Sue Uto was born in 1944 in an interment camp near the Oregon border where her parents, along with other Japanese Americans, were sent during World War II. The parents were released in 1946 and settled in Sacramento where she attended school. Ikuo immigrated from Japan in in 1962 when he was 26 years old, met Sue and they married. An agricultural major at a leading Tokyo university, he first learned English and became a citizen as he and his new wife worked as gardeners in the Sacramento area. In 1972, they bought 10 acres of farmland outside Salinas, built greenhouses and the Uto Nursery was in business.
Thomas Dorn, who manages the Pleasanton Farmers Market, said the Utos have operated their flower stand here since the market opened 21 years ago and have been even longer in Danville. At one time, they also sold flowers at farmers markets in Jack London Square and other locations, but gradually retrenched to focus on the two markets in the Tri-Valley. Dorn said he and John Silveira, director of the Pacific Coast Farmers Market Association, plan to honor the Utos tomorrow.
Delacruz said her parents have been hard workers during the last 41 years that they've operated the Salinas nursery, which is located on Spence Road outside of Salinas and employs 10 workers. They pick the flowers during the week, prepare them in bunches for sale, refrigerate them in a storage cooler and then take them to Pleasanton and Danville before those markets open at 8:30 a.m. Her father is up at 3:30 a.m. to load the vans, and the rest of the family joins him at 7 for the trip north. He helps set up the Pleasanton stand and then drives on to Danville.
Tomorrow, Delacruz and her father will close down the Danville stand first, then come back to Pleasanton for the final farewell about 2 p.m. That will also end the Utos' flower business. Everything will shut down this weekend with the greenhouses emptying out. La Cruz hopes to help her parents relocate into the city of Salinas near her family where they can find some reprieve after a lifetime of hard work in the fields and at the farmers markets. Their retirement also comes at an opportune time for granddaughter Kaitlyn, an accomplished dancer who turns 16 this summer. She will be president of her junior class in the coming school year at North Salinas High School with a heavy load of advanced placement courses to keep her busy on Saturdays on her own. As for the parents, Delacruz knows it will be hard for them to adjust to a more relaxed life in the city with no worries about farming, broken water pipes, bad weather and more, "but they deserve a break."
Dorn said Sunrise Nursery and an orchid grower will continue selling at the Pleasanton market and more may come to replace the Utos. The Pacific Coast Association manages 71 farmers markets throughout the Bay Area, including Danville and Pleasanton. Established in 1988 in Emeryville, it was one of the first in the state. Currently, 37 farmers sell at the Pleasanton market with another 19 stations of food purveyors, selling bakery goods, fish and even rotisserie chickens.