Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Tom Tochihara, RIP

It was a sad day for Big Timber when 92-year-old Tom Tochihara died on April 23.

Tom (born August 5, 1920) had a long history of growing food, which in his last years he did abundantly in the Big Timber community garden and in a private garden elsewhere in town. He sold his fresh, organic produce at the Big Timber farmers market and gave it away to places like the food bank and the nursing home.

Tom was friendly and generous. He was always willing to help new gardeners improve their skills, for example, carefully showing them how to dig a trench for keeping water between rows of lettuce. His own greens overran the community garden and filled four plots, spilling over around the tool shed. His were the first and last plants of the season, making other gardeners wonder how he did it.

Between hoeing and watering, he spent many garden hours sitting and soaking up the sun, cigarette in hand. Smoking is not allowed in the garden area, but sometimes you just have to make an exception!

In his earlier days, he farmed in Colorado and did landscaping in California, and during World War Two he served in the Military Intelligence Service as an interpreter for Japanese POWs. In 2010, Tom was part of a group of Nisei soldiers awarded the Congressional Gold Medal for "extraordinary service." The ceremony in Big Timber where he received his replica medal was held on February 19, 2012, the Day of Remembrance for Japanese-Americans, and was well attended by local citizens.

It's difficult to describe how much he was loved by Big Timber folk, who saw him driving through town -- carefully and slowly -- in his white Toyota station wagon topped with a pile of tools, for of course he was always heading toward the garden.

His son and daughter-in-law, Rod and Christine Tochihara, are planning to use Tom's garden plots and seeds to grow produce for the food bank in his honor. So Tom continues to feed people.