After three years, the Wakamatsu Farm Festival has become bigger and better, expanding its program. This year it attracted 700 people.
Wakamatsu Farm Festival is located on the 272-acre Gold Hill ranch, where the Veerkamp family operated a dairy operation and before that grew fruit trees. It had been in the Veerkamp family 125 years until the American River Conservancy agreed to buy it in 2007, closing the $3.88 million deal in November 2010.
It is called Wakamtasu because before the Veerkamps acquired it, it had been the site of a Japanese colony that had planted mulberry trees to nurture silk worm. The group of samurai and their families who left Aizu Wakamatsu, Japan, after being on the losing end of a civil war, were enticed to America, where they also planted tea, rice and bamboo in 1869.
When miners moved in and damaged their water supply, the colony dispersed by 1871 and the farm reverted to Charles Graner, who originally built the house occupied by the Japanese and later the Veerkamps.
The conservancy has since rehabilitated the house, carefully returning it to its original state.
This year’s festival included a celebration of the Miwok and Nisenan indians who have lived in the area for 6,000 years. Their culture was celebrated with dancers, games and basketry.
Joining in this year was Ed Allen, head interpreter for the Gold Discovery State Historical Park Association, who posed as James Marshall, discoverer of gold in Coloma on Jan. 28, 1848. Allen reminded people that in one year miners found $10 million worth of gold.
It was California gold that helped fuel the American industrial revolution. All those miners stimulated farming in El Dorado County and the huge water project that now serves the El Dorado Irrigation District. Charles Graner planted 10,000 Zinfandel grape vines in 1852. Wine was really a money-maker with the miners. Later the Veerkamps planted fruit trees and sold the fruit in Nevada during the Comstock mining boom.
Of course no Wakamatsu Farm Festival would be complete without the Taiko drummers. This year featured kenjitsu sword fighting, ikebana flower arranging, bonsai plant demonstrations and sake samples. Also, reminiscent of Graner, there was wine tasting.
An additional feature was fresh produce for sale. The conservancy has leased 5 acres to a local farmer who will grow organic produce and sell it from a produce stand.
A coup for the conservancy is having Tim Johnson, president and CEO of the California Rice Commission on the board of directors for the Wakamatsu Colony.
Johnson told Mountain Democrat reporter Dawn Hodson that the mission is to continue to preserve the ranch as a natural and cultural resource while putting the land to use in a sustainable way.
Each year the conservancy and the Wakamatsu board make steady improvements to the property and expand the interpretative sites.
As conservancy Director Alan Erghott said in announcing the acquisition in 2010, “The Wakamatsu colonists were the last of the Tokugawa samurai defeated in the Boshin civil war of 1868-69. They also became the first, the vanguard of Japanese emigrants to arrive in California as skilled workers that advanced American agriculture, medicine, engineering and other fields. The Wakamatsu Colony story is every bit as compelling as the story of Jamestown or the Mayflower and Plymouth Rock.”
The lone stone that attracts so many Japanese Americans to the ranch is the grave site of Okei Ito, a young woman and the first Japanese person to die and be buried in America.
We commend the conservancy for its vision and stewardship of this unique property and for the steadily improving the Wakamatsu Farm Festival.