The Mukai Farmstead - Vashon-Maury Island Washington
Friends of Mukai is a nonprofit Vashon-Maury Island Washington community and advocacy organization dedicated to securing, restoring, and operating the Landmark Mukai Home, Garden and Fruit Barreling Plant on Vashon-Maury Island, Washington. The Friends of Mukai are committed to making the Mukai Farmstead a vibrant educational and cultural center open to the public. It is a place for stories of Japanese people on Vashon Island and in the Pacific Northwest Region and stories of local fruit and strawberry farming and food processing
Why This Place Matters
The Mukai Farmstead holds cultural and historical significance extending far beyond the shores of Washington’s Vashon Island or the region’s snowcapped mountains. The Mukai Farmstead offers a rare and unique setting for discovery, learning and capturing remarkable stories of a world-changing era. One such story is that of an early 20th century Japanese immigrant family making a new home on Vashon Island and establishing a prosperous farm. It is the story of a respected and enterprising immigrant farmer who developed an innovative farm-based fruit barreling plant allowing the enjoyment of locally luscious strawberries far and wide.
Another story is that of an immigrant woman who created a singular Japanese inspired garden gracing her family’s new farm home. From these stories we can see how Japanese immigrant families realized the American dream, contributed immensely to their newly adopted communities and became woven into the fabric of the community.
We can also learn how easily war, fear, and injustice can damage and destroy these dreams and fray the community. The Mukai Farmstead can serve as a beacon to guard against such present-day and future threats. This is why we, as Friends of Mukai, are committed to securing the Mukai Farmstead and making it an island, on an island, for learning, inspiration, doing, contemplation and celebration.
The Mukai Farmstead - Promise and Peril
In 1995 a non-profit organization named Island Landmarks was formed after separating itself from the long-established Vashon-Maury Island Heritage Society. The Island Landmarks group was to secure and restore the Mukai house and garden. In 2000 the group received over $450,000 in public funding from federal, state and local government entities for the purchase of the historically and culturally important Mukai house and garden. The money came with a mandate to maintain the site, provide public access and interpret the Mukai story. Questionable leadership practices, neglect, and controversy plagued the Island Landmarks efforts and put the property at grave risk.
Transition to Friends of Mukai
Alarmed by the risk to the Mukai property, representatives of several organizations and individuals met to discuss the situation in November 2009. In 2010, a small group formed the Mukai Farm and Garden organization. The group began to advocate for the restoration and development of the site as originally envisioned in the grants by the State of Washington, King County, and the National Parks Service, to purchase the site.
In June 2012 the Mukai Farm and Garden group (later incorporating into Friends of Mukai) took action to become the board for Island Landmarks. The group held a membership meeting of 69 Island Landmarks members who unanimously voted to remove the old board and elected a new board. When the board refused to recognize the new leadership, the newly elected board filed a lawsuit against them. The move was due to the ongoing mishandling of the Island Landmarks organization, their neglect of the Mukai house and garden, and lack of public access to the site. The lawsuit continues to make its way through the courts with a trial currently scheduled for May of 2015. A legal team is now vigorously engaged and representing Friends of Mukai interest in securing control of the house and garden in order to finally protect, restore, and open the property to the public.
In January 2013, the Mukai Farm and Garden group, and all the individuals who joined Island Landmarks but were rebuffed by the ousted board who refused to relinquish control of the property, formed the Friends of Mukai. We incorporated, adopted by-laws, and received Federal 501-3C non-profit status. We are a dues based organization with well over 100 members, most of whom are Vashon-Maury Island residents, and others are from the region and from the Pacific Northwest Japanese-American community. We have a large core of members and supporters who are actively engaged in a number of committees seeking to further the aims of the organization. We established strong relationships with the Vashon community and stakeholders including historic preservation groups and individuals.
Central Focus and Future Plans
Our central and ongoing focus is to secure the Mukai Agricultural Complex site, both the Mukai House and Garden and the Mukai Cold Process Barreling Plant, and to reunite them as one. We are also focused on building local and regional support for the restoration and revitalization of the Mukai Agricultural Complex. We are developing a plan and process for restoration of the historic Japanese American garden, to replace the failing roof on the house, repair and restore the structure, furnish the interior with materials representative of the historic period, and to open it as an interpretive center.
By securing and reuniting the adjoining Mukai Cold Process Barreling Plant building with the Mukai House and Garden, we intend to create a coherent physical example of this early 20th century farm. We will explore a potential partnership with a responsible public or municipal organization that is willing to own the site, with Friends of Mukai as stewards providing for its management and operation.
We anticipate that for the first several years, management and operation of the site and program will be overseen by the Friend of Mukai Board, with support from member volunteers. When funds allow, professional staff will be hired. A docent training and recognition program will be developed to provide tools for volunteers operating the site. Training in the art and maintenance of an historic Japanese American garden will be offered to volunteers who assist in its care. Ongoing site maintenance will be done by volunteers, with professionals hired as needed. Fundraising and grant writing will continue to be an ongoing part of the activities for the organization.
We submitted a grant application to 4Culture for an emergency measure to replace the failing roof. We recently were awarded funding to carry out a detailed architectural assessment of the site to expedite future restoration work in anticipation of securing the site.
