Farming the Desert: Agriculture in the World War II-era, Japanese-American Relocation Centers

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In 1942 over 110,000 Japanese Americans were evacuated from the West Coast to ten inland, barbed wire-enclosed relocation centers in the name of national security. Agriculture was a key component of the eight arid to semiarid centers located in the western United States. Each center's agricultural program included produce for human consumption, feed crops, and livestock. Some centers also grew seed, ornamental, and war crops. Evacuees raised and consumed five types of livestock and sixty-one produce varieties, including many traditional foods. Seasonal surpluses were preserved, shipped to other centers, or sold on the open market. Short growing seasons, poor soils, initially undeveloped lands, pests, equipment shortages, and labor issues hampered operations. However, imprisoned evacuee farmers proved that diverse agricultural programs could succeed in the harsh settings primarily because of labor-intensive farming methods, ingenuity, and the large markets provided by the centers. These agricultural programs played major roles in feeding, providing meaningful employment, and preparing evacuees for life outside the centers, and readied lands for post-war "homesteaders."


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