Professor Isao Fujimoto, Distinguished Emeriti, University of California, Davis

Agriculture contributions interview with Isao Fujimoto:
Rainjita geesler

R: Talk about some of the things that contributed to a lot of Japanese owned flower and garden shops in the early 1900’s? Why so many in gardening, and owners of flower shops

1:10- a lot of it’s very strategic. Because what the immigrants faced, especially the immigrants from Japan, were limitations in opportunities, this is because of discriminatory laws. One of the more serious ones like the alien land laws. The alien land laws which were passed in about 17 western states really targeted Asians and at that time the main immigrants from Asia were from china and Japan.

1:45 The early success from Japanese farmers in particular, at that time really prompted fear of competition. The alien land laws said that people who are not qualified for citizenship could not lease or buy land. And so the Japanese were primarily in agriculture really were affected. The way that they could keep farming was to rent or buy land in the name of their kids.

2:19- Even when they were rented land, because of discrimination, they were charged exorbitant prices compared to the rest of the people who might be renting land. Because they were limited because in terms of how much space they could have, they had to be very strategic in terms of what kinds of crops to grow, and how to increase production. So its no accident that many Japanese went into very intensive kind of agriculture, horticulture was one of them, and also fruit growing, veggie growing, and trying to be selective about areas were they could increase production and be close to the market. So you have a lot of urban area farming going on, small-scale farming. So these factors contribute to the choices that people have made.

3:08 R -Are you familiar with where in California people were farming?

That’s right, the best example would be both the bay area and L.A. L.A. people may not think of it, but today, first of all, California leads in Ag production. Central valley, of ca is the prime area. If we take the 3000 counties in America and rank them by ag production, usually num 1-2-3 is CA. Fresno, currin telari counties. In fact, Top ten 6-7 is the central valley. But 60 years ago the number one county ag production was Los Angeles. LA was very productive and the reason because of the ethnic farming, primarily Japanese. Very small scale. they produced crops that would sell to the urban market, and this accounts for the great concentration around the bay area, esp. in terms of southern California markets as well.

4:38- economics in terms of horticulture

Horticulture selection has to do with space also. After all, one of the strategies was what kinds of crops can people produce when they are limited in terms of space, money and resources. Selection of crops like corn and wheat would be out, couple hundred acres not the kind of income. 3-4 acres of strawberries, or even a 1/2-acre of flowers in a green house increases opportunity for income.

5:20 so that has a lot to do with the kind of intense concentration, but also and selective kind of attention to rethinking about what the good market is. The same can be said for gardening as well. Actually, gardening was an entry point both at the early periods, but also post war. After the Japanese came back from the camps, many had little to start with, for a good number of them, opp for farming was decimated. They had lost things. And so the way to start, use the skills in terms of what they knew. How to deal with Plants, and the land, so city gardening became a good starting point again.

6:15- in terms of my own experience, it was quite different. I grew up on an Indian res, because of alien land laws. We went to the Yakima Indian Reservation in eastern Washington. Mainly because the Indians really came thru for us. They rented land to the Japanese immigrants. 125 Immigrant families in the Yakima valley. Famous now for red delicious apples. When the Japanese went in the early 1900’s, all sagebrush, they cleared the area. Many were in truck farming.

To illustrate strategies involved, not only was there discrimination in terms of renting and leasing land, it was very difficult to get money. You need money to do anything. You have to get credit, but banks would not loan to Japanese. So they started own rotating credit association, Tanamoshi. By the way, this is common among many Asian groups. Korean, Chinese, Filipino Vietnamese. The way it operates is that a group of ten people who know each other very well, put money into the pot. The customary pattern of banks is to demand collateral; well many immigrants don’t have coll. Don’t have land. Don’t have anything to put up. So the main collateral they use was personal honor. Honor is very valuable collateral. If you renig you would be ostracized. But this is very valuable collateral; this is another str to use if you are facing a lot of discrimination. Rotating credit associations enabled people to get moving

8:09 Going back to the LA situation, in addition to many people choosing very intensive crops to survive and do well, Eventually. The Japanese contributions to agriculture it dominated also the marketing. LA produce market was really controlled by Japanese, became imp source for many practical consideration. In addition to having a trust worthy place to deal with people of your own culture, this was a place for borrowing and lending money. This is how the ethnic community pulled together. Because of figuring out how do you survive in a society that is very restrictive on what you do.

9:18- role that communities played, function of Japanese communities had

I think interesting cont of ethnic groups in farming is that what they had been doing in the early part of the 20th century is very relevant to related to the 21 century. Growing contributions about health, quality fresh products, and the energy situation. Because a lot of the prod that are produced now travel far from destination. Jap farmers operated in California many lessons. #1 la county situation, many farmers were able to operate on a direct consumer to producer relationship. Because they sold instead of going to retailer, they sold directly to the consumer by setting up stands at the farm. What does this do? This operation, First of all the city people come in and pay a price lower than in market, and farmer gets more than wholesaler or retailer. If you buy locally, fresh produce. More varieties. Today if you look at varieties, not so many. We had 5-600 apples and peaches. Many of the top quality tasty fruits are very susceptible to damage. Can’t ship. Produce locally, fresh. And not spending money on shipping, saving money on energy and fourthly, you are getting direct relationship. Consumer and producer. Not only that but you have an answer to all of the problems people are raising today. Community supported agriculture, direct marketing, farmers market, and organic produce. But the interesting observation here is how relevant all practices were 100 years ago are relevant today. So I think that is a major contribution of Japanese farming to agriculture today.

