Sue and Ikuo Uto closed out 25 years of providing colorful flowers from their Salinas nursery at the farmers markets in Danville and Pleasanton June 1.
The Utos have been selling freshly picked flowers at these markets since both opened. Sue, with her granddaughter Kaitlyn as a helpmate, managed the Pleasanton stand while Ikuo with daughter Janet Delacruz handled the Danville stand. Their customers numbered in the thousands and many signed were there on the final day to wish them well and sign farewell cards.
Sue Uto was born in 1944 in an interment camp near the Oregon border where her parents, along with other Japanese Americans, were sent during World War II. The parents were released in 1946 and settled in Sacramento where she attended school.
Ikuo immigrated from Japan in in 1962 when he was 26 years old, met Sue and they married. An agricultural major at a leading Tokyo university, he first learned English and became a citizen as he and his new wife worked as gardeners in the Sacramento area. In 1972, they bought 10 acres of farmland outside Salinas, built greenhouses and the Uto Nursery was in business.
Thomas Dorn, who manages the Pleasanton Farmers Market, said the Utos have operated their flower stand here since the market opened 21 years ago and have been marketing their flowers even longer in Danville. At one time, they also sold flowers at farmers markets in Jack London Square and other locations, but gradually retrenched to focus on the two markets in the Tri-Valley.
Delacruz said her parents have been hard workers during the last 41 years that they've operated the Salinas nursery, which is located on Spence Road outside of Salinas and employs 10 workers. They picked the flowers during the week, prepared them in bunches for sale, refrigerated them in a storage cooler and then took them to Pleasanton and Danville before those markets opened at 8:30 a.m.
Her father was up at 3:30 a.m. to load the vans, and the rest of the family joined him at 7 for the trip north. He helped set up the Pleasanton stand and then drove on to Danville.
On Saturday, June 1, Delacruz and her father closed down the Danville stand first, then came back to Pleasanton for the final farewell.
That also ended the Utos' flower business. Everything was shut down over the weekend with the greenhouses emptied out. Delacruz hopes to help her parents relocate into the city of Salinas near her family where they can find some reprieve after a lifetime of hard work in the fields and at the farmers markets.
Their retirement also came at an opportune time for granddaughter Kaitlyn, an accomplished dancer who turns 16 this summer. She will be president of her junior class in the coming school year at North Salinas High School with a heavy load of advanced placement courses to keep her busy on Saturdays on her own.
As for the parents, Delacruz knows it will be hard for them to adjust to a more relaxed life in the city with no worries about farming, broken water pipes, bad weather and more, "but they deserve a break."
Dorn said Sunrise Nursery and an orchid grower will continue selling at the Pleasanton market and more may come to replace the Utos.
The Pacific Coast Association manages 71 farmers markets throughout the Bay Area, including Danville and Pleasanton. Established in 1988 in Emeryville, it was one of the first in the state. Currently, 37 farmers sell at the Pleasanton market with another 19 stations of food purveyors, selling bakery goods, fish and even rotisserie chickens.