In Fall 2022, the Bainbridge Island School District began the process of renaming the Captain Charles Wilkes Elementary School. This week, the school district Renaming Committee announced that Akio Suyematsu Elementary was one of three final names, from 89 that were submitted to the School Board, who will select the new name of the school on March 30, 2023.
Akio Suyematsu (1921-2012) was born, raised, and educated on Bainbridge Island. He was an Island resident his entire life, except for the years of Japanese American exclusion, and his service in the United States Army (1942-47). Akio Suyematsu was born on the north end of Bainbridge Island, and spent his formative years living on the current site of Wilkes Elementary, which his family leased and farmed from approximately 1922-1930. (The Washington Alien Land Bill of 1921 prohibited non-white immigrants from buying or owning land.) From 1928-2012, Akio lived and farmed on the forty-acre property his family purchased neighboring the current site of Wilkes Elementary.
From the late 1920’s-1942, Akio attended Olympic Grade School, Lincoln School, and Bainbridge High School. At BHS, Akio was a star baseball player for all four years, and a letterman for three years. He excelled in building trades courses under the tutelage of Mr. Morley, which had a direct influence on his professional life as a farmer and becoming a jack of all trades. Akio was in the Class of 1942, and one of thirteen Japanese American BHS Students to graduate while exiled and incarcerated at Manzanar concentration camp in California.
During WWII, the Suyematsu Family were incarcerated in the Manzanar and Minidoka concentration camps. In 1943, Akio was drafted by the U.S. Army, and served in Europe at the end of the war. In 1947, he returned to Bainbridge Island and helped his family reclaim their farm and livelihoods. The Suyematsus were one of the few Japanese American families to carry on with farming on Bainbridge Island after returning from exile.
Today, the forty acres of Suyematsu Family Farm is one of the oldest, continuously farmed working landscapes in the region, and the largest production farm in Kitsap County. It is the hub of our Island’s farming community and a treasured and iconic cultural asset. Since the period of Japanese American Exclusion, Suyematsu Family Farm has become one of the most inclusive places on Bainbridge Island. The farm has become an established historic and cultural site for teaching and learning about the Japanese American experience, and a living bookend to the Bainbridge Island Japanese American Memorial.
From 2006-2019, Suyematsu Farm served as an outdoor classroom for Wilkes Elementary, had vibrant farm-school partnership with Suyematsu Farm integrated into the K-4 curriculum, with every class coming to the farm up to four times a year. A dedicated path was built for Wilkes students to walk to and from the farm. Wilkes teachers spoke at Akio’s Celebration of Life.
In 2011, Akio Suyematsu became the first local farmer, and alumnus, to have a contract with BISD food program, purchasing 300 pounds of Suyematsu Farm raspberries each year for a yogurt & granola parfait, served to Wilkes students and others throughout the school year- making Suyematsu Farm and Wilkes Elementary one of the closest farm to school relationships in the region.
In Winter 2023, a coalition of stakeholders, concerned over the current and future state of historic Suyematsu Family Farm have organized to form the Suyematsu Farm Legacy Alliance, dedicated to preserving and enhancing the living legacy and heritage of Akio Suyematsu and his family’s original farm as a community asset involving a center of active farming, interpretation and education.
The Suyematsu Farm Legacy Alliance (SFLA) includes:
Suyematsu & Bentryn Family Farmers Guild
The Suyematsu Family
Bainbridge Island Japanese American Community (BIJAC)
Indipino Community of Bainbridge Island and Vicinity
Bainbridge Preservation Community
EduCulture & The Only What We Can Carry Project
Founded in 1928, this forty acre property is one of the oldest, continuously farmed working landscapes in the region, the largest production farm on Bainbridge Island, and a unique private-public partnership. In 2001, Akio Suyematsu sold to the City of Bainbridge Island (COBI) the remaining fifteen-acres of his family farm. Formal ownership of this property transferred to COBI upon Akio’s death in 2012. In 2016, the five acre family homestead was listed in the Bainbridge Island Historic Register and was dedicated as the Island’s first ever Historic Preservation District (HPD).
The SFLA is committed to cultivating strong working relationships focused on honoring the legacy of historic Suyematsu Farm, with the aim of supporting the permanent preservation of the HPD, as well as, the surrounding city-owned working landscape within the original forty acres of historic Suyematsu Family Farm, in order to protect the living history and the agricultural and educational legacy of Akio Suyematsu.
