Fred “Freddy” Matsumoto

Fred “Freddy” Matsumoto, age 88, passed away peacefully on February 5 in Orange, California. He was the youngest of five sons born to Nobu and Masako Matsumoto who farmed in Fountain Valley and Garden Grove, California. During World War II the Matsumoto family was incarcerated in the Santa Anita Assembly Center and the Poston camp in Arizona, on the land of the Colorado River Indian Tribes. After the war, Fred graduated from Huntington Beach Union High School in 1949. During the Korean War he served in the U.S. Army, 3rd Infantry Division, from 1952-54; he became squad leader of a mortar platoon and returned as a decorated sergeant.

Soon after, he began farming in Niland, California, with his brothers Terry and Hiroshi. In 1959 they built a packing facility, North Shore Produce, Inc., with new specialized equipment for handling cherry tomatoes. Fred, a talented inventor, developed and improved machinery to chill, wash, color-sort, dry, wax, and convey the fruit into baskets. The son of a grower who worked with the Matsumoto brothers recalled one of Fred’s inventions, “a planter with seed hoppers capable of planting four rows of tomato seeds from the back of a tractor plow attachment! …Another ingenious idea was to use airplane propellers to chase away the frosty winter morning temps in the desert, thus helping the tomato plants to survive the frigid cold.” Fred and his brothers helped popularize the cherry tomato through growing and shipping their “Mr. Tomato” brand, until bad weather and a voracious pest ended their operations in 1965.

Fred returned to work with his parents and brothers Key and Hiroshi, running the Exotica plant nursery in Fountain Valley. Quiet and hard-working, Fred continued to create and refine machinery and work processes, such as devising equipment to remove large trees from the ground for transplanting. He became adept at the trimming technique needed for cultivating black pines. Fred’s talents included fixing his nieces’ and nephew’s cars and cooking Grandma’s maze gohan. Under his watch, the nursery specialized in niwaki (garden trees), and was best known for its black pines and Hollywood Junipers. After the passing of his parents, the nursery became Fred’s, continuing to serve as a gathering place for the family, who enjoyed his delicious persimmons, avocados, and sweet grapefruit.

Fred is survived by his sisters-in-law Masako, Sachi, and Elisa; nieces and nephews Eileen Aiko, Valerie, Lisa Watson (Jeff Watson), Keiko, Lori, Robert, and Key Jr.; and great-niece Katherine Watson. He was predeceased by his brothers Key, Takeshi “Tak,” Teruo “Terry,” and Hiroshi.

This kind, gentle and good-natured soul will be much missed. Rest in peace, Uncle Fred.