• Emily Pan

Japanese Field Workers at Waller Seed Company

Updated: Jul 16


Video Courtesy of Richard Waller Family Archives

Story

The Waller Seed Company's story begins over 100 years ago when Lionel Duncuff Waller emigrated from England to Arroyo Grande to grow sweet peas, eventually forming the largest flower seed growing operation in the world. In 1912, after becoming the manager of Routzhan's 600 acre sweet pea farm in Oso Flaco, he opened the Waller Seed Company in Guadalupe, which has been farming continuously for the past 130 years. But growing seed peas took a lot of labor and effort, which he hired Japanese farm workers to do. And that is where the Waller Seed Company's story takes us; for our focus is on the Japanese laborers.

Process

  • The process for getting the seeds began with planting and irrigating, until blossom and seed set time

  • Flower fields were rouged, meaning hoe'rs removed "deselected" plants or colors

  • Plants were hand cut by crews on their hands and knees

  • Harvested plants were placed on large canvas tarps to dry

  • After drying, they were crushed by rollers

  • The final stage meant fine hand work using gold pans to separate the plants from the seeds

Workers

From the company's early days, up until 1942, the field workers were Japanese. Most of them were single men who lived in camps provided by the company. Following World War II, any Japanese worker who wanted employment was given a job at their company.

Threshing Sweet Peas (Photo Courtesy of Richard Waller Family Archives)

Horse Team Wagon (Photo Courtesy of Richard Waller Family Archives)

Cultivating (Photo Courtesy of Richard Waller Family Archives)

Matched Team Cultivating (Photo Courtesy of Richard Waller Family Archives)

Crushing Plants on Tarp (Photo Courtesy of Richard Waller Family Archives)

Laying Irrigation Pipes (Photo Courtesy of Richard Waller Family Archives)

Irrigating (Photo Courtesy of Richard Waller Family Archives)

Hand Seeders (Photo Courtesy of Richard Waller Family Archives)

Planting (Photo Courtesy of Richard Waller Family Archives)

Japanese Field Workers (Photo Courtesy of Richard Waller Family Archives)

Spraying (Photo Courtesy of Richard Waller Family Archives)

Rouging (Photo Courtesy of Richard Waller Family Archives)

Harvesting with Hand Sickle (Photo Courtesy of Richard Waller Family Archives)

Sweet Peas Ready for Tarps (Photo Courtesy of Richard Waller Family Archives)

Dragging Tarps Full of Sweet Peas (Photo Courtesy of Richard Waller Family Archives)

Crushing Plants (Photo Courtesy of Richard Waller Family Archives)

Hand Threshing Seeds (Photo Courtesy of Richard Waller Family Archives)

Winnowing Seeds (Photo Courtesy of Richard Waller Family Archives)

Hand Cleaning Seeds (Photo Courtesy of Richard Waller Family Archives)

Diking (Photo Courtesy of Richard Waller Family Archives)

Plowing (Photo Courtesy of Richard Waller Family Archives)

Seeder (Photo Courtesy of Richard Waller Family Archives)

Deep Plowing (Photo Courtesy of Richard Waller Family Archives)

Bedding Plants (Photo Courtesy of Richard Waller Family Archives)

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