to the United States 28 years ago, they knew how to do one thing very well: farming. So they established Thao Family Farms in California’s Fresno County, growing over 300 different types of all-natural, pesticide-free produce that they supply to farmers markets and top restaurants throughout California––including Munchery.
In order to cultivate such wide variety, Thao uses covered hot houses to mimic the climate of Southeast Asia. The hot houses keep heat and moisture in, require less water, and prevent more delicate plants, like ginger, from burning in the 100-plus degree temperatures that are common in the Central California region.
Years ago, Kong Thao went to school to be an auto engineer, working for a time at GM and CarMax. But he always kept one toe in farming. He jokes that his auto engineering job during the weekdays was a part-time one, while his full-time job was farming on the weekends. Now, he’s truly full time at Thao Family Farms––and this is where his true calling lies.
Kong finds freedom in farming and says, “the only person I have to answer to is my mom.” Kong works alongside several family members, including his wife and daughter, who knows the business so well that she can give visitor tours as well as anybody on the staff.
“This isn’t just our job, it’s our lifestyle,” says Kong.
The Thao family eats what they grow, and whatever they don’t sell to restaurants or farmers market vendors goes to the family pigs, which have become one of Kong’s side hobbies. Kong raises both domesticated breeds, as well as a stock of wild boar. He also raises and sells chickens and their eggs.
Kong is constantly experimenting, seeking to expand his offerings. He grows 34 varieties of tomatoes, six varieties of basil and 30 varieties of peppers. Additionally, his farm boasts hard-to-find crops, such as those found in Asia, that are not typically grown in California, including exotic peppers and jujubes. Kong says such rare ingredients are sought after by restaurants: “A lot of chefs really like our stuff because it keeps them on their toes. We have something different every week.”
For Kong and his family, there’s no greater reward than seeing the fruits of their labor go from farm to fork: “To be able to go in and eat our products at a restaurant…or see them in a demo or picture…that’s really the satisfaction that we get.”
Many thanks to Munchery partner, GrubMarket, for connecting us to Thao Family Farms. We love sourcing from this family’s fabulous farm!