By Richard McDonough
The Ishimaru family grew a variety of chrysanthemums and prunes on their family farm in Berryessa.
“The chrysanthemums were eventually used in floral displays for funerals in the eastern part of the country,” explained Ricky Ishimaru. As a child growing up in Santa Clara County, he spent countless hours with his parents and siblings packing the flowers and doing a variety of farm work on the land.
Mr. Ishimaru’s mom and dad, Mae and George Ishimaru, both grew up in the region.
During the 1940s, George Ishimaru was imprisoned with his family first at the Santa Anita Assembly Center (Santa Anita Prison) at the Santa Anita Racetrack in Los Angeles County. He and his family were then transferred to the Heart Mountain Relocation Center (Heart Mountain Prison) in Wyoming.
Mae Ishimaru did not get incarcerated by the Federal government.
“My aunt had a brother already living in Colorado,” explained Mae Ishimaru. “He was able to find a home for me, my parents, and our family as well as a second home for my aunt’s family. We lived for a couple years in Brighton, near Denver.”
After World War II, Mae and George Ishimaru came back to California – Mae Ishimaru returned to Mountain View; George Ishimaru went to Menlo Park. Eventually, George Ishimaru moved to Mountain View. The two young people met while they were students at Mountain View High School.
After graduation, Mae Ishimaru did office work for HP; George Ishimaru worked for Levi Strauss.
During the years after the war, the parents of Mae Ishimaru operated a farm in Mountain View. Mrs. Ishimaru explained that her family shut down this farm after “…the State of California built a highway right through the middle of my parent’s farm. It wasn’t practical for us to keep farming that land.”
George and Mae Ishimaru then looked to establish a farm of their own.
“My mom and dad saved enough money by working for HP and Levi’s to be able to buy 8 acres of land in Berryessa around 1960,” Mr. Ishimaru stated. “Our family farm was located to the left of the tee box on the second hole of the San Jose Municipal Golf Course.”
“In the beginning, we harvested prunes from an orchard on our farm,” Mrs. Ishimaru stated. “We sold the prunes locally in San Jose. We then went on to add greenhouses to grow chrysanthemums.”
The orchard of prune trees covered about two acres of the Ishimaru Farm. Greenhouses and other farm structures used to grow and pack chrysanthemums were located on the other six acres of ground.
“At first, the greenhouses were covered with just plastic,” Mr. Ishimaru. “We then got fiberglass coverings.”
The family grew chrysanthemums in a few different colors, including yellow, white, and bronze.
“My dad would cut the flowers,” said Mr. Ishimaru. “I would help carry the flowers over to the packing area. The other kids and I – including my brother Gerald and my sisters Karen and Carol – would pack the chrysanthemums in groups of 25. Four bunches of each would then be put together so we would have 100 chrysanthemums packed together for shipment.”
He said that the family got 25 cents for each chrysanthemum.
The flowers were shipped in refrigerated trucks to a wholesaler in San Mateo, according to Mrs. Ishimaru. The wholesaler then sold the flowers to people back East. There, the chrysanthemums were assembled into floral displays for funerals.
“After the chrysanthemums were packed, I’d then go back into the greenhouses and pull out the roots from the plants that had just been cut and packed,” stated Mr. Ishimaru. “Those roots would then be thrown in the fields and we’d plant new chrysanthemums.”
The Ishimarus operated their farm for years.
Mae Ishimaru indicated that she and her husband encouraged their children to leave the farm and each get a college education: “We’d rather they got an education than work on the farm. All of our children went to college.”
“I enjoyed farming,” stated Mae Ishimaru. “But the economics changed through the years. Competition from flower growers in Mexico and overseas overwhelmed us. The imported flowers were able to be sold at much cheaper rates than we could produce the flowers on our farm.”
“As my dad got older, he asked me to take over the farm,” explained Mr. Ishimaru. “I declined. I was working in produce management at a supermarket. I told him he should sell the property and enjoy retirement.”
Within a year or so, the family sold the farm. The land that once produced prunes and chrysanthemums is now home to people living in condos.
Ricky Ishimaru is himself now retired, having worked for 33 years as a supermarket produce manager. He spends much of his time in retirement playing in a softball league. “I enjoy playing softball throughout the country – from Florida to Texas and from Arizona to Utah,” he stated.
Mae Ishimaru is staying active in her retirement years. “I’m on the stationary bike once or twice each week,” she explained. “I drive to San Jose two or three times each week to visit with family and friends.” Among her favorite activities? Tending to her garden at her home in Morgan Hill. “I enjoy growing sweet corn, zucchini, tomatoes, cucumbers, and especially Kentucky beans. I try to keep busy to keep healthy.”