SAN DIEGO (KGTV) - This month, ABC 10News is celebrating the Asian Pacific Islander community. The Yasukochi's are a Japanese American farming family with deep roots in North County.
At this parents' home in Oceanside, Donal Yasukochi pays his respects to his late mother Jane and all who came before him.
"My great grandfather Kiso, he came over [to America] in 1906," Donal said.
Like many immigrants at the turn of the century, Kiso Yasukochi dreamed of a better future for his children. So he left his small farming village in Japan to come to America. After working odd jobs up north, he settled in Southern California to do what he knows best.
"There was fertile land down here in Oceanside," Donal said.
In 1913, the California Alien Land Law went into effect. It targeted up-and-coming farmers, specifically Japanese, from owning agricultural land or signing long-term leases. But that did not stop the Yasukochi's from growing their crops. The family made multiple short-term leases and made cash deals with sympathetic Caucasian landowners.
"They were survivors. They were savvy," Donal said.
By the 1920s, Kiso's son Taisuke made a name for himself.
"He was able to build this chili dehydrator and became famous for that. He became known as the 'King of the Chilies,'" Donal said.
With their success, the Yasukochi's became pillars of the North County community. That is, until World War II.
After the Pearl Harbor attacks, the United States government imprisoned 120,000 Japanese and Japanese Americans into desolate Internment Camps. Their crime was having the face of the enemy. Within days, Kiso and Taisuke were imprisoned in Santa Fe, New Mexico, while the rest of the family was jailed in Poston, Arizona.
"I know my grandfather and great grandfather worked very hard to get what they had before the war. But all of a sudden, they were criminals. That's not a good part of United States history," Donal said.
With their farms and families uprooted, most Japanese Americans lost everything. But Donal said they were lucky to have a kind Caucasian family friend.
"His name was Mr. Gray, and he was a schoolteacher in Escondido. He was the guy who took care of our ground during the war. Great man," Donal said.
Thanks to Mr. Gray, the Yasukochi's were able to get back on their feet. Donal's parents, Yuji and Jane, grew tomatoes, had a strawberry stand, and pretty soon, they had several plots of fruits and vegetables growing all over North County.
In the 1990's Donal, his brother Kerry, and cousin Ross took over and shifted their focus from wholesale to farmer's markets. They were in more than 40 farmer's markets all over Southern California until the 2020 Pandemic.
"When the coronavirus hit, they said, 'Hey, farmer's markets are closed,'" Donal said.
With palettes of fresh produce with nowhere to go, the Yasukochi's got creative. They got their fellow local farmers involved to create Community Supported Agriculture or CSA boxes.
"The local farmers started calling," Donal said. "They said, 'Hey, we have this,' so we started helping them, and then the citrus people, then the mushroom people, and then before we know it, we had enough product to supply all these boxes."
Pre-pandemic, they were doing about 100 boxes a week. Now, they pick, pack, and deliver over 500 boxes a day, each with up to 18 different fresh produce.
With a century of North County farming, the Yasukochi's have been through their fair share of adversity. But Donal said it was his mother Jane who taught them to adapt and overcome.
"My mother, after the war, she went into the store. She was escorted out by the owner and was told, 'We don't want your kind in here. We don't want your money. Don't ever come back,'" Donal teared up. "So my mother ingrained in me to always put your customer first. Treat them like family. So that's what we do."
It is a philosophy that remains true today and to the future of Yasukochi family farms.
The family said even as farmer's markets and stores open back up, customers for their CSA boxes continue to grow. They believe providing fresh produce encourages healthy choices and cooking and eating meals as a family.