The Matsuda farm began as a 10-acre parcel owned by Japanese immigrants Heisuke and Mitsuno Matsuda. The Matsudas purchased it with hard-earned savings in 1929, just before the stock market crash in October that year. Due to anti-Japanese laws that prevented Japanese immigrants and minors from land ownership, the Matsudas purchased the land in the name of an American-born Japanese friend until their son Yoneichi came of age. After years of leasing a different farm, they bought this farm three years after the birth of their daughter, Mary; They built and then moved into the farmhouse in 1931. With the help of hired workers and families, the Matsudas raised a variety of berries and currants, often taking their crops to the Shawnee and Vashon Heights docks to be shipped to Tacoma and Seattle.
During World War II the family was forcibly removed to American concentration camps in Tule Lake, California and Minidoka, Idaho. Yoneichi volunteered for the all-Japanese American 442nd Battalion, serving honorably in Europe and winning a Bronze Star. A trusted Filipino caretaker, Mack Garcia, stayed in the farmhouse during the war and did his best to keep the farm going. After a legal battle with the deputy sheriff who had agreed to lease the land but mismanaged financial matters, the Matsudas retained ownership and returned to the farm after the war, becoming one of the few Japanese American families to return.
Over the following years Yoneichi expanded the farm into a 52-acre parcel of land, eventually making it the third largest strawberry farm on the Island. Together with his second wife Miyoko, his four daughters, and hired workers, he worked the farm for several decades. His efficient and sustainable land management practices earned him a Conservationist Farmer of the Year award in 1957. As Yoneichi approached retirement age and faced lowering strawberry prices, he decided to plow most of the crops under and leave the rest to growing hay. Family lore has it that his eventual “150-year plan” was to create a family forest on the property. The family worked what was to be the last commercial strawberry harvest on the Island. That same year, Yoneichi passed away unexpectedly, suffering a heart attack while on a tractor cultivating strawberries.
When his father Heisuke passed away in 1970, half of the 10 acres went to Mary Matsuda Gruenewald. Together with her youngest son Ray and following her older brother’s dream, Mary decided to convert her 5 acres into a forest of native trees. In 2015, the Vashon-Maury Island Land Trust purchased 12 acres of the Matsuda farm, in keeping with the family’s hopes of maintaining it as farmland. Goals for the space include restoring the farmhouse, establishing a farm-to-school program on the Island, and connecting the estate with an island-wide walking public trail system.
Author: Tamiko Nimura