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WOODLAND — On a warm summer day, expect to see Mable Tsugawa passing out frozen treats to kids visiting her family's garden center in Woodland.

It's a ritual she's been doing for many of the 30 years since she started the Woodland business.

This week marks the 30th anniversary since Mable's family opened Tsugawa Nursery. It's flourished and flowered from a small stand to a thriving, lush landscape of color and greenery on 5 acres along East Scott Avenue.

She found a small nursery for sale in 1980 and convinced her husband, George Tsugawa, it would be a good investment.

"My husband wasn't enthusiastic about it, but he let me purchase it," Mable said Friday. "It was a defunct nursery, very small, a little stand."

"She didn't realize how much work it was going to be," said George, her husband of nearly 61 years. "She figured she would put on a nice dress and sell a few flowers."

"And wear a nice straw hat," Mable added, laughing.

The property sat unused for nearly a year until March 1981 when Mable decided they were ready to open the nursery. Japanese maples - a novelty at the time - were among her initial investments.

"It wasn't the thing like it is now," she said. "I love them maples. I feel like I started the trend and then others found out how many other colors there were."

Mable said she "studied the Western Garden Book day and night to learn." Initially, she ran the business nearly by herself.

The Tsugawas were no strangers to growing things. They came to Woodland in 1956 after previous attempts at farming north of Beaverton, Ore., Sauvie Island and La Center, Wash.

"I would have loved to see the looks from Woodland people when we arrived," said Mable, 83. "We had a big truck with all the luggage and all the kids, everything we owned piled on."

"We looked just like the ‘Beverly Hillbillies,'" said George, almost 90.

Mable and George were somewhat cautious about being accepted in Woodland, a small town with little ethnic diversity. Though both were born and raised in Oregon, they had spent time during World War II in Japanese internment camps - he in Idaho, she in California.

"The prejudice was not nearly as we had anticipated. We were received very well," George said. "You can't blame them. There were people here involved in the war, and they can't forget we're Japanese."

They started farming, along with George's younger brother, on several hundred acres outside of Woodland on Whalen Road.

"We tried everything, and we finally got into strawberries and raspberries, and that worked well," George said.

In the early years, the berry fields also provided summer income for thousands of youth in Clark and Cowlitz counties.

"We had 20 buses at one time of kids coming to pick strawberries from all over," Mable said. "When we couldn't use kids to pick berries anymore, we had parents call us and say, ‘Where are we supposed to get money for school clothes?'"

For the first several years, the profitable farm helped the nursery stay afloat. "We thought it would be a part-time business and farming would be the main source," George said.

"Spring would happen and things would be good and then in winter we were always a burden - a lot of peaks and valleys," said son Brian Tsugawa, 50, who has taken over management of the business. "Then when spring came, business increased 25 percent nearly every year."

By the 1990s, the farm was no longer supporting the growth of the nursery, instead the nursery was supporting the farm. Today, the family has scaled the farm down to about 100 acres of berries and 10 acres for growing nursery stock.

Second, third and now fourth generations of the Tsugawas' offspring have at one time or another worked at the nursery. Of their six children, three of them - Brian, Dan and Karen - along with two grandchildren are seeing to the day-to-day operations.

But don't be surprised to see an older couple walking among the flowers, admiring their 30 years of hard work and still offering advice to customers.

"It's interesting to come by here about once a day," George said.

Added Brian: "And yes, Mable will be handing out Popsicles."


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