Victory Garden

The James O. and Toshiko Joy Nagamori Ito Victory Garden

During their first year at the Heart Mountain concentration camp, Japanese American prisoners faced overwhelming heat, bitter cold, and howling winds. Almost as difficult to handle was the poor quality of food served in the mess halls, canned vegetables and unappetizing meat which had no appeal to Japanese American tastes.

JAMES ITO can claim much of the credit for improving the food at Heart Mountain. James grew up on a farm and received a Bachelor of Science degree from the University of California at Berkeley College of Agriculture, with an emphasis in Soil Chemistry and Farm Management. As the Japanese American head of agriculture at Heart Mountain, James banded together the camp’s displaced California and Washington farmers and turned the high Wyoming desert into fertile farmland. The result was known as the “Heart Mountain Miracle.” By the end of 1943, Heart Mountain was growing almost all of its own food. Two years later, the camp was producing a surplus. James left Heart Mountain in December 1943 for a position with the US Department of Agriculture. Later, he joined the Military Intelligence Service, helping to translate Japanese military communications.

TOSHIKO NAGAMORI had her last semester of high school interrupted by her incarceration. She received her diploma while confined at a temporary camp at Santa Anita Race Track. Later, after being transferred to Heart Mountain, she learned that prospective college students could leave camp if they found a school in the Midwest to sponsor them. While friends looked for a school for her, Toshi began the long process of applying for leave. The clerk assigned to process her application was a young farmer working in the office during the off-season—James Ito. During her breaks from college in Kansas City, James and Toshi began a courtship at Heart Mountain. They married in 1945. After returning to California, Toshi enjoyed a long career as an elementary school teacher.

Throughout their lives, James and Toshi remained dedicated to telling the Heart Mountain story, so that future generations could learn from this injustice. This victory garden—modelled after the small vegetable plots incarcerees grew near their barracks and in other open spaces around the camp—is dedicated in their honor.