The SFLA wants to see this community landmark realize its full potential as a cultural, interpretive, and educational center for teaching and learning about the history, culture and heritage of Akio Suyematsu, the Suyematsu Family, the Island’s larger agricultural heritage, and Japanese American and Indipino experiences on Bainbridge Island. Current goals include stabilizing and restoring the Farm’s Historic Preservation District, placing the farm on State & National Historic Registers, and improving the welfare of the current farmers who are Akio Suyematsu’s agricultural legacy. To help us achieve our goals, we are guided by Akio’s principles and traditions of “clean living” for generations to come.
On the 80th Anniversary of Executive Order 9066 and the forced removal of the Bainbridge Island Japanese community in March 1942, followed by their incarceration at the Manzanar concentration camp, we revisit our the short documentary, What They Could Carry…Return To Manzanar”, about our OWWCC 2012 Delegation to Manzanar, by filmmaker Brenda Berry.
Authentically Teaching Bainbridge History: Delegation to Manzanar
April 13, 2022 at 11:30am, Wednesday – on Zoom
Join us to hear about the journey local teachers took to create their own stories through experiencing Manzanar alongside survivors. Listen to perspectives from teachers, survivors and co-directors of the Only What We Can Carry Project (OWWCC), who have facilitated the past five delegations.
Panelists: Jonathan Garfunkel, Bill Covert and Lilly Kitamoto Kodama
On March 27, 2022, The Seattle Times published a series of stories about the Japanese American Exclusion during WWII on the 80th Anniversary of Executive Order 9066. Reporter Jackie Varriano wrote a feature story on one of our hero’s, Akio Suyematsu. EduCulture’s Jon Garfunkel assisted with research for this article. You can read this story and the other related features on other Bainbridge Islanders that have been a part of EduCulture and our Only What We Can Carry Project, such as Lilly Kodama and Vern Nakata, in The Seattle Times by clicking on the links below.
Through Eating, Sharing, and Studying Food We Can Build Sustainable Communities
The Seed Field Podcast, Antioch University, November 3, 2021, Episode S2E5
Do you know where your food comes from? Whether it is the food we are getting at a grocery store, farmer’s market, restaurant, or our backyard, understanding the way food is produced and the larger systems it is a part of can help us fight for more sustainable and equitable access to food. Scholar and dedicated food educator Jon Garfunkel talks with guest host Mair Allen about the ways that acts like reclaiming public spaces for gardening, having conversations with local food providers, and volunteering to help to feed your community can help us understand and correct problems in the food systems we currently depend on—both locally and globally.
Join us for this panel discussion to hear some history of local farming and how it has changed over time. Hear stories of Island strawberry fields and perspectives about food and farming today. September 22, 2021, 7-8p.
Panelists: Hisa Hayashida Matsudaira, Jon Garfunkel, and Brian MacWhorter
The Bainbridge Island Library hosts this program in collaboration with BIHM.
Learning Through Cupcakes: Baker Hopes to Spread Kitchen Knowledge
MAY 27, 2020, SEATTLE
BY JASPER NIGHTHAWK, Common Thread, Antioch University Seattle News
“I think I’ve always just loved making cupcakes for people,” says Niallah Cooper-Scruggs, a graduate student at Antioch University Seattle. This love began the day her mom taught her how to make her first batch, topped with a sweet and tangy cream cheese frosting that was just right – not too runny, just stiff enough. She perfected this in high school when she made it her tradition to bring cupcakes in for friends’ birthdays. As an adult, she kept making them, and this love deepened. “They’re cool little bite treats that can be full of tons of flavor,” she says, and she came to “love using the local ingredients here in the Pacific Northwest.” So it was natural that when, in the fall of 2018, Cooper-Scruggs decided to stop working in professional kitchens and open her own bakery, she decided to focus her menu around this simple delight – the cupcake.
Keeping things relatively simple was smart because – in addition to opening her first business – she had recently begun studying for a Masters of Education program at Antioch Seattle. “It was actually kind of hard,” she says. “I was constantly juggling baking during the nighttime, and then I would have class during the day.”
She thought business would be slow at first, but her cupcakes were quickly a hit. Working out of a shared industrial kitchen belonging to a senior center, she developed distinctive offerings. There was the Gold Digga, a chocolate cupcake soaked in Irish cream with salted caramel frosting. The Queen Bee topped a lemonade cupcake with lavender-rosemary lemon curd. Experimentation showed that seasonal flavors were big sellers, so Cooper-Scruggs found local sources for pumpkin, apples, pineapple, sage, and mint.
As she became an empowered part of the Seattle food world – exploring shared kitchens, local farms, coffee shops, and farmer’s markets – it tied directly into her studies. When she chose to study at Antioch, Cooper-Scruggs had been excited for itsLeadership in Edible Education certificate program. And it was through this program that her two worlds came together. Every week around a table laden with delicious food, she and her classmates “discussed things like food systems and problems within our food system today, we talked about food in schools and how there need to be changes in nutrition and food education in general.”
