For four generations, the Masumoto family has been growing heirloom peaches and nectarines, together with apricots and grapes for raisins, promoting biodiversity, and an agroecological model of fruit production.
During a Facebook LIVE session, the Slow