13:00- what is your experience?

There are several things here. One is how the community survived. Pre-war, isolated living situation, only people I knew were Japanese immigrants or Indians. When I went to school I was surprised to see all of these white people. I was worried, because when you get sick you are white. So I was thinking what’s all these sick white people doing here? So I asked my grandfather what’s the problem. He said well they are probably that way because they are not eating enough rice, so I said okay, I better eat a lot of rice!

13:49- so anyway, I grew up in isolated situation, true with many other rural communities. And these communities, all though they are spread out, these farming communities, had important social network. Around cultural festivals and community churches, Buddhist or Christian. My father was trained as a carpenter. He was asked to take over construction of the annex of the Buddhist temple. I remember when people came to help each other out, in the case of my family, We farmed about 80 acres, and my father spend to much time building the temple annex, that our fields got neglected. We couldn’t figure out what kinds of weeds we were growing, specializing in and one day 50 farmers showed up, and they completed cleared the fields for us. We were growing carrots at the time. My parents are very grateful and appreciative of the help, but the farmers said look you have been doing a lot for us it is time for us to help you. I think that that is the spirit that enabled these communities to survive and work together, and it says a lot about community building. And how people work together

15:40- but then, the war came, like many other Japanese families who were farming, we they had to get up and go. In our case we didn’t own the land, we were renting the land. But I know other people who had property who were hurt badly, and so when we spent time in the camps, because of all those skills, many camps had own farm plots. I was in two camps, one in Hartmont Wyoming, and Tule California. Farms run by inmates produced foodstuff, in tule lake, very productive and sent material other places as well. Skills were applied. When war was over a lot of people had to start all over again. We didn’t go back to Indian res, we came to California, because we were in Tule lake. After a year of working at the railroad, my father saw an add in the ethnic newspaper. About a call for share farmers at the driscoll strawberry farm in Santa Clara valley. He figured that the family could go back to farming. I remember my first reaction going to the little town called Madrone, 50 families huddled together. Houses looked like it did at the camp, I thought I was back in camp again. And the way of the operated was 50 50 proposition. Driscol supplied the housing the land and tractor, family supplied labor, and we would pay for labor in peak season. We had no say as to how the produce was sold. We did this for four years and then decided to rent land on our own. We were able to start up again; we did that for four years, in a town of coyote. Population 150, I am the oldest of 13 kids, that means our family made up about 10 percentage of towns pop. Part of san jose now. What this shows is the possibility of the agricultural ladder. American pattern in the past a person will start as laborer, saves money to rent and then buy. Many of the families that I knew at the time worked as sharecroppers at driscoll, and then rented and owned. Back then it was possible. Now it is impossible. I see a lot of young kids who want to get into farming, I work at UC Davis. It’s very difficult for people to start off this way. Inherit or merry into some kind of family who already has land. Experience of Japanese has a lot of lessons, over 100 years period, were talking about the changes in American society. Discrimination towards people of color, impact of what does war do to people. 60 years ago, whole group targeted because of war and put away. Today same situation, middle easterners impacted the same way. A lot of lessons, not just talking about agriculture, we’re talking about community, opportunity, and what kind of possibilities for people who come to California and America. Using agriculture and Japanese experience, as a starting point there are many other kinds of discussions that are possible and that are important here.

20:33- exec order 9066 what is the impact?

20:45 to give you an idea of how productive Japanese were in California, this goes back to the time of the WW I 1918, cal agricultural production was 1/2 billion- 523 million dollars. Of that though, Japanese farmers account for 53 million 10 percent, but they were a very small part of the farming population. I would say even in terms of the amount of land they had only 3 or 4 percent. One other thing to mention about the strategy they used, they were able to succeed with certain types of crops they used, they also figured out how to increase production with the limited land they had. Two things they did, they used irrigation and fertilizers.

21:59 and so even though they may have rented a very small proportion of California agricultural land, they rented 10-15 percent of the irrigated land in California. So this is part of the thinking, how do you survive? So all of these kinds of things have a lot of lessons, in terms of what do people do. Farming is more than just skills and raising food. You have to know how to borrow money, market, and work together.

Another important element of Japanese farms was the role of cooperatives. In cooperatives people could pool their energy and benefit from economies of scale. And so you have a group of 50 farmers better deal to buy supplies. In the case of my own family raising strawberries they were part of the nature rite, coop association. One of the benefits of nra was how to deal with market. You see if you are selling fresh strawberries and you sell only to the retail market, you are at the mercy of the market. If the strawberries come out early you get a good price. But as the peak comes everyone produces and market price goes way down. The way nature right helps it’s members was that they bought a freezer. Once you got a freezer, you have all the strawberries stashed away, and other products (value added) that you can freeze. Instead of fresh strawberries, you have frozen strawberries and strawberries for jam, for ice cream and other commodities to produce. This is the strength of cooperatives, all of these are valuable ideas when thinking of farming not as an individual effort but as a comm. Effort.

