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Farm continues in spite of tragic setbacks

Inaba family overcomes internment and other roadblocks to become successful farmers.

By Erick Peterson

For the Capital Press

Published on March 14, 2014 9:13AM

Erick Peterson/For the Capital Press
Lon Inaba is a co-owner of Inaba Farms of Harra, Wash. His family has weathered many challenges through the generations.

Erick Peterson/For the Capital Press Lon Inaba is a co-owner of Inaba Farms of Harra, Wash. His family has weathered many challenges through the generations.

WAPATO, Wash. — The story behind Inaba Farms, a vegetable producer in Wapato, Wash., is one of struggle.

In 1907, Shukichi Inaba came to the United States from Japan. The law at the time banned Japanese immigrants from becoming citizens and owning land.

Many other farmers were buying land for little money, but all Inaba could do was work fields owned by other people.

Like many other members of a growing Japanese population on Yakama tribal land, he leased property from tribal members.

Then in the 1920s, laws became even more severe, and Japanese people were prevented from even leasing land.

Inaba and others became sharecroppers, making deals with neighbors that allowed them to continue to farm.

“It was tough times,” said Lon Inaba, Shukichi’s grandson.

And they grew tougher.

The children of local Japanese farmers grew to adulthood and were allowed to become citizens and purchase land for their families. Unfortunately, they did not keep the land long. During World War II, the federal government forced many Japanese into internment camps. They had to sell their land and leave it behind.

Many Japanese left the Yakima Valley and did not return after they were released. Their population, which had grown to around 1,000 before the war dropped to a couple hundred after the war.

The Inabas were among the people who returned, though they changed their operation. Whereas once they grew hay, potatoes and wheat, which made for easy harvests, they shifted to row crops that required fewer acres but were more labor intensive.

Labor, Lon said, was supplied by their children, which started a tradition of hard work.

Even into the third generation, families sent their kids to work at an early age. Lon began working when he was six years old.

All of the work paid off for the Inabas, as they have built a farm of 1,600 acres. They continue to grow the same row crops. Lon manages and co-owns the farm with brothers Wayne and Norman Inaba.

“This is a family operation,” Lon said, as even his mother and sister work in the office.

He said Inaba Farms has been a family operation, and a community-focused operation, from its start, and he is proud to say that it will continue. It is, however, changing as the community changes.

There are maybe three or four farmers of Japanese dissent remaining in the Yakima Valley, he said.

The Japanese farming community is growing ever smaller in the Yakima Valley. Their spirit, however, is kept alive through their farms, recorded histories and an annual dinner in Wapato that attracts nearly 2,000 people.

Lon said he is proud to be part of that story.

Inaba Farms

Location: Wapato, Wash.

Owner: Lon Inaba, Wayne Inaba, Norman Inaba and Shiz Inaba

Date started: 1907

Crops grown: Asparagus, zucchini, peppers, onions, green beans and sweet corn

Number of acres: 1,600


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