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Takatsuka Farm

August M. Takatsuka, a Vashon-born child of Japanese immigrant farmers, began growing strawberries on this property after returning from military service in World War II. Despite changing economic conditions, Takatsuka maintained the farm over the coming decades, turning primarily to Christmas trees in the 1970s. Today, the farm is operated by Karl Olsen and family, though it still bears the name of its colorful founder.

After World War II, only about a third of Vashon Island’s Japanese Americans returned. One who did was Augie Takatsuka , a young veteran of the segregated Japanese American 442nd Regimental Combat Team. Still recovering from his experiences in Italy and France, Augie found solace in the same hard work he learned from his parents—strawberry farming.

Yohei and Aya Takatsuka had been in the business since arriving from Tacoma in 1911. They raised six children on Vashon Island, including Augie, born in 1920 in Portage. Incarcerated along with his family, Augie volunteered for the Army from camp. Meanwhile, the Takatsukas were transferred out of Tule Lake, and their daughter Kimi was elected “Sweetheart of Minidoka” while her brother was serving in Europe. In June 1945, Yohei and Aya returned to Vashon, and went right back to work on a berry farm.

Augie returned that December, nursing physical and mental wounds from his combat service, but within a few months he was hard at work, with only an old crosscut saw, a hoe, a potato hook, and a pitchfork. An old friend, Mrs. Gorsuch, leased him the property that became this farm. Later, when Augie ended up back at the VA Hospital, she offered him an interest-free loan—a kindness he would remember, though he never took the offer. Complications from trench foot, which he’d developed in the Army, subsequently left him with a wooden leg.

A bumper crop in 1947 allowed Augie to buy the land, and through the next two decades he sold berries to packers and stores around the Puget Sound. The farm produced about four tons of strawberries per acre, and each adult worker could pick about one ton. Augie hired First Nations workers from British Columbia, and grew currants as a way to keep them employed through the more lucrative end of the season. Later, he hired students from Seattle, but the challenge of finding workers eventually made strawberry farming untenable.

The transformation to a U-cut Christmas tree farm in the 1970s involved a bit of luck. Another farmer had offered some extra plants—his friend couldn’t resist the cheaper rate for a larger quantity, and the equally-thrifty Augie, who had some experience growing holly, couldn’t let them go to waste. The trees remained something of an afterthought until a write-up in Sunset magazine led the farm to sell an entire acre in two weeks.

A colorful figure, whose love for pool earned him the nickname “Eight Ball” and whose passion for craps was memorialized by a pair of dice left at his grave, Augie was a fixture in many island tales—of rollerskating as a boy in a decommissioned chicken coop at night; digging a well for his strawberries with the help of an old dowser, Rod Thurston; or learning the hard way that you can’t grow pumpkins on the side of a hill. (Apparently, they roll.) Although Augie eventually retired, passing away in 2007, the farm still bears his name, and is owned and operated by the Karl Olsen family.

Author: Vince Schleitwiler, with special thanks to Augie’s Christmas Tree Farm

Images

Augie (August) Takatsuka, student yearbook photo.

Photo from the Japanese Presence Project.

Augie Takatsuka, in later years.

Photo from the Vashon Japanese Presence Project, photo by Kathleen Webster.

Three soldiers from the famed 442nd regiment in Italy, Augie at right.

Photo from the Japanese Presence Project.

The “Resettlement Report” of the Minidoka Irrigator, the camp newspaper, recounts details of the Takatsukas’ return to Vashon.

Photo from Densho, courtesy of Cherry Kinoshita.

First Nations workers picking strawberries on Vashon Island.

Photo from the Museum of History and Industry (MOHAI).

Augie’s U-Cut Christmas Tree Farm, 2015

Rod Thurston, dowser, who dug Augie’s well.

Photo from the Vashon Loop/ and the Vashon Heritage Museum.