reHOME: History of the Morales Farm – Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month

Topics: Architecture, Sustainability

3D rendering of reHOME Morales Farm project

In honor of Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, Coates Design would like to highlight some of the history of the Morales Farm, where we are currently designing three houses for farm interns as part of reHOME’s first project. It is our goal to build these houses out of 100% recycled and reclaimed materials for a third of today’s construction prices.

The Morales Farm was started by Teddy Morales after he served in World War II. Having done farm work on Bainbridge Island for decades, Teddy finally purchased five acres of his own. He and his wife Gloria built their house in 1953, growing berries, corn, and other vegetables while raising their four children there. The Morales family eventually moved to the Philippines in the 1990s and the farm is now publicly-owned and managed by Friends of the Farms.

Morales Farm sign
Morales Farm sign with the original home behind it.

The history of the Morales farm highlights the greater context of farming on Bainbridge Island and Asian migration to the United States. Due to the economic opportunities created by seasonal work, shipping yards, and lumber mills near the turn of the 20th century, many Japanese, Filipinos, Hawaiians, and First Nations people from British Colombia flocked to the Seattle-area. Bainbridge Island was home to over a dozen Japanese and Filipino-owned farms.

Suyematsu farmers at work
Three Suyematsu Sons, Akio, Ish, & Tosh working the strawberry field after school, c. 1930’s. (Courtesy of Suyematsu Family)

The slow death of Asian American farming on Bainbridge Island began during the Japanese internment of World War II. Half of the Japanese population of Bainbridge Island did not return and many farm-owners found their land damaged beyond repair. Some farms were able to survive thanks to local farmers who managed the land in their absence.

Over time, strawberry farming began to slowly decline and the end of an era was marked by the death of Akio Suyematsu in 2012- the last Asian American farmer on Bainbridge Island to make their livelihood from farming.

Potato harvest at Morales Farm
Wilkes Elementary students and parents harvesting potatoes at Morales Farm. (Courtesy of EduCulture)

Though the era of Asian American farming on Bainbridge Island has ended, the legacies of these farmers lives on in the continued use of the Morales and other local farms.

Information courtesy of “Historic Property Inventory of Japanese, Filipino and Indipino Agricultural Properties on Bainbridge Island, Washington” by Marcia Montgomery and James McNett. Read the full report here:

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