Sunday, March 16, 2003


Masaru Sumida fought to save his watercress farm from development by Pearlridge Shopping Center.

He preserved ideal spot
for growing watercress

Sumida stood firm to protect
his family's tradition since 1928

By Craig Gima

When the development of the Pearlridge Shopping Center threatened Masaru Sumida's family farm, he fought back and won.

As a result, the Sumida Watercress Farm is an oasis of green surrounded by the black asphalt of parking lots and Kamehameha Highway and is also the state's largest producer of fresh watercress,.

Sumida, 84, died Thursday from complications from pneumonia at the Kapiolani Medical Center at Pali Momi.

The Sumida farm was started by Masaru's parents -- Moriichi and Makiyo -- in 1928.

Water from the farm comes from a natural spring and the lack of tall buildings provides for lots of sunlight, which makes for ideal conditions to grow watercress.

"We always feel that we are making the best use of the land here," Masaru's son David said.

"That's what he taught us kids, that this location is the best location to grow watercress in the whole state."

David and his sister Barbara are now the third generation of Sumidas on the land.

"Our job here is to be the keepers of the flame and to just keep the farm going and produce the finest watercress that we can produce," he said.

David Sumida said the farm was supposed to be the site of the third phase of the Pearlridge Shopping Center.

But his father, who helped establish the Hawaii Farm Bureau Federation and served as president of the Hawaii Farm Bureau from 1959 to 1966, was able to call on friends in the City Council, at Bishop Estate and Gov. John Burns and save his lease.

The 10-acre Sumida farm produces 65 percent of the watercress grown in Hawaii -- about six tons a week, Sumida said.

"Chefs from all over the world come to visit us and they tell us Hawaii watercress is the best," he said. "It all starts with my dad's work."

Sumida said his father introduced vacuum cooling to Hawaii, a method of chilling freshly harvested produce that extends shelf life. He also invented a sliding draw bar for boat trailers, a device that extends into the water and makes it easier to retrieve and launch boats from a ramp.

"My dad was always very interested in all technology and was very inventive," said daughter Charlotte.

After his retirement in 1982, Masaru Sumida was able to spend more time on his fishing boat -- the Leko -- the Hawaiian word for watercress.

"He just loved farming and he loved fishing," David Sumida said. "The farm is the headquarters for the Aiea Boat Club, which he helped found. It's basically all his buddies."

Sumida is also survived by another son Stephen; hanai son Matt Kahapea and six grandchildren.

Services are scheduled for March 26 at 6:30 p.m. at Mililani Mortuary-Waipio, mauka chapel. Call after 5 p.m.

E-mail to City Desk


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