Middlefield Farm: Historic farmland comes full circle
Parent Category: Growing
Created on Thursday, 20 October 2011 17:33
Written by Sallie Maron
Visible and modest. These two words speak volumes about Middlefield Farm and its owners, the Nakata family. The 13- acre farm, on the corner of Wyatt Way and Weaver Avenue, tells a visible and evolving story of one family’s history on the Island.
The community-minded Nakata family has made Bainbridge Island their home for more than a century. Jitsuzo Nakata arrived at the Port of Tacoma in 1899, one of the adventurous immigrants from around the world, drawn by the promise of a better life in America. He worked for the Port Blakely Lumber Mill before starting his own laundry and barber business in Winslow.
As an immigrant, he wasn’t allowed to buy land, so in 1924, when he wanted to purchase a working strawberry farm, he had a family friend sign the ownership papers. Four years later, when Jitsuzo’s Bainbridge-born son, Masaaki, turned 21, the ownership of the land was recorded under the Nakata name.
While the family worked long hours growing strawberries on the farm, Masaaki (later known as John), took a job at a local meat market, a step that would lead him into the grocery business and eventually to becoming a founder of Town and Country Market. Hard work and frugality were foundational to the success of many immigrant families, and the Nakata family was no exception. Working together, they became an integral part of the Island community. And then, along with all the other Islanders of Japanese decent, the Nakatas were forced to leave Bainbridge, and were imprisoned at an internment camp during World War II.
At the end of the war, the extended family returned to the Island, and began the challenging work of starting over and re-establishing their lives in the community. John Nakata and his family moved back to thefamily farm, and once again, began to establish a grocery business that was a forerunner of what is now known by locals as T&C, and considered by many to be the heart of Winslow.
But, what became of the family farm where strawberries were tended for so many years? It lay fallow except for a large home garden, and some grass harvesting over the years. Given its visibility, however, it’s easy to see that the last few years have brought a revival of crop a
ctivity to the land. Recently, I visited the farm to talk with Larry Nakata about the current use and future plans for the property. Larry is the soft-spoken president of Town and Country Markets, the family-owned business that now controls the property. He said that the farm could best be described as a “work in progress.”
About six years ago, Brian MacWhorter, local farmer extraordinaire, was enlisted to transition the land back into active food production. As a farmer who had been selling his produce at T&C for a number of years, Brian had the skills to help the Nakata family begin to resurrect their farming heritage. While the long-range vision for the property is an ongoing family discussion, Brian has been busy amending the soil and planting crops. Using organic growing methods, he expects to have official organic certification in the coming year. He also works closely with the produce specialist at Town and Country Markets to determine the best crops to grow for local customers.
As we toured the farm, Larry explained that the name of the farm, Middlefield, comes from a translation of Nakata. “Naka” in Japanese means “middle”, and “ta” means “field”. It’s a name that speaks of the family heritage without fanfare. And, as Larry said he “feels fortunate that the family business still owns the property” and will be able to find ways to make it economically sustainable while ensuring that it benefits the community. Being in the food business is a “blessing for which the family is grateful”.
As you drive by the open fields that have been bright with orange pumpkins and yellow sunflowers, you may also have noticed the two greenhouses that have sprouted up, overlooking Wyatt Way. The greenhouses hold promise for more year-round food production. Even though they’re unheated, each one is 3000 square feet of growing space. Brian was able to grow 500 tomato plants as well as peppers, cucumbers and other heat-loving vegetables this summer. The produce is harvested, and delivered to T&C Market on Bainbridge and to Central Market in Poulsbo on a daily basis. One highlight of my visit was a tour of the greenhouses, after which Larry sent me off with a handful of red, vine-ripened tomatoes.
The tomatoes were a beautiful memento of my visit, and a delicious reminder of the importance of cherishing not only the Island’s agricultural heritage, but also the hopes and dreams of hard-working immigrants like Jitsuzo Nakata. More than a century after his arrival, and with a visible farm and store, as well as a generous spirit, the Nakata family continues to cultivate a modest presence while honoring a long tradition of commitment to the Bainbridge community.