Agriculture within the Poston Relocation Center

Report 5, written on January 17th, 1943, is a personal letter from Sally Lucas Jean to her family and friends.  This letter offers a brief description of the cultivation of agriculture products within the Poston Relocation Center.  According to Report 5, farming was quite difficult inside the incarceration camps (Sally Lucas Jean, Letter).  Although over half of the Japanese Americans in California were successful farmers before the incarceration, farming while interned was no easy task (PJD 42).  While incarcerated, Japanese Americans had to deal with the challenges of farming in an unfamiliar territory.  However, it is quite evident that Japanese Americans were able to successfully grow various types of agriculture products despite the hardships of the incarceration.

According to the Sally Lucas Jean papers, droughts and a lack of water originally posed as a major problem for cultivation.  Although the Poston Relocation Center was only two and a half miles away from the Colorado River, much of the water that was brought into the incarceration camp was used for cooking and personal hygiene instead of agriculture production. (Burton 1).  Therefore, Japanese American farmers mainly relied on rainwater to bring nutrients to their agriculture products.  However, in 1943 a large-scale irrigation system was installed at the Poston Relocation Center.  This innovative irrigation system pumped water directly from the Colorado River onto the crops, which effectively provided agriculture products with the correct amount of water needed in order to thrive (Sally Lucas Jean, Relocation).

In this document, Sally Lucas Jean also mentioned the destructive dust storms, which were a major hardship for Japanese American farmers in Poston, Arizona.  The topsoil in the desert was very sandy and occasionally, severe windstorms would sweep through the countryside and redesign the entire layout of farmlands.  Japanese Americans were constantly plowing the fields in order to reshape the landscape and bring fertile soil to the top of the ground.  Sally Lucas Jean depicted this scene by saying, “…but one learns how to exist, without too much discomfort, even in the midst of the most severe sand storm.”  She later remarked, “The men driving huge tractor plows wear masks, similar to a gas mask, threading their way up and down the uneven ground with appearing ease.” (Sally Lucas Jean, Relocation).

The vast majority of agriculture production within the incarceration camps was commercial farming that was sponsored by the War Relocation Authority.  The War Relocation Authority would provide necessary farming equipment and then hire interned Japanese Americans for cheap labor.  Specifically, in Poston, a wide variety of crops were grown on the WRA sponsored farms including vegetables, berries, melons, potatoes, oats, and alfalfa.  With the correct conditions, the Poston Relocation Center could yield up to 41,000 acres of crops (Sally Lucas Jean, Letter).  In addition to this, crops could often be harvested multiple times throughout the extensive 258-day growing season.  According to Sally Lucas Jean, “In the summer, temperatures sometimes rise as high as 120 degrees.  But this warmth brings up the crops with remarkable speed.  Alfalfa, for example, sometimes returns as many as seven or eight outings a year.”  (Sally Lucas Jean, Relocation).  The crops harvested by the Japanese American farmers were consumed within the interment camps, sold to retailers across the country, or internationally distributed to American troops (PJD 126).

Even though the bulk of agriculture production completed within the incarceration camps was commercial farming sponsored by the WRA, many interned individuals still grew their own crops.  Victory gardens across the incarceration camps began to spring up in support of the American armed forces (PJD 140).  As one interned individual said, “When we entered camp, it was a barren desert.  When we left camp, it was a garden that had been built up without tools, it was green around the camp with vegetation, flowers and also with artificial lakes . . .” (PJD 161).  Specifically, the Japanese American families within Poston Relocation Center also harvested their own crops.  According to The Poston Chronicle, the local newspaper within the Poston Relocation Center, the community held a harvest festival during the middle of August in 1942.  This harvest festival was noted as being similar to a county fair in which individuals would enter their best vegetables into a contest (“Poston”).  Weather it was commercial farming or individual cultivation, Japanese Americans were surprisingly able to overcome all odds and successfully grow multiple agriculture products while interned in Poston, Arizona.

-Austin Powell

Works Cited

Burton, J., M. Farrell, F. Lord, and R. Lord. “Poston Relocation Center.” An Overview of World War II Japanese American Relocation Sites. National Park Service, 1 Sept. 2000. Web. 24 Mar. 2012. <http://www.nps.gov/history/history/online_books/anthropology74/ce10.htm>.

[Letter to Family and Friends written on Jan. 17, 1943: Folder 75, Report #5], in the Sally Lucas Jean papers #4290, Southern Historical Collection, The Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

“Poston Official Daily Press Bulletin Vol. III No. 3 – July 25, 1942” (denshopd-i145-00064), Densho, the Poston Chronicle

[The Relocation Centers – Colorado River: Folder 75], in the Sally Lucas Jean papers #4290, Southern Historical Collection, The Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.