By RYOKO OHNISHI
RAFU STAFF WRITER
MONTEBELLO — The Southern California Gardeners Federation (SCGF, Nanka Teiengyo Renmei) held its 57th annual installation banquet Feb. 5 at the Quiet Cannon in Montebello. A total of 150 members from 19 associations and guests attended.
The group was formed in 1955 as the first unionized workers’ organization for Japanese gardeners. Japanese American gardeners are known as “green makers” because they made Southern California green for their families, community, and region over the past half-century.
The group contributed to the establishment of the professional identity of Japanese American gardeners in the U.S. labor market and served to disseminate knowledge among members. However, membership has declined in recent years and the aging of the population has affected the organization’s activities. However, the group raised $40,000 for donation to Japan after the Great East Japan Earthquake.
At the beginning of the gathering, the closure of the Co-op store in March was announced. The emcee, Derek Furukawa, said, “We were forced to make a difficult decision to sustain us for many years to come. The majority of the members are 65 and over, and there are many retired members who still need group health insurance, and we came to the point to close the Co-op store.”
Located in the headquarters of the federation in Little Tokyo, the Co-op used to provide more than 5,000 items for the gardeners to use for their daily work, including lawn mowers, ladders, seed and fertilizer.
Yasunori Arakaki, in his 10th year as president of the Co-op and a Fullerton resident, gave a speech. “I did not want to be the last president, but could not help it. Thank you very much for your support for a long time.”
Arakaki, who wore a black tie, said, “I feel like I’m attending the funeral of the Co-op today.”
He also mentioned the financial difficulties that led to the decision. “When the Co-op was established in 1973, we needed to purchase expensive machinery and materials that we shared as a group. At our peak, we used to be able to make $1 million in one year. However, over the past five to six years, we had a hard time increasing sales and we were constantly in the red. I have been volunteering purchasing and delivering items, but sales did not grow.”
The final sale was held Feb. 12. Most of the items, such as seeds and fertilizer, had already been sold; remaining items, including three-legged ladders for orchard use, lawn mower engines, and chains, were sold at a 60 percent discount.
The SCGF announced that it is looking for a tenant for the Co-op space at 333 S. San Pedro St. For more information, call (213) 628-1595.
The 2012 SCGF Cabinet members are: Frank Harada (president); Derek Furukawa (1st vice president); Seiichi Fujitani (2nd vice president); Brian Yamasaki (secretary); Shigeru Okabayashi (main treasurer); Kazuo Oda (special treasurer); Yoshimi Okazaki (auditor).