Kango Mitori: Japanese Truck Farmer

Part One

Truck garden tomato planting. Photo: Yuris, Shutterstock.

In 1990, the San Joaquin County Historical Society printed a booklet, written by Chiyo Mitori Shimamoto, called To the Land of Bright Promise: The Story of a Pioneer Japanese Truck Farming Family in California’s San Joaquin Valley. The quotations below are all from that wonderful work. “Truck farming” is the term applied to small-scale farmers who grew a variety of vegetables and fruits for direct sale, often from the beds of their trucks. Truck farming was important in the history of agriculture in the Bay-Delta and was the entry into self-directed agriculture for many Japanese, Italian, and other immigrants. See “Truck Farming” Was the Path into Agriculture” in Soundings Magazine’s May, 2019 issue. 

Truck garden onion planting. Photo: Yuris, Shutterstock.

Eighteen year old Kango Mitori was sent by his parents from Japan to San Francisco in 1907.  “Japanese recruiters hired by big…San Joaquin Delta farms waited for the ships to come in…to recruit these new arrivals. With the promise of jobs and a place to stay, Kango and many of the other men eagerly signed up.” 

Kango was taken to a farm labor camp in the Delta. “With Japanese cooks in the mess hall and [a] Japanese style bathhouse, the farm camp was the closest thing to home [in Japan]. A Japanese [man] who had managed to learn enough English was hired to translate orders from the foreman and was called Oyabun or substitute father figure.” 

Ten years later, an intermediary for Kango’s parents met with an intermediary for a young woman’s parents and arranged for a marriage. The young lady, Katsume, joined her husband Kango on King Island. 

The Mitoris left the Delta just after the birth of their second daughter, Chiyo, and moved to a large farm in Escalon that “raised cannery spinach in the winter and dry beans in summer.” After four years, Kango ”wanted to try his hand at truck farming somewhere on the fertile lands around…Stockton.” 

Chiyo—who was then five years old—remembers that in the early 1920s the family moved from Escalon into a boarding house on El Dorado Street in Stockton, but “Father soon found and rented three acres of land on the Gillis ranch east of Stockton. He could only rent it for three years because of the restrictive 1913 Alien Land…Law which [also] prohibited…Japanese from becoming citizens or owning land.  …In spite of these conditions, [my father], like many others, was determined to succeed here in America and to ensure his children their rightful place as Americans.”  

“After signing the…three year lease, Father proceeded to build our house. [It] was a two room, single wall building with upright 1 X 12s with [battens over the spaces between the boards and] tin can lids…over [the] knot holes….”  Newspaper finished the walls inside. “[A] bathhouse, outhouse, and horse stall were [also] built.” 

Truck garden beans rake hoe. Photo: Carlos Andre Santos, Shutterstock.

“Our father, like most [truck farmers], used turn of the century farm equipment which was small and light enough for one horse to pull. Father used a Fresno scraper to level the land. A one horse plow was used to turn the soil.” After plowing, a homemade clod-breaker was used, followed by a float and a ditcher to make the rows—each row smoothed with a long-handled rake.

“The cold frame had already been constructed and planted with tomato, bell pepper, and eggplant seeds. The onion, celery, broccoli, cabbage, and cauliflower [plants] were…sprouting on the wide short rows.”

In 1931, “we moved to a ten-acre farm next door to Montezuma School south of Stockton…near the San Joaquin County fairgrounds. This area was called ‘Race Track’ by the local people and had about a dozen Japanese truck farms.” 

The story of Kango Mitori and his family will be continued in Part Two coming soon.

The booklet To the Land of Bright Promise is sold in the gift shop at the San Joaquin County Historical Museum. Exhibits on truck farming are included in the Museum’s “Innovations in Agriculture” exhibition in the Cortopassi-Avansino Building.

Truck garden cabbage and onions. Photo: Sunny Forest Shutterstock_

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