These conversations tied in with field trips, and sometimes the topics would mirror the decisions she was having to make with her bakery. “It was amazing. We went to farmer’s markets, we went to grocery stores, we would ask each other which was the best as far as food quality and food resources.”
Cooper-Scruggs made the choice to source most of the fresh ingredients for her cupcakes from a farm called Nurturing Roots. She had met the farm’s founder and director, Nyema Clark, at an all-women’s event some years before, and she knew she wanted to work with her if she started her own business. Now that she had started Sugar Queen, Nurturing Roots became her main purveyor for everything from apples and raspberries to carrots and lots of herbs. This made her cupcakes even better, but at the same time it served Cooper-Scruggs’s value of giving back to her community “by supporting local people-of-color owned businesses and farms.”
A Foodie Family
Cooper-Scruggs’s love of food goes back to her childhood. “We always gathered around food, we always ate together every night for dinner, so it was just a big thing for us in our family,” she says. Her mom loved cooking at home, her grandfather had been a professional cook, and her aunt owned her own restaurant. “I like to say that cooking and food was just a part of our family culture.”
As she grew older, she came to cherish those memories of gathering around her family dinner table. “You can remember those conversations and the things you all laughed about with a really great meal.” When it was time to get a job, it was natural to begin working in professional kitchens. One job had her working at a farm and resort where she taught kids how to cook and showed them different techniques. That was the first anyone suggested she might have a future as a food educator. “One of my chefs was like, ‘You’re really good at this. You should become a teacher.’ I was like, ‘Alright, okay.’ But I was [thinking], I’ll never be a teacher. This is not true.” Then at another job she ended up teaching food skills again, and she started to realize, You know what, I really like this. So it began to crystallize in her head that if she went back to school, that might be what she studied.
However, it took an unpleasant working environment to push her to the point of starting her own business and actually enrolling in graduate school. She was working in a restaurant where “They hired me on for a position and then they changed my position and then they changed it again.” That was hard, but even worse, they constantly questioned her abilities, making comments like “Are you sure you’re able to do this? Are you capable?” It was unpleasant enough that eventually it pushed her to a realization: “You know what? I’m going to do my own thing. I think it’s time for me to start my own business and try and see if I can be successful at that. And I did it also with school.”
In retrospect, she isn’t upset that she did that work, as unpleasant as it could be. “Now looking back, I see why I had to do that—just so I could learn more skills and go through all these restaurants and learn the skills so I could start my own business eventually. So I don’t regret it at all.” Making the leap into starting her own business has been, by all accounts, a wonderful experience. “Sometimes, it seems surreal that God has provided me with a business I love,” she says, “but I am constantly reminded that dreams can come true and they are possible.”
Big Plans and Uncertainty
Sugar Queen Bakery has been on hiatus since December, when Cooper-Scruggs took a sabbatical to focus on finishing graduate school. The plan was always for her to re-open the bakery after she graduates in June. She would take Sugar Queen to farmer’s markets, re-open accounts with coffee shops, and try to land more wedding cake and cupcake jobs. The dream is for Sugar Queen to eventually have its own storefront where regulars can drop by in person—and where she could have a kitchen set up just to her own specifications.
Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic has put all of those plans on hold. Cooper-Scruggs is grateful that by chance she was already taking a break—so it didn’t force her into an unexpected closure—but it is putting serious roadblocks in the path toward re-opening. It doesn’t seem like the senior center where she was renting shared kitchen space will be in any hurry to allow outside chefs to rent space again. It’s a period of uncertainty for Sugar Queen Bakery.
In the longer-run, Cooper-Scruggs seems well-positioned to thrive and continue making an impact on her community. Getting her degree in education has made her even more passionate about sharing her love of food. “I believe that I can combine both my skills as a cook and baker, and use them to teach others how to create healthy meals and desserts,” she says. “My hope is to have Sugar Queen Bakery as my business, while using teaching to give back to the community.”
Food and Education in Times of Crisis: A Bridging Classroom & Community Dialogue
Presented by the Leadership in Edible Education Program at Antioch University Seattle & EduCulture
Thursday, April 23, 2020, 4-5 p.m.
How do we wrestle with the paradox we are currently experiencing at the cross roads of food supply and kitchen literacy when “(O)ur food distribution networks are under siege. At the same time, food is proving stressful for people who are not used to cooking for themselves” (New York Times 3-18-20)? How do we hold space for the constraints we are experiencing with our food system and supply while creatively addressing short and long term solutions for food and education?