Programs and Activities
While long term efforts to secure the Mukai Farmstead proceed, we, as Friends of Mukai, have been highly active in fulfilling our mission and goals through programs and events. The events were designed to highlight the need to preserve the Mukai Agricultural Complex, to reunite the Mukai House and garden and the Mukai Cold Process Barreling Plant, to educate the community about the Japanese-American presence on the Island, and to further research into the history of strawberry growing on the Island. These programs have been collaborative with a number of other organizations, and have helped to further our goal of securing the Mukai Farmstead and providing educational opportunities for the community.
Perhaps the most notable advocacy event was the June 1, 2013 “This Place Matters” rally attended by over 200 people. It was held on the street in front of the property, and organized and co-sponsored by Friends of Mukai, Washington Trust for Historic Preservation, 4Culture, and Vashon-Maury Island Heritage Association. Featured speakers included:
- Mary Matsuda Gruenewald, an Interned Japanese-American from Vashon and a friend of the Mukai family
- Dow Constantine, King County Executive
- Joe McDermott, King County Council Member
- Glenda Pearson, Friends of Mukai President
- Jim Kelly, Director and Flo Lentz, from 4Culture
- Julie Koler, King County Department of Historic Preservation
- Katharine Golding, from the Vashon-Maury Island Heritage Association.
This event grew out of the May 2013 nomination of the Mukai Farm and Garden as Most Endangered historic property in Washington State by the Washington Trust for Historic Preservation.
We are proud of our program series, which engages Vashon-Maury Islanders in learning about the Mukai Agricultural Complex and involves them in saving and restoring the Landmark site. We have sponsored numerous programs and activities and have more planned. These include:
- January 23, 2013 Program: "Clarence Moriwaki and the Bainbridge Island Japanese-American Exclusion Memorial."
- June 2013: Three Board members attended the Washington Trust for Historic Preservation conference in Vancouver Washington where the Mukai Farm and Garden was nominated as a "Most Endangered Historic Property in Washington State."
- June 25 2013: Friends of Mukai board members testified before the King Co. Landmarks Commission regarding the appropriateness of the fence erected by the Matthews cohort that surrounds the Mukai house and garden, preventing public access to the property.
- August 14, 2013 Program: "A Japanese Woman's Garden on Vashon" featured two scholars, Carolyn Sundstrom and Tama Tochihara Moses, who completed their Master's Degree theses on Kuni Mukai's garden.
- October 23, 2013 Program: "Storytelling: Personal Experiences with Mukai" featured storytelling about the Mukai family by Mary Matsuda Gruenewald, Marie Blickfeldt, and Bernadine Folz.
- January 2014 Program: "GPS Mapping for Garden Rescue" featured Ed Baldwin, Garden Site manager for the Seiki Japanese Garden and Diane Crawford, Senior Environmental Scientist, Golder Associates.
- April, 2014 Program: "Kuni's Garden: Then and Now" featured Friends of Mukai Garden Committee members Cindy Stockett and Karen Baer discussing Kuni's original design of the garden and what vegetation remains.
- June, 2014 Program: "Tracing the Japanese Presence: Vashon 1900 to 2010." A presentation by Dr. Alice Larson and Dr. Bruce Haulman discussing the Vashon Japanese Community as reflected in the census data for Vashon-Maury Island.
- November 2014: We have an event in cooperation with Vashon Allied Arts in November, 2014 to present the Panama Hotel Jazz concert by Steve Griggs and enhance that presentation with Vashon based stories.
Our Community Partners: Who We Work With
We work with a number of regional collaborators who support us in our goal of securing the Landmarked Mukai Agricultural Complex. They include:
- The Washington Trust for Historic Preservation
- The Washington State Department of Archaeology and Historic Preservation
- The National Park Service
- The Vashon-Maury Island Heritage Association
- The King County Department of Historic Preservation
- King County Parks and Recreation
- Historic Seattle.
In addition, we are working closely with members of the Japanese-American community including Tom Ikeda and the Densho Archive, Mary Matsuda Gruenewald, Clarence Moriwaki and The Bainbridge Japanese Memorial Committee, Joe Okimoto, The Panama Hotel Jazz Project and Vashon Allied Arts, and members and descendants of the Japanese community on Vashon.
Media and Outreach
Friends of Mukai received regular media coverage for our work by community media including the Vashon Island Beachcomber and the Loop. But media interest extends far beyond Vashon with regional and state coverage.
Following the May 2013 nomination of the Mukai Farm and Garden as Most Endangered Historic Property in Washington State by the Washington Trust for Historic Preservation and the June 2013 "This Place Matters" event, photos of the Mukai site were featured in Paul Dorpat's "Now and Then" series in the Seattle Times, Pacific Northwest Section. Also, the Trust News of the Washington Trust for Historic Preservation featured the Mukai "This Place Matters" photograph on its cover.
The Hokubei Hochi/North American Post ran multiple stories on the Mukai situation and the Northwest Asian Weekly also included an article.
In January 2013, KOMO news investigative reporter Tracy Vedder filmed an investigation of the Mukai house and garden, and its stewardship by the Matthews cohort of Island Landmarks. The news clip was aired February 18 as a KOMO Problem Solver Special.
We invite you join us. You can help by attending our programs, becoming a member, volunteering for committees or programs, and making a financial contribution.