We, at EduCulture and OWWCC, mourn the loss of our locally grown hero, mentor, and farm partner, Akio Suyematsu, who passed away peacefully on 31 July 2012 at the age of 90. Akio Suyematsu was the last of the original berry farmers on Bainbridge Island who put Bainbridge on the map as Island the strawberry capital of the Pacific Northwest. He was also one of the first Japanese Americans to be forcibly removed and incarcerated during WWII. Out of his experience of exclusion, Akio Suyematsu’s Farm has become the largest and oldest farm in the region, and one of the most inclusive places on Bainbridge Island. His life’s work is living memorial to a Japanese American farmer “who against all odds cultivated a legacy that will live forever.”
Click Here for a video presentation & tour on the Suyematsu Family from OWWCC & EduCulture Director Jon Garfunkel on the occasion of the 70th Anniversary of the Japanese American Exclusion on Bainbridge Island, WA
Like others before us, The EduCulture Project got its start through the generosity of farmers like Akio Suyematsu who allowed their agricultural landscapes to be used as learning landscapes by hundreds of local school children. It has also become an OWWCC heritage site where hundreds of students, educators and adults come to visit each year to tour and learn about one man’s triumph over the adversity of exclusion, losing his freedom and his family farm, and returning to make Suyematsu Farm what it is today.
The home base for the EduCulture Project is historic Suyematsu & Bentryn Family Farm (S&BFF), the oldest working landscape on Bainbridge Island, and one of the largest farms in Kitsap County. Since 2006, we have been collaborating with the farmers at S&BFF to help transform their working landscape into a center of teaching and learning for K-12 and community based education. Over the past few years, this land has been an experiment in bridging sustainable local farming with education for sustainability, and offer lived experiences for teachers and students that cultivate scholarship, stewardship, citizenship and sustainability.
The Suyematsu Family, immigrants from Japan, founded this 40 acre farm in 1928. Except for the period of Japanese American exclusion during WWII, this is the oldest, most continuously farmed land on Bainbridge Island. Mostly by hand and horse, it took three decades for the Suyematsu family to transition this land from a forest into one of the original berry farms that made Bainbridge Island the strawberry capital of the Pacific Northwest. Their eldest son, Akio, who turned 90 in 2011, has been farming this land since childhood, and is responsible for guiding this farm into this 21st century.
Starting in the late 70’s, the Bentryn family rented, then purchased, half of the farm to create Bainbridge Island Vineyards and Winery. Akio Suyematsu and the Bentryns mentored the next generation of master farmers (Karen Selvar, Betsey Wittick, Brian MacWhorter, Mike Paulson, Mike Lempriere) who help farm their land and who also farm their own land on this 40 acres and elsewhere.
At the millennium, 15 acres of Suyematsu Farm (2000) and more than 10 acres of Bentryn Farm (2004) were purchased by the City of Bainbridge Island to be kept in perpetuity as agricultural landscape. Today, there are three landowners within the 40 acres. The publicly owned land is being managed by Friends of the Farms, and leased to local farmers.
This is now the largest production farm on Bainbridge Island. Approx. 80-100 tons of food is raised each year, and is distributed throughout our local food community. Food on this farm is sustainably and organically grown.
Today, local schools visit these farms for edible education programs and food from these farms is being served in Bainbridge School District lunches.
Since the period of Japanese American Exclusion, this farm has become one of the most inclusive places on Bainbridge Island, and one of the most unique and iconic in our region.
THANK YOU to Suyematsu & Bentryn Family Farms and Farmer’s Guild, along with Friends of the Farms and other community partners for your tremendous collaboration and support of edible education!