Not long ago, our Associate Managers took a road trip to the Yakima Valley and visited Inaba Farms in Wapato, one of the farms that supply us with some of our produce. The Inaba family has been farming in the Yakima Valley since 1907, when Shukichi Inaba and his brother came over from Japan and started farming the land. It was hard work, as they had to clear the land of sagebrush and dig irrigation channels before they could till and cultivate the fields. Over one hundred years later, Shukichi’s 3 grandsons are running the farm, which is now about 12,000 acres in size. They grow about 20 different kinds of crops that include peppers, asparagus, green beans, watermelons, sweet corn, grapes, onions and tomatoes. They are committed to trying to farm as sustainably as they can. When the opportunity to expand the farm presented itself in the early 1980s they made the decision to farm some of their fields using organic methods. About 10-15 percent of their crops are farmed organically now, and they are constantly trying new techniques to cut their use of chemicals. As some of their cucumbers, watermelon and squash depend on bees for pollination, it is easy to see why they would like to use as few pesticides as possible.
They still employ composting principles that Shukichi Inaba brought over with him from Japan over a century ago. With over five miles of windrows that are scattered around the farm, they compost thousands of tons of waste a year.
At the height of the harvest, the Inaba family employs some 200 people, about ¾ of whom return every year. Having faced discrimination with the enacting of the alien land laws of the 1920’s that prohibited them from owning land and the Japanese Internment during World War II, they empathize with the seasonal workers that they see every year and strive to be good employers.
It was a fun visit, and it is always great to see one of the sources for some of our great pizza toppings especially one that is so close by!