Inaba Produce Farms
Producers: The Inaba family
Located in: Wapato, Wash.
Supplying PCC since: 1990
Supplies PCC with: Delicious, organically grown asparagus, watermelon and green beans from sunny Eastern Washington.
Sustainable cultivation: The Inabas compost to reduce weed seeds and further enhance their soil. They recycle thousands of tons of waste each year, carrying on a practice Shukichi Inaba employed when he arrived from Japan in 1907.
Three generations in, and going strong
Few produce items better encapsulate spring than tender spears of slender asparagus, green and fresh from the field. And it's tough to find better asparagus than the organic and local harvest from the Inaba Family in the Yakima Valley.
In the month of May, PCC shoppers buy more asparagus — organic and conventional — than any other produce item except bananas. Much of that asparagus comes from Inaba Produce Farms in Wapato, Wash. As the season goes on, PCC shoppers also will see the Inaba label on green beans, watermelons, and more.
At 1,200 acres, it's a big spread. Yet, it's a good example of how environmentally friendly and socially responsible practices are commercially viable values in food production, even on a large scale.
The Inabas conserve water with drip irrigation systems. They use composting and cover crops to improve soil health. They've diversified the crop mix to extend the growing season to provide a longer term of steady employment for workers. They are one of the few places that provide housing for their seasonal employees. "People are amazed at how nice it is," says Lon Inaba, the Operations Manager.
Inaba Produce is a third generation family farm dug into the rich volcanic soil of the Yakima Valley. Many of the sustainable farming practices used today were started in 1907 when Shukichi Inaba and his brother came from Japan, cleared the land of sagebrush and with techniques learned in Japan, began cultivating crops.
Shukichi's son, Ken, eventually took over the farm and now Ken's three sons, Lon, Wayne, and Norm manage it along with their Mom, Shiz.
Lon says his Dad put him and his brothers through Washington State University and didn't expect them to come back, but they did, one by one. Wayne had studied accounting and he came home to do the marketing in 1980.
"I came home in '82 on a six-month leave from a job at Battelle Northwest Labs (a research and development company)," says Lon, "I did more engineering in three weeks on the farm — building, irrigation, and composting — than I did at Battelle!"
He never went back. Then Norm came home with a degree in economics and computer science — perfect for payroll. A sister's husband is the main mechanic.
Lon says he and his brothers fought like cats and dogs in the beginning, but they all pulled for the same purpose and they learned from each other, which makes it such a strong family operation today.
"If you're going to make it as a farmer, you have to do more than just be a farmer. Each segment has a chunk. Mom's still around, too" says Lon. "She's been telling us what to do for 40 years," he laughs. "She keeps us in line. She's the bookkeeper and wields a firm hand in not spending too much and keeping our costs under control."
It's a good feeling, he says, to be your own boss and really have a feeling of accomplishment.
By Trudy Bialic, Sound Consumer, May 2002. Updated February 2010.