Fourth Generation Of The Yasukochi Family Continues Farming In North County
May is Asian American & Pacific Islander Heritage Month, paying tribute to the Asian American and Pacific Islander Community, and their long history and achievements in America.
The Yasukochi family knows all too well the trials and tribulations their ancestors endured while establishing Yasukochi Family Farms.
Donal Yasukochi and his daughter Brianne Yasukochi, now owners of Yasukochi Family Farms, frequently oversee the land that once belonged to his parents and grandparents.
Donal proudly points at the fields that currently grow a variety of crops, and that bear a rich history that began in Japan. “We're growing corn, we have artichokes, asparagus. We have raspberries, blueberries, strawberries…” he said.
Yasukochi's grandparents were farmers in Japan before they decided to leave their farm behind and head to America.
“When they came over, they weren't just welcome with open arms,” said Donal.
The California Alien Land Law banned “aliens ineligible for citizenship” from owning and leasing long term land in 1913.
But not everyone agreed with the law that worked against immigrants, and generous American farmers gave the Yasukochis a chance.
They began to grow chiles and by 1924, the Yasukochis settled in Oceanside. They began dehydrating chiles with a special dehydrator.
“Here’s a picture of my grandfather. He’s the one standing on the truck. And these are the dried chiles. He was known as the king of the chiles,” said Donal.
Just as the Yasukochis’ chile business was taking off, the attack on Pearl Harbor brought a stop to their business.
The Yasukochis were among the thousands of Japanese Americans that were pulled from their homes and sent to internment camps.
“If you had a Japanese face. If you had Japanese ancestry, even though you were an American citizen, they interned you. They put you in jail,” said Donal.
Yasukochi's grandparents were separated from each other along with their children and sent to internment camps in New Mexico and Arizona.
“Most of the Japanese American families lost everything, and they had to come back. When they were released I think they gave them $25,” said Donal.
When the Yasukochis were released, they didn't know what became of their farm. Upon their arrival, they were relieved to find that Mr. Gray, a generous Escondido school teacher, had taken care of their land.
“My mother used to run us out to Escondido. And Oceanside to Escondido is not 20 minutes like nowadays. It was like two and a half hours on a backroad and it took forever to get out there. But we had to go see Mr. Gray, we had to take him our fresh corn. My mother was always like ‘hey we're giving back, we have to give back,’” said Donal.
The Yasukochi farm flourished and they expanded into Carlsbad to grow and sell wholesale tomatoes.
“We had semi trucks full of tomatoes. Our tomatoes were famous. Even today, the old timers talk about Pole Grown, Sound Off label tomatoes,” said Donal.
In the late 80s, Yasukochi Family Farms transitioned from wholesale, to growing a variety of different fruits and vegetables to sell in farmers markets.
Brianne Yasukochi, Donal’s daughter and the fourth generation to take over the family farm, helped with the latest challenge their family and farm faced — the COVID-19 pandemic.
“When the pandemic hit we were like, 'Okay, the farmers' markets are closing down, we might have to shut down because we don't have a viable source of income,'” said Brianne.
With pallets of fresh produce, the Yasukochis had to get creative and decided to promote their Community Supported Agriculture boxes.
The CSA boxes were offered stocked with fresh produce and free delivery.
"Like these strawberries, we're picking them and tomorrow they will be in your box," said Donal.
At a time when stores were low on food, the CSA boxes went viral and the Yasukochis had to meet the demand.
“They saw it online. On Facebook, and I don't know what they do… Instagram. My daughter was doing it, and before you know it... the phone was ringing off the hook,” said Donal.
Brianne had to put together a website and online store in two days as orders began to pour in.
Nearby farmers caught wind of the CSA boxes the Yasukochi farms were offering, and asked if they could include their own produce in the boxes.
“For example, Mountain Meadow Mushroom Company, they lost 80% of their business. Pizza, restaurants, all the food service was done. It was gone. So they came to us and said ‘Can you use our mushrooms?’ Of course we can use your mushrooms,” said Donal.
The CSA boxes helped the Yasukochi farm during the pandemic, allowed them to keep their employees, and also helped nearby farmers get rid of their produce that would’ve gone unused.
“We work with 5 to 7 different farmers throughout the week, depending on the season and what they have, and so giving them a place to sell their produce while at the same time giving the customers the connection of where the produce is coming from, has been a win-win for everybody,” said Brianne.
The power of social media served as a tool to promote the CSA boxes. Now with Brianne's help, Donal embraced this new tool and posts “Farmer Donal’s Tip of the Week” videos to help his followers cook the vegetables they get in their boxes.
“We always try to include a vegetable that you haven’t tried before,” said Brianne.
The CSA boxes range from $25 to $35 and include free delivery anywhere in San Diego County. Customers can also add locally grown flowers, olive oil, honey, jams and more.
As the pandemic closures become a thing of the past, the Yasukochi family farms will continue their popular CSA box program.
“Our family has gone through the war, concentration camps, and now COVID... and we’ve been really good at adapting, so we will see what's in store,” said Brianne.
The farm started selling at farmers markets again, and hopes to open their farms up to the public in the future.