Sakuma Brothers Family History
The Sakuma business history began with our first generation arriving in the United States of America as Japanese immigrants, pursuing the “American Dream”. The first generation (Iisei) settled on Bainbridge Island, Washington. They transporting their goods by ferry to Seattle for sale at the terminal markets and Pikes Place Market. Their primary crop was strawberries, although the land on Bainbridge was not well-suited for this crop.
Because of their expertise in farming small fruit, they were approached by a Seattle processor, R.D. Bodle, to relocate to the Skagit Valley to farm. In 1935, following graduation from high school, Atsusa, the eldest son of the second generation (Nisei), moved to Burlington, Washington, and started a strawberry farm. The family joined him each summer for harvest. Each year, after high school graduation, another brother joined the farm operation.
By the end of 1941, there were four brothers living in Burlington, farming to support the remainder of the family who still lived on Bainbridge Island. Following the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor, all Japanese-Americans were evacuated from the West Coast. The Sakuma’s on Bainbridge Island were among the first to be evacuated to Manzanar, California. The Sakuma’s in Burlington were evacuated to Tulelake, California. Six of the eight brothers served in the U.S. Army, and following WWII, the family returned to their property in Burlington to farm.
Strawberries remained their crop of choice and in 1948 they entered into the certified strawberry plant business. The farm centered around the Sakuma Brothers Farms partnership was formed by six of the brothers, Atsusa, Akira, Shinobu, Milton, Isaac, and Saturo. Strawberry production grew to 500 acres by 1970 becoming the largest strawberry farm in Skagit County.
In 1961, Sakuma Bros. Farms, Inc. was formed and they expanded their land base to Shasta County, California, where they explored the expansion of the certified strawberry plant business. Following six years of transition farming in California, the family started Norcal Nursery, Inc. in Redding and Red Bluff,
California. Over time, they moved the entire strawberry nursery business to California. Between 1967 and 1970, two brothers moved to California to run the nursery operations. Currently, Norcal farms 1500 acres and maintains 500 acres of certified nursery stock. Production areas are spread geographically from Macdoel in the north, Turlock to the south, west to Red Bluff, and east to Susanville.
1972 marked the introduction of raspberry production to the Washington farm. Blueberries followed in 1973 with four blueberry varieties planted in a 3 acre test plot. During the mid 1970’s, a raspberry nursery was also added to the Washington farm.
1977 was the first year a third generation (Sansei) Sakuma, Richard, returned to the farm on a full time basis. He would be joined by five others over the next twenty years. Ron and John work in California and Steve, Richard, Bryan and Glenn are in Washington. In 1984, the eldest of the six original second generation brothers passed away, and two years later two others retired. Another brother retired in 1990, and subsequently passed away in 1998. Early in 1999, the last brother in California retired. The year 2000 marked the end of the second generation reign when the youngest of this generation retired December 31st, at the age of 75.
In 1986, the strategic decision was made to diversify the Washington operation to also include large scale raspberries, blueberries and apples. Sakuma Brothers Farms currently produce 180 acres of strawberries, 220 acres of conventional and organic raspberries, 227 acres of conventional and organic blueberries, 57 acres of apples and 45 acres of raspberry nursery stock, along with smaller acreages of blackberries and market stand produce.
Following the closure of the last small fruit processing facility in Skagit County in 1990, Sakuma’s constructed an 8,000 square foot building and leased it to Flavorland Foods, Inc. for their operation as a small fruit processing plant. In 1997, Flavorland announced their intention to close for the 1997 harvest season. At that time Sakuma’s made the decision to purchase the processing equipment and to operate the processing facility as part of the total business, forming Sakuma Bros. Processing, Inc.
In 1999, vertical integration was achieved by adding a sales department to market and sell the end product packed by the processing facility. The total vertical integration within the small fruit industry now includes plant propagation and small fruit research, commercial nursery operations and sales, commercial and fresh market small fruit production, small fruit processing, sales of all processed and fresh market small fruit product, plus a farm market stand for retail, u-pick and ag-tourism.
Sakuma fruit and plants are marketed throughout the United States and internationally with a large customer base in Japan, Europe, Mexico, and Canada.