11 April 2020

Taijiro Kasuga: SLC Strawberry King

 Taijiro Kasuga from UDSH.
Colorization by MyHeritage
Inspired by TigerKing, I’m going to highlight some of the Kings of Salt Lake City.

First up is the Strawberry King: Mr. Taijiro Kasuga. 

Taijiro Kasuga was a Japanese immigrant who developed and patented a new variety of strawberry in 1926.

Tijiro Kasuga immigrated to the United States from Japan in 1895 and came to Utah in 1901. A believer in luck and that someone was looking after him, Kasuga worked as a cook at a mining camp in Alta in 1909 when he got into an argument with his boss and quit; a week later, an avalanche buried the camp and killed the new cook in his cabin.

Kasuga turned to farming, especially strawberries. He and his family tried several locations: Butlerville (now Cottonwood Heights), Murray, Granite, and Union (now Ft Union). Kasuga’s had difficulty farming in Butlerville and Murray due to drought, early frost, and alkaline soil; his attempts to farm strawberries in Granite and later in Union thrived.

After 10 years of experimenting Kasuga developed his own variety of strawberry by crossing the Berri-Supreme with the Rockhill; he named it the Twentieth Century Everlasting. The Century was highly favorable, prolific, and stayed fresh during shipping. Kasuga patented it in 1926 and made it available to commercial growers in 1932.

In 1940, the Century became highly publicized as one of the best strawberry varieties available. Unfortunately, soon thereafter the US became involved with WWII and sentiments toward Japanese living in the US turned suspect. 

The Kasuga family became a victim of this mistrust, especially since their farm at the mouth of Little Cottonwood Canyon contained an open pipeline with access to Sandy City’s water source. Many neighbors felt that the Kasuga’s would sabotage the water system and pressured Kasuga's landlord to evict him but the landlord felt Kasuga was an honorable man and that he would not be evicted.  After the war, the Kasuga family settled in Sandy.

Although the Twentieth Century strawberry is no longer common its descendant the Ozark Beauty is. The Ozark Beauty variety is a crossbred of the Twentieth Century and the Red Rich varieties and is one of the most common strawberry varieties available to Salt Lake City home gardeners.

Update May 17 2021:
Check out this SLC History Minute on Taijiro Kasuga.

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