Strawberry Fields Forever

Strawberry Fields Forever
By Wendy Hinman

The history of the ripe, red fruit in Carlsbad is closely linked with one family.
...The story of Carlsbad’s strawberry fields really began in a Japanese internment camp during World War II. Hiroshi Ukegawa (Poston block 22)  grew up in Orange County. His family were farmers and he graduated from Tustin High School. They were interned in Poston, Arizona with a family from Oceanside and Hiroshi moved there after the war. From the camp, Hiroshi enlisted in the 13th Airborne Paratroop Division. His son, Jimmy, one of the five Ukegawa children who run the business side of the family-owned Aviara Farms, says, “He told us he joined the paratroopers because it paid more.”

A little extra pay and a penchant for craps games helped Hiroshi save during the war years. While Hiroshi was jumping out of planes over farms across the pond, the future Mrs. U, Miwako, was in Japan. “I worked in a bank in Osaka during the war,” she says. “It was next to a factory so when the American bombers came over everything really shook.” Miwako’s father was a farmer, too; he had a pepper plantation in Borneo, Indonesia. Miwako was sent back to Japan from Indonesia when it was time for school and grew up with her grandmother and uncle.

After the war, Miwako came to Sacramento and earned her cosmetology license. An entrepreneur herself, she planned to learn how to perm hair, because it would be the next big thing in Japan. An excursion to L.A. and San Diego before her trip home changed those plans; she met Hiroshi. Both Miwako and Hiroshi’s families were originally from Wakayama, on the main island of Japan.

Married in 1956, they moved to Carlsbad in 1960. Hiroshi began growing strawberries in Oceanside and grew them for awhile on Stewart Mesa on Camp Pendleton before finding that perfect spot to lease in Carlsbad overlooking the lagoon. He started with strawberries because he wanted to keep his workers year round.  Tomatoes have always been the Ukegawas’ main crop, but strawberries kept the field hands working. At their peak the Ukegawas employed around 3,000 workers.

The Ukegawas do not whip their workers. They get accused of this every couple of years or so. Yes, there is a man in the field with a bullwhip. Jimmy says, “He’s a walking scarecrow.” Just like baseball is that odd sport where the defense has the ball, the strawberry is that odd fruit that carries its seed on the outside.   Starlings are the problem. “We put up the fake owls and in about a week the starlings are landing on them,” Jimmy says. They had a fake bird kite on a pole because it would blow in the wind. “A woman stopped her car in rush hour traffic on Cannon and came running across the field with a knife to ‘free the bird,’” Jimmy says. She needn’t worry about the bullwhip, either—they don’t whip the birds, but the crack of it and the constant movement keeps the starlings in the chapparal. “It’s works the best by far.”

Aviara Farms sells for about 10 other growers. For more than eight years, the Ukegawa family has invited its customers to come pick their own strawberries. 

Source: http://www.carlsbadmagazine.com/Stories/strawberries.html

No comments: