Kango Mitori: Japanese Truck Farmer

Part Two

Truck garden tools. Photo: Denis and Yulia Pogostins, Shutterstock

In Part One, we introduced Japanese immigrant Kango Mitori and followed his family through their establishment in 1931 of a small “truck patch” in the Race Track neighborhood near the San Joaquin County fairgrounds. The story continues below, with quotations from the 1990 booklet called To the Land of Bright Promise: The Story of a Pioneer Japanese Truck Farming Family in California’s San Joaquin Valley, by Chiyo Mitori Shimamoto. Part two focuses on the important Stockton Growers’ Market, where truck farmers sold their fresh produce.

“Since the market days were Monday, Wednesday, and Friday…, we devoted Sundays, Tuesdays, and Thursdays to harvesting and preparing the vegetables.” Every two days at four in the morning Father would “drive the loaded truck off to …the Stockton [Growers’] Market on Wilson Way [,which] was where all the San Joaquin County…truck farmers sold their produce. [Farmers] rented their individual stalls by the year and were issued numbered plates which they affixed on the back of their trucks. A few farmers still came with horses and wagons.” 

“There were two long rows of Japanese farm trucks, back to back with a narrow avenue in between. The next two rows were…Italian farmers. They had varieties of vegetables that the Japanese farmers did not grow, such as rhubarb, Brussels sprouts, purple cabbage, and different varieties of lettuce.” 

Once a thriving produce market, this is the Charter Way entrance to the Growers Hall in Stockton now. Photo: Rich Turner

“A loud whistle penetrated the air as the large double doors at one end swung open and [let in] a mass of running men. These were buyers for markets, restaurants, and wholesale dealers from as far away as San Francisco. They…shouted their orders to the farmers, trying to buy the best produce first. Sometimes two or more buyers would be having a heated verbal exchange over a farmer’s vegetables. I am sure the language was not meant for our young ears.” 

“Soon the buying was over [and] trucks came through the narrow avenues between the parked produce trucks to pick up…orders. …There was bedlam…as men yelled, honked [their truck horns], and gestured.” 

After truck farming in the Rack Track area of Stockton for five years—using his eldest daughter’s name as the lease holder—Kango Mitori in 1936 moved his wife, seven daughters, and one son back to Escalon. Their eighth daughter was born in Escalon. 

The United States was attacked by Japan and entered World War II in 1941. President Roosevelt issued an order in early 1942 to relocate all citizens of Japanese ancestry and all Japanese aliens. Kango and Katsume Mitori and their nine children went to the Stockton Assembly Center at the San Joaquin County fairgrounds. The family was housed in a horse stall at the racetrack for which their old neighborhood had been named. In time, they were loaded onto a train and taken to an internment camp in Rohwer, Arkansas.

A neighbor and friend of the family, Robert Paul Barton, bought Kango’s John Deere Model B tractor before the Mitori family was forced to leave Escalon. That “poppin’ Johnny” tractor played an important role in the history of walnut growing when Barton used it to build the first cable tree shaker. 

After interned Japanese-Americans were released in 1945, some stayed “back east” rather than return to the West Coast. Others returned and began rebuilding their lives in agriculture, but the small truck farms of San Joaquin County were a thing of the past. By the 1950s, refrigeration and modern transportation, large packing houses that shipped directly to grocery store chains, and other factors sent truck farming into steep decline.

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 and walnut growing are included in the Museum’s “Innovations in Agriculture” exhibition in the Cortopassi-Avansino Building.

Joe Lovecchio & Sons is still in operation at the Growers Market warehouse. Joe Lvecchio, 82, loads bagged onions into a trailer. Photo: Rich Turner.

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