Randy is a third generation orchardist from Parkdale, Oregon, whose grandfather emigrated from Japan in 1905, and through hard work started farming in Hood River in 1911.
Randy’s father, Mamoru, and mother, Michiko, met in the camp where their families were interned after Japan bombed Pearl Harbor. After serving in the U.S. Military Intelligence Service, Mamoru returned to Hood River Valley in 1951 with Michiko, and purchased a 25-acre orchard in Parkdale that has been the nucleus of the current 207-acre farm. There they raised four daughters and a son, Randy.
In 1984, Randy graduated from Oregon State University with a degree from what is now the College of Agricultural Sciences. He enjoyed wrestling for the Beavers as well as being a Resident Assistant in the dormitories and a Resident Advisor in the housing coop.
In 1987, Mamoru’s illness brought Randy back to Parkdale sooner than planned, but he doesn’t regret the commitment he made to his parents when he left his job in Portland.
The Alar scare of 1989 forced many family farms out of business if they relied on apples as their sole source of income. Although the Kiyokawa’s never sprayed Alar as did most apple producers, the media scare influenced even the USDA to cancel all apple purchases. Apples throughout the county were left to rot on the trees rather than incurring the expense of picking, sorting and storing this perceived tainted fruit.
Out of desperation, he set out a sign reading “Apples 5¢ a pound” for his Red Delicious apples while he worked on broken tractors in the old leaky barn that fall. Five customers a day was a good day. He began to receive requests from parents who asked if their kids could pick apples that hung off a beautiful Golden Delicious tree by the barn. After watching the joy that picking apples brought to families, Randy removed three acres of 80-year old pear trees and planted 28 varieties of apples. Over time, customers requested different varieties that could not be found in stores or farmers markets, which has led to his offering now of over 120 varieties of apples.
Randy’s diversification efforts expanded to Farmers Markets and direct sales to stores and restaurants.
In 2013, Randy leased 80-acres of land where he planted new varieties of peaches, pears, cherries, and apples, including hard cider-specific varieties. Six acres of apples, cherries, and peaches were certified organic and, in 2017, four acres of pears were added to his new organic inventory.
Randy attributes his success, in part, to his family. Michiko, 93 years young, still helps out on tasks she is able. Four older sisters, Becky, Margie, Nancy, and Connie, help out during the harvest and fruit stand seasons of September through the end of October.
Randy has three kids and one grandson: Cameron (27), Catherine (25), Rebecca (16) and Korbin (<1). Cameron lives and works in the Valley, but uses his skills during the off-season to maintain and fabricate farm equipment for Randy. Catherine lives on the farm with her family, Kyle and Korbin, and is Randy’s right-hand person. Rebecca is busy with high school activities like lacrosse and studying.
Randy also credits his 35+ employees — many of whom have been with him for over 20 years — with the high-quality fruit for which Kiyokawa Family Orchards is known. “My employees are the backbone of this operation. We are like a family.”
When asked if he would like to have his kids follow in his footsteps, his canned response is – “Depending on which side of the bed I wake up on. Seriously though, life is good and I enjoy what I’m doing. The perception of farmers and farming has slowly changed to one of respect and gratitude. I am fortunate to be experiencing that evolution.”