David Mas Masumoto grows organic peaches and grapes on his family farm in Del Rey, California. He is the author of Harvest Son, Epitaph for a Peach, Four Seasons in Five Senses, and Letters to the Valley: A Harvest of Memories. An active proponent of organic farming, Masumoto has won numerous literary awards.
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I have a confession that you, the chef who launched “California Cuisine” from her Berkeley restaurant, Chez Panisse, might enjoy: I grew up eating rejects.
On our 80-acre family farm near Fresno, California, we raised peaches, nectarines, and raisins. Mom and Dad worked the fields, three kids helped out when we could, and our summers were devoted to the home packing shed. We harvested from June to September. A work crew picked the fruit, and in the shed we sorted and packed them into boxes, ready for shipment to grocery stores.
Continue reading Eating rejects »
While we were floating the lower Kings River in kayaks, I got to thinking: who owns this river?
You love this river and live along a beautiful section where the current snakes gracefully past farmlands. You have spent many hours on the water and now devote energy to forming an organization, the Kings River Conservancy, to protect and open the river to the public.
But who owns this water and its rapids and gentle currents, the rocks and boulders, the trees and grassy banks, the fish and flora? Who claims the sounds of rushing water, bird calls, and the silence that lingers around a slow bend in the river? We all do.
Continue reading Who owns a river? »
Dear Nikiko and Korio,
Although you kids only knew of the most recent vintage, our farmhouse had three different porches. The original one faced east, a small landing for a small home. I can imagine someone riding up on a horse, jumping off, and, as the animal grazed on the grasses under a yard tree, neighbors visiting.
In the 1950s, our home was remodeled and the front porch opened to the south. But something happened about that time: air conditioning. People began to hunker down indoors and porches were quickly forgotten. (Soon to follow was the birth of attached garages, and suburbs; houses, yards, and neighborhoods designed to keep others out and homeowners shut in.)
Continue reading Out on the porch »
You taught me how to wave when we worked in the fields. The arm is raised slowly, allowing for recognition despite the distance. A dramatic reaching for the sky, a single hand stretches upwards, fingers open. Hold it upright until seen and greeted with a like response, the space between two shrinking with each second. Then turn to separate fields for another pass down a row, workers disappearing back into the landscape.
Over a field, across an irrigation ditch, opposite sides of a dirt avenue, a wave becomes the common language of place. The wave, a moment of recognition between two individuals, each saying, “You matter.”
Continue reading The wave and head nod »
Dear Mr. Johnson,
What were you thinking when you planted a lush-growing sorghum plant on your Alabama plantation in 1843? Little did you realize your innovation would spread throughout the nation, forever attaching your name to one of the most noxious and hideous weeds. Farmers and gardeners curse you when this weed infests a vegetable plot, row crop, vineyard, or orchard: “Damned Johnson grass!”
You thought the seeds from either Africa or the Middle East would grow to become feed for your cattle, the perfect ground cover for your lands, a high-producing and desirable perennial grass. How could you have known that the normally palatable forage becomes poisonous to livestock if its normal growth is interrupted by drought or frost? You couldn’t measure the toxic accumulation of hydrocyanic acid in the surviving roots. You had the image of a nice patch of tall grass gracefully growing and swaying in the wind.
Continue reading Mr. Johnson’s curse »
Editor’s note: We are pleased to feature the work of David Mas Masumoto, a farmer and writer in California. Occasionally we will feature excerpts from Masumoto’s books in the Dinner Guest Blog. Most of the excerpts, like this one, are in letter form.
As a transplant from outside the Central Valley, now working at the University of California, Merced, you are spending one of your first winters here. Like this institution, you plan to stay here a while. But because you are new to the Valley, I’m not sure you understand the culture of fog.
Continue reading Culture of fog »
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