A graceful meditation on the work of growing food and its meaning across generations.
Long before Michael Pollan and Barbara Kingsolver turned to writing about food, Masumoto (Heirlooms: Letters from a Peach Farmer, 2007, etc.) was chronicling his work on an 80-acre farm of peaches, nectarines and grapes, as well as vineyards and gardens, in the Central Valley of California. For most of that time, he has used organic techniques. “Organic farming is not simple or easy, and the physical work breaks me,” he writes. “It’s easy to want to be environmentally responsible, but it’s a damned hard thing to achieve.” Farming has taken its toll on his father as well, whom he honors as a model and teacher (“Dad taught me the power of recognizing problems, analyzing them, and identifying new ways to go about things”)—to say nothing of a helping hand at many critical, even dangerous turns. To be a farmer and survive at it is, Masumoto reveals, to be many things: trend analyst and futures broker, repairman and mechanic, geologist and hydrologist. It is also to be a good neighbor, on which Masumoto affectionately recalls his Japanese-speaking grandfather visiting with Italian-speaking immigrant neighbors and somehow communicating enough to jointly concoct what the author calls “Muscat sake grappa.” Masumoto’s memoir demonstrates that there is no end to the work and the physical, and sometimes fiscal, punishment. Yet he closes, happily, with the prospect of his daughter becoming a farmer, too, working a tradition and a promise renewed “out of love,” even while surrounded by a culture that, he sharply notes, does not reward difference or recognize excellence.
A peach of a book, and with a recipe for raisins in the bargain—worthy of placement alongside the best of Wendell Berry, Liberty Hyde Bailey and other literary farmers.