Mon. Oct 2nd, 2023
    The Legacy of Japanese American Farmers in California

    Japanese American farmers played a vital role in transforming California into an agricultural powerhouse before World War II. Unfortunately, their contributions were overshadowed by the incarceration of Japanese Americans during the war and discriminatory ordinances targeting Issei farmers, resulting in significant property losses and a decline in Japanese farms in the region. Today, only a fraction of pre-war Japanese farms are still operational, with third-generation elderly farmers preserving the legacy of their ancestors. Despite facing economic and social challenges, these Sansei farmers, like Alan Hayashi, continue to adapt and work tirelessly to maintain their farms and way of life.

    Facing racism and legal restrictions, immigrant Japanese farmers formed cooperatives and specialized in cultivating high-yield crops on leased land. One such cooperative, the Pismo Oceano Vegetable Exchange, established by local Japanese farming families, allowed them to consolidate supplies and sell to large wholesalers. However, over the years, the cooperative has diminished in size, with only three active members remaining.

    Alan Hayashi, a third-generation farmer, has dedicated his life to his family farm in Arroyo Grande. Despite the challenges, he continues to plant, water, and harvest crops, selling them at his roadside stand and farmers’ markets. Hayashi’s father instilled in him and his siblings a strong work ethic, and his mother played a crucial role as the farm’s accountant.

    The incarceration of Japanese Americans during World War II resulted in significant losses for Japanese farmers. Fortunately, Hayashi’s family had friends and neighbors who cared for their lands and equipment while they were forced to relocate to Arizona. After the war, Hayashi’s father rebuilt the farm, leading it to its years of prosperity.

    The legacy of Japanese American farmers in California is significant, and their contributions to the agricultural industry should not be forgotten. The remaining Sansei farmers serve as a reminder of the strength, resilience, and hard work of their ancestors.

    – Sento at Sixth and Main: Preserving Landmarks of Japanese American Heritage by Donna Graves