The Honolulu Family Behind Fukuda Seed Store First Sold Seeds to O‘ahu Gardeners 100 Years Ago

When the pandemic prompted people to create or revive home gardens, this mom and pop business found ways to keep up with the growing demand for DIY food.
fukuda seed store
From left: Brad Tokioka, wife Kris, and their kids: Lila, Christian and Taylor Ann, with Kris’ mom, store owner Jo-Anne Kaneshiro.

 

Fukuda Seed Store sells seeds for just about every kind of plant, including at least 25 varieties of lettuce. The business’s owners cranked up their work schedule in the store from four days a week to daily when a surge of gardening interest began in March as people spent more time in their homes and apartments.

 

Customers, old and new, run the gamut from apartment dwellers trying to plant tiny gardens indoors to experienced gardeners, farmers and specialty growers. In April, the owners closed the small retail store as a pandemic precaution and focused on getting seeds to retail stores and mail orders via the website (fukudaseeds.com). The owners also have been allowing customers to pick up orders twice a week from the store.

 

Tiny zip-topped plastic bags of seeds hang neatly along the shop wall, an alphabet soup of plants—from asparagus and arugula to watermelon and wing beans—a section devoted to herbs and a scattering of flowers, from aster to zinnia. Most cost less than $4 a bag. Fukuda seeds also are sold through stores that include Ko‘olau Farmers, several Ace Hardware locations, Asagi Hatchery, Waimānalo Aquaponics, Don Quijote, and just starting in July, at Foodland Farms at Ka Makana Ali‘i..

 

fukuda seeds

 

Jo-Anne Kaneshiro, 74, runs the business with help from her husband, Gary, a retired postal employee who handles deliveries. Kaneshiro says people who want to grow their own gardens are drawn to the tiny store: “Everybody’s going back and trying to grow their own food and we’re trying to teach them how to do it organically, without using chemicals.”

 

What are the most popular seeds? Many are longtime favorites, including Japanese cucumber, soybeans, green beans, Mānoa lettuce, kabocha, bok choy, squash and eggplant, but people have also been buying tomato, watermelon, various sweet peppers, carrot, cabbage, green onion and lots of herbs. Kaneshiro says fewer people ask about flowers this year.

 

Kaneshiro chooses non-GMO seeds that work well in our Island soil, most imported from Japan. And even if you’ve never met her, you get the sense of her advice and approach in the little notes on the seed packets. Take the Toy Choi packet: “An early maturing, compact baby pak choi that is perfect for home gardeners and specialty growers. … Tolerant to heat and well-suited for production in the summer months. Harvest early or as soon as buds begin to appear to avoid bolting. Tasty and attractive.”

 

Also pitching in are daughter Kris Tokioka, son-in-law Brad and three grandchildren, Lila, Christian and Taylor Ann. A niece and her boyfriend set up the website.

 

Whether customers are picking up from the store or online, their comments make it clear that they appreciate Kaneshiro’s advice and passion for planting. “I always tell people, your soil is No. 1, the seed is No. 2,” she says. “Treat your soil the way you treat your body and it will produce, it will taste good.”

 

fukuda seeds
PHOTO: COURTESY OF FUKUDA SEED STORE

 

Kaneshiro has run the store for nearly 20 years and Kris Tokioka sees her mom’s dedication as the key to the business. “It’s really her that’s the store. She truly cares and wants to help people. Families have been coming for generations and they respond to her warmth and her real sincere desire to help them with their gardens and their health in general.”

 

Mother and daughter agree that the pandemic has given families an opportunity to spend more time with each other and to plant and learn together outside in the garden or on a smaller scale indoors. “It’s a good feeling to grow and share what you have. To watch things growing, it’s addictive,” especially when family members get excited to check their plants daily, Kaneshiro says.

 

The family history with selling seeds began decades ago when Kaneshiro’s grandfather moved from Japan to Hawai‘i. He intended to travel to San Francisco but missed his ship to California and decided to stay in the Islands. Kaneshiro remembers doing chores as a child at an earlier Fukuda store in Chinatown, a block away from where Char Hung Sut now sells dim sum. Her tasks included sweeping, dusting and counting “a gazillion nails” sold in the hardware section.

 

Over the years, the store moved several times, to Pauahi (the Fukudas lived upstairs when she was small), River and Ka‘a‘ahi streets until landing in its current spot in a strip of stores near the Kāpālama Canal on Kalani Street. Kaneshiro’s father ran the operation until 2000 when he was in his 80s. Kaneshiro at first split her time between working in real estate and at the store until her father advised her to focus on one or the other. She quotes him: “You have to make a choice; you can’t do two jobs at one time. If you want to, you have to be here every single day, every day, all day, and your whole mind, your 110% effort has to be here.” She chose the family business.

 

FUKUDA SEED STORE
PHOTO: COURTESY OF FUKUDA SEED STORE

 

The store also carries tools—sickles, shears, hats, garden boots, tabis from Japan—and wellness products including turmeric, alkaline water and Dr. Higa’s EM-1 probiotic.

 

Kaneshiro explains the eclectic mix as products she has tried and wants to share. “Everything I have in the store was tested by me and I found amazing results from it. Whatever I have, I truly believe in.”

 

It’s clear from even a quick socially distant stop at the store why the family business sustains, even in challenging times. “I love it,” Kaneshiro says. “This is like my home here.”

 

1287 Kalani St., (808) 841-6719, fukudaseeds.com

 

Read more stories by Robbie Dingeman