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PLACERVILLE, CALIFORNIA
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Wakamatsu branches out

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From page A1 | May 22, 2013 | Leave Comment

DSC_5803ee

JOURNALIST RYUSUKE KAWAI, of Chigasaki, Kanagawa Prefecture, Japan, left, holds a vase as Rumiko Meguro, of Aizuwakamatsu, Fukushima Prefecture, Japan, prepares to place flowers on Okei's grave at the Wakamatsu Festival in Placerville on May 18. Meguro works to preserve Okei's history, both in the United States and Japan. Democrat photo by Shelly Thorene

Connecting new generations to the land, the third annual Wakamatsu Farm Festival reached out to new audiences on May 18 by celebrating all the diverse groups that have populated the historic site.

Acquired by the American River Conservancy in 2010, the 272 acre Gold Hill Ranch is notable for the many groups who have called it home. In the past, the focus was on its use as the first permanent Japanese settlement in North America. However, according to Michael Dotson, Director of Development and Communications for the American River Conservancy, this year’s festival was designed to be different.

“Our vision is to educate people on the diverse cultures in the area to bring in a wider audience and connect them to the land,” he said.

In line with that goal, spread out over the ranch were four venues reflecting the four main groups that lived on and drew their sustenance from the land. Trooping from staging area to staging area on Saturday were an estimated 700 people who traveled by foot, in buggies and covered wagons, or in golf carts across the grass and oak-studded landscape to sample the culture of each group.

The venue pertaining to the earliest residents went to the Miwok and Nisenan Indians who lived in the area for 6,000 years and called the area Ek’al Pakan or “Dry Spring.” Their staging area featured games, dancers, artists, basketry and a walnut dice game.

Nearby was a venue commemorating the Gold Rush and the miners who made their home in the area after gold was discovered in nearby Coloma. Miners later named the area Gold Hill because of its proximity to Coloma. Under a towering Oak Tree, one man with a miniature stamp mill showed how gold used to be extracted from rock.

Walking around talking to people was Ed Allen, head interpreter of the Gold Discovery Park Association, a non-profit cooperating association for Marshall Gold Discovery State Historic Park. Dressed as James Marshall, the man who discovered gold in Coloma, Allen showed off gold nuggets and coins while noting that in one year alone, miners found $10 million of the metal. Unfortunately, most miners never made enough to afford to go home again.

Nearby, women dressed as frontierswomen made bread and beans the old-fashioned way — in a dutch oven with coals piled above and below a cast iron pot.

On another hilltop was the venue celebrating the Wakamatsu Tea and Silk Colony. Established in 1869 by mostly samurai and their families who were fleeing a civil war in Japan, the small group brought with them mulberry trees, tea-plant seed, fruit tree saplings, paper and oil plants, rice, bamboo and other crops. Unfortunately, their agricultural venture failed and by 1871 most of them had dispersed. Nonetheless, they made an indelible impact on the area.

As part of the ceremonies for this venue, a prayer service was held at the grave site of Okei-San that was presided over by Rev. Yuki Sugahara and Rev. Dr. Ryoei Tyler. Okei-San is thought to be the first woman of Japanese descent to die and be buried in North America. Her gravesite has become a shrine for many Japanese tourists. The ceremony was followed by a song sung in Japanese by a group of sixth grade students from Gold Trail School who have a sister school in Wakamatsu, Japan. Madi Hunt, Kade Schweitzer, Hayden Hennike, Marchella Putich, Leah Bauer, Autumn Fowler-Vogel, Alvin Wolf, Audrey Reynolds and Grace Vaccaro serenaded the audience along with teacher Danny Lulla.

That staging area also featured the heart-thumping performance of the Placer Ume Taiko Drummers along with the Placer Tomodachi Dance Group and Placerville Shakespeare International Dancers. Familiar with one of the dances, audience members formed a circle and joined in for the Coal Miner’s Dance. Also performing was Naoko who played the Koto, a sixteenth century Japanese stringed musical instrument. There were also sushi demonstrations, a presentation on the Fukushima disaster, Kenjutsu sword fighting and testing cutting by Sensie Harunaka Hoshino, Japanese thread balls for sale, displays of ikebana  (Japanese flower arranging), origami and calligraphy.

On the lower section of the ranch was the venue that focused on the Veerkamp and Graner ownership of the property. Charles Graner planted over 10,000 Zinfandel grapevines in 1852 and operated Chateau Graner for a number of years before selling the property to the Japanese. After most members of the Japanese colony departed, the Veerkamps farmed the land, grazed cattle and operated a family dairy for over 125 years. On display were not only the Graner house, but the dairy and a barn filled with goats brought in by 4-H for the children to pet.

A bonsai demonstration and celtic music provided a backdrop for eating and drinking in this venue. Sake and wine samples were available as was a selection of food to eat while visiting with people throwing pottery, discussing the cultivation of  silkworms and selling fresh produce.

Tim Johnson, who is president and CEO of the California Rice Commission and also on the board of directors of the Wakamatsu Colony, said they are continuing to develop the property by adding more interpretative sites as well as paths around the lake. They have leased five acres to a local farmer to grow organic produce and have opened a produce stand. He said their mission continues to be to preserve the ranch as a natural and cultural resource while also putting the land to use in a sustainable way.

Contact Dawn Hodson at 530-344-5071 or dhodson@mtdemocrat.net. Follow @DHodsonMtDemo on Twitter.

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