Armenian Summer Salad from Balakian Farms Photo: Kate Leahy

Recipe Corner: Armenian Summer Salad from Balakian Farms


REEDLEY- Amber Balakian’s great-grandparents were hardworking immigrants who fled the Armenian Genocide over a century ago and settled in Reedley, California, a small San Joaquin Valley farming town where they planted vineyards. Balakian Farms was founded in 1925 by Zadig Balakian. His son, John, was the eldest of Zadig’s six children. He continued the family business for many years adding tree fruit and other crops along the way. In the 1990s, Ginger Balakian, Amber’s mother, transitioned to organic practices, and began growing heirloom tomatoes.

There are over 3,000 varieties of heirloom tomatoes in active cultivation around the world, and over 15,000 varieties worldwide. The Balakians currently grow up to 40 varieties of heirloom tomatoes, with the season peaking in July and August. Heirloom tomatoes have a striking colorful appearance that is beautifully diverse. The Balakians grow organic crops, including peaches, plums, nectarines, pluots (part plum and part apricot in heritage), apricots, lemons, eggplant, Armenian cucumbers, pomegranates, persimmons, summer squash, and heirloom tomatoes.

The late John Balakian, Amber’s grandfather. Balakian Farms was founded in
1925 by his father, Zadig Balakian

Amber’s energy and entrepreneurial spirit combined with her solid farming background led her to launch her own brand of tomato sauce from the heirloom tomatoes that weren’t quite “perfect” enough for fresh tomato customers. “As a fourth-generation farmer, I set out to create healthy and tasty products. Adapting my Grandma Stella’s Armenian recipe passed down through generations, we created our own line of Organic Blended Heirloom Tomatoes. These blended tomatoes are quite popular. We’re undergoing a rebranding and will soon be doing some co-packaging. We can supply more blended tomatoes online and to more retail outlets, and that is really exciting for us.”

As a girl, Amber spent long hours working alongside her family and their employees (who she considers practically family) on their 20-acre Reedley farm. While she loved spending time on the farm, working in agriculture was never part of her dreams. “I grew up going to farmers markets (including to the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market in San Francisco on Saturdays), and working on a farm was a major part of my life. After graduating high school, though, farming was something I didn’t consider for a career,” she says.

“I studied economics at UC San Diego, and went to Harvard for my master’s degree in management and operations,” she says. “Going to school on the East Coast, Amber was one of the few students from California, and even rarer, she grew up on a family farm. “Classmates asked about my family’s farm, and I started thinking of it more as a business, and wondered how I could help my family with my business background.”

Instead of a corporate career, Amber returned to California to see how she could contribute to her family’s legacy. She remembered how her Grandma Stella cooked lunch every day in her own home for the farm’s employees — many of whom had worked for the family for over 20 years. This sense of devotion and service gave Amber the belief that working together on a farm creates invaluable relationships that last a lifetime. “I’m a fourth-generation farmer, my great grandparents struggled and came to America to escape the Armenian Genocide, and began a new life in Reedley. I’m very proud of their dedication to their family and their farm all these years.”

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Today Amber manages the farm with her parents, Ginger and Clarence, and beloved Grandma Stella, along with several full- and part-time workers. She has also innovated and expanded the farm’s offerings, and is a full-time professor at Fresno City College (FCC) where she teaches entrepreneurship.

Fourth-generation farmer and entrepreneur Amber Balakian (left) and her beloved grandmother Stella Balakian at Balakian Farms, Reedley, California. Photos: Amber Balakian

Amber’s personal story reflects both the history and future of family farming. “Though I’m half African American and half Armenian, I would say my identity shows up for me in farming, especially in terms of what it looks like to be a farmer,” says Amber. “A farmer looks a certain way…is a certain ethnicity, is a certain gender. I do not fit that stereotype—like, any of them.” Currently, the <> majority of farmers in the U.S. are male (95%), white (64%), and over 55 years old (62%).

Amber was one of the winners of the 2021 Stacy’s Rise Project: 10 women received $10,000 and marketing support to help their businesses succeed. Oscar-winning actress/producer Reese Witherspoon and her media company Hello Sunshine will work with Plano-based Stacy’s Pita Chips to help support the visibility and success of female founders. “This grant allows us to scale our e-commerce sales channel, and in turn grow our business. This gives us broader customer reach and opens up the possibility to expand our offerings of more healthy food products,” says Amber.*

Armenian Salad: A Tomato Story

A traditional salad, bursting with summer flavor, reveals a deep story of farming, family, and heritage. In this video, Amber Balakian takes us behind the scenes and into the fields to meet the people behind Balakian Farms. She meets with Kate Leahy, coauthor of the cookbook Lavash, who shares how to make a traditional Armenian salad, using a rainbow of the Balakian’s vine-ripened heirloom tomatoes. This recipe was adapted from: Lavash: The bread that launched 1,000 meals, plus salads, stews, and other recipes from Armenia (Armenian Cookbook, Armenian Food Recipes) Hardcover – Illustrated, October 29, 2019. For this video, go to:


4 to 5 large tomatoes, cut into chunks (about 4 cups)

1 large Armenian cucumber or 4 Persian cucumbers, skin-on, cut into chunks

roughly the same size as the tomatoes (about 4 cups)

1/4 red or yellow onion, thinly sliced (if very strong, rinse the onion with water)

1 Anaheim pepper or other mild fresh pepper, cored, seeded, and thinly sliced crosswise

1/4 cup chopped cilantro

2 tablespoons chopped dill

2 tablespoons red wine vinegar

2 tablespoons olive oil or sunflower oil

1 teaspoon kosher salt

A pinch of red pepper flakes or ground black pepper



In a large bowl, mix together the tomatoes, cucumbers, onion, Anaheim pepper, cilantro, and dill.  Drizzle the vinegar and oil over the salad and season with salt and pepper. Mix everything together thoroughly. Taste, adding more salt, pepper, or vinegar if needed. The salad keeps for a couple of days in the refrigerator.

Serves 4-6.

For this recipe, go:

See:  <

From Kate Leahy: “This recipe is a hybrid from our book and what we learned by talking with Amber Balakian from <> Balakian Farms (<> watch the video). Tomatoes and cucumbers are easy to find year-round in Armenia, where they’re often eaten plain, simply sliced up and eaten like pieces of fruit. The Balakians use Armenian cucumbers in their version of the salad, a variety that actually comes from the melon family. It isn’t as juicy as other cucumbers, so it balances out the ripe heirloom tomatoes. Other keys when making this salad: use fresh herbs (cilantro and dill or parsley and opal basil are common combinations), a little onion, and a fresh green pepper. Armenians in California dress their version with a little vinegar or lemon juice and olive oil, but Armenians in Armenia go lighter on the acidity and use sunflower oil. For an extra treat, have bread alongside to soak up the juices left in the salad bowl.”

This video is also available at:

For “Next Generation Farmer, Amber Balakian,” see:

10510 S. Lac Jac Avenue Reedley, California 93654 Phone: (559) 638-4095 Minority and female-owned.


Balakian Farms. Four Generations Since 1925.

For Balakian Farms food blog, heirloom tomato recipes and more:

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Visit Balakian Farms in Reedley, California, and meet next-generation organic farmer Amber Balakian, who is carrying on the family farming legacy. Support Balakian Farms and other small organic farms at the San Francisco Ferry Plaza Farmers Market.  Learn more at (Now Foodwise). Foodwise (formerly CUESA) is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit dedicated to growing thriving communities through the power and joy of local food.

(c) 2022 Balakian Farms.


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