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Farming through history

Posted at 9:18 AM, Feb 20, 2016
and last updated 2016-02-20 12:18:03-05
We all know agriculture is one of the major economic drivers here in the central valley. But it's one specific group of people--with a rich American history--that helped cultivate the farm industry.
 
Nestled deep in the Central Valley lies the Masumoto farm in Del Rey.
 
"A year ago this field was bare-because we just had no rain. And what little weeds that grew, they were very weak," said Mas masumoto, owner of Masumoto Farm.
 
But the 80-acre stretch is looking lush this year, and is not your typical ag land-
 
"We've been organic for 30-40 years now," said Mas.
 
"It was a risk for my parents, because at that time organic was something crazy, something wild," added Masumoto Farm Apprentice Nikiko Masumoto.
 
The farm is one that spans generations-originating back to the 1920s. In the early 1940s, Japanese-Americans dominated California farming markets, owning more than 200,000 acres, and accounting for 30-percent of the state's truck drivers.
 
Then...World War Two broke out.
 
"We only got paid about six dollars a month. It was terrible," remembered Mary Furusaki.
 
Before they passed away years ago, 23ABC reporter Lindsey Adams interviewed her Grandma Jean Fukano and Great Grandmother Mary Furusaki, born in Hanford, to a family of walnut farmers. They were interned in Gila River, Arizona.
 
Jean fukano: "We lived in these things called barrocks. Each one had x-amount of families living in them," said Jean.
 
Mas Masumoto's family was also interned in Gila.
 
"It was a violent uprooting of everything they knew," remembered Mas.
 
After the camps-having to start over-much of the Japanese-American population dispersed away from the Central Valley.
 
"At least half the population never came back," said Mas.
 
"It has to do a lot with the history of their land being taken from them," said Nikiko.
 
"There were at least 40, 45 families that were Japanese-American in this small community, all engaged with agriculture. We are now the only ones left," said Marci Masumoto, Masumoto's wife and farm manager.
 
Central Valley locals say there was never a true Nisei, or second generation of Japanese-American farmers; the younger generation went off to college, got careers in suburban areas, and never came back. 
 
One exception was Masumoto's daughter.. Nikiko.
 
"I saw the significance of what my family was doing .. particularly being organic.. and what that meant in a global context," said Nikiko.
 
The Masumotos organically grow grapes, peaches, and nectarines. And it's family history that keeps the farm alive. 
 
"What my parents went through because of the world war two relocation. Compared to that, this work is really, really easy," remembered Mas.
 
The Fukano, Furusaki, and the Masumoto family were all interned in the same relocation center in Gila River-located about 30 miles southeast of Phoenix. That location took in over 13,000 Japanese-Americans--which actually made it become the fourth largest city in Arizona.