24:40- what happened to the market after internment?

There’s a lot of ironies here too, not only were the Japanese farmers producing, they were also working on their own land, providing the labor. That is the definition of the family farm. What is the diff between a family farm and large-scale farm? Provide labor, management, ownership (resp for economy) If you go to large corporate farm, they are done by three diff people. In a family farm one person is resp for all three. That is the def of a family farm. I think the kinds of work that is being done by the Japanese farming example was the American family farm model.

What happened to the economy?

26:17- one of the things in the camps there was a shortage of farm labor everyone. Many places were letting kids out of high school early and all. I remember at heart mountain camp, all the young people were called to harvest sugar beets, this is how my grandfather, my aunt got to leave the concentration camps. On what they call temp leave. They were allowed to go out for 2-3 months to help in Idaho and Montana.

26:58- economy suffered greatly?

Many people involved in farming here, not that Japanese were controlling it. There are enough ex in or wash and cal where they were concentrated. Contributions became more apparent, when local communities were effected in this kind of way, What have we learned in 100 years of ethnic farm in cal, so many ways to look at it, in terms of the ideas and strategies used, how to deal with disc, what happens because of big catastrophes like war and internment. What do you do to get resettled back, contribute in terms of the efforts going on now looking at the public’s quest for quality fresh food. We have a lot to learn from the exp. One of the interesting follow-ups today, many Japanese left farming, people are still producing strawberries on small scale. Now who is doing the work? Refugees from se Asia. Fresno County, 800 families from Laos. The farms are 2-5 acre strawberry farms.


I’ll give you an example of the ex in Washington, I was involved in a reunion with the people who lived on res. We brought everyone back. There were papers on the wall and I asked everyone to put find the family name, and siblings, write down their occupation, and children’s occupation. Revealing 125 families, 100 were farmers, other merchants. Then if you look at who are they now, many people scattered everywhere, no more communities. Not names have changed, and occupation is the most revealing. Great prop no longer farming. Third generation who are in professional work. Big shift. Those who stayed in farm, economy has weeded people out. People who survived have to get big,
One more contributions of American farm. Internationally after the war Japan was devastated. Japan wanted to build their agriculture again, and sent farmers to learn American style. And many of the initial program, put together by u of c and got a lot of Japanese farms to be hosts to Japanese coming. I would say that the people who worked on farms went to Japan and had a big impact on Japanese agriculture in Japan as well. Interested in dairy farms, and expanded ideas of farming from fruit or flowers. Interesting things to examine, relationship of ethnic farms internationally. Japanese American farms in cali, also Japanese Brazilians coming as well to learn and go back. If you look at cal farms many ethnic groups, east Indian growing peaches in Yuba city, look at central valley look at Croatian, Sicilian, dairy. Take this discussion and expand it to many other groups looking at the formation of agriculture in California.

33:18- why is it not getting passed down to third generation?

I think its pretty natural evolution of soc choices. Farming is hard work, very demanding you have to stay at it all the time. and even now educational forces, and media forces. New kinds of ideas. Also parents see their children should do other things, go beyond what they are doing. They were farming to keep family together. Now American society is changing, when they get educated new kinds of ideas. That is why people are doing other things, not staying in farming. If you look at the total picture of farming in America we have very small percentage of people who are actually farming. Even those who stay in hold other types of jobs. This is happening all over the world.

34:30 other part is what is going to replenish source of farming, we do find some young people are interested. Major barriers now with people starting up. Reason why people have gone into farming all over the world, it is a natural thing to do. Land there, you have to eat, produce food. Now as tech developed, it has freed up people to do other things. All of these factors have contributed to intergenerational changes.

35:22 why didn’t you want to do farming?

For several reasons. Well, for several reasons. One is that I had to go to school, but kept an interest in farming. That is why went into rural sociology and development. 13 in family one has stayed, raises flowers in nursery in Morgan Hill. Pattern with many of the peers we grew up with. We were all farm kids, but once we left high school and had a chance to go to college, new opportunities. I think this is happening to other people too.

36:00 Do you want to say something about your sister’s business?

Yeah, It is very tough, I would say there are a lot of ironies again. They grow carnations, but can’t compete. Because car are growing in Colombia, south American market, roses carnations. Are now competing. In case of my family in order for her to survive, they started up a flower shop and spend most of their efforts creating bouquets and specialty crops. Watercress and mint. This offsets all the losses of the carnation. If they only had carnation they would go broke. It is a lost proposition. When you look at agriculture in anyway, it is more than just the farmer, but what are they up against. We’re talking about international competition, diverse market, strategic thinking. Look for niche crops, crops that appeal to a certain type of market. Many ethnic farmers, Asians in part operate on small scale. I know farmers in Fresno who grow two acres of Japanese eggplants. Look at Korean, southeast Asian pop Spec Asian veggies. American public at large picking up on this provides a certain niche. However don’t put it past big corporations to take over this market too, and this will again affect the small family farmers.