With millions of students at home, schools struggling to create an on-line learning system, and parents struggling to feed and educate their children during a time of crisis, there are significant opportunities emerging for edible education and kitchen literacy on the home front and solutions for making our local-regional food community more relevant in a time of crisis and more durable and resilient for the future.
Join us for a virtual dialogue via Zoom hosted by Antioch University Seattle, facilitated by Leadership in Edible Education faculty & Director Jonathan Garfunkel and feature program alumni and instructors. The dialogue will address the current COVID-19 crisis and its impact on our food systems. Among other topics, we will discuss the constraints to our food system and supply while also imagining creative solutions for a more durable and resilient future. Guests will include local food practitioners, helping to initiate this on-line dialogue.
Putting Food on the Table and Fostering Connections with School Gardens
MARCH 10, 2020, SEATTLE
BY KAREN HAMILTON, Common Threads, Antioch University Seattle News
Sarah Bethel has moved from coast to coast. She studied environmental studies at the University of Oregon, traveled up and down the West Coast doing service projects as a part of AmeriCorps, and taught early Education in Vermont and Connecticut for three years. These days, Bethel is back on the west coast, and working towards a Masters of Education with a Leadership in Edible Education Certificate at Antioch University’s Seattle campus.
“The Edible Education Certificate is kind of like a tour,” Bethel says. “A road map of the history of food in this county and how our food shapes our values.”
For Bethel, the transition from environmental studies to education was a smooth one, sparked by those early days when she was on the road with AmeriCorps. It was during this time that Bethel would get her first taste of edible education.
“I didn’t know much about gardening. I had a leadership position with AmeriCorps, and we went up and down the West Coast setting up school and community gardens,” she says. “I was learning and teaching kids at the same time.”
Bethel’s interest in gardening found further fuel when she took a position at a school in Vermont as a school garden coordinator in Burlington, Vermont. The program was unique, combining teaching preschool through sixth grade as well as coordinating and maintaining the school’s garden, and eventually, cooking with the yields. Bethel worked in the soil for a year before she took another position in Connecticut. Bethel took pride in the connection she had fostered between the children and food. She realized that it was something that was missing from most Americans’ relationships with the food they eat.
“We’ve been forced to move away from our deep connections to food–our connections to cooking, gardening, and our knowledge of what food does for our bodies,” she says.
Bethel finally figured out what she wanted to do, and it fell somewhere between Education and sustainability. She knew she wanted to continue to foster a connection between food and children, but Bethel also realized that jobs in the field were competitive. She would need a Master’s degree to help her stand out in the competition.
“I was feeling stuck. Everyone has a bachelor’s degree, and I wasn’t able to move forward or have access to the type of job that I wanted,” Bethel says. “I found Antioch through a colleague in Vermont, and the program’s approach to education drew me in.”
Bethel believes that when it comes to education, you get out what you put in, and she has definitely put in the time. Now on the brink of graduating with a Master’s of Educationfrom Antioch, when she looks back, Bethel is grateful for the time and work she put into Antioch’s Edible Education program.
“It prepared me for my inquiry and thesis project,” she says.
Bethel describes Antioch’s Edible Education Program as a way for teachers to take back that deep connection to food that’s been missing in education. She points to how the program explores all the different ways food can interact with education from the history of school lunch to why the food served in the cafeteria is so essential. For Bethel, Antioch’s focus on social justice and social action encouraged her to not only identify injustices but to find and apply solutions.
“It’s made me think, what can I do to make the system more just and fairer for everyone,” Bethel says.
Food is political, after all, and experts have documented disparities in the quality of food available in districts and communities. Bethel points out that there are also gaps in edible education, especially in early childhood curriculum. Inspired by the work Bethel completed in Antioch’s Edible Education program, her thesis has a heavy focus on food. Her work explores the possible solutions to close those education gaps in early education and foster deep connections to food sustainability in preschoolers.
“In my practicum for the Edible Education certificate, I found out that a lot of schools with garden education programs have gaps between gardening or growing food and cooking. I didn’t see any overlap.”
Bethel will graduate with her Master’s in June. She wants to take her experience and her Master’s degree and put everything she’s learned into practice in her own preschool classroom. The goal, of course, includes a garden.
“I don’t think I would be a complete educator without some garden component,” she says.
After graduating, Bethel plans to move once more. This time to the Midwest. She has her own roots and connections in the heartland. Wherever she goes, it’s safe to say that Bethel will foster Antioch values such as service and justice, along with growing a garden of her very own.
“We, as humans, have not been given roots as obvious as those of plants. The surest way we have to lodge ourselves within this blessed earth is by knowing where our food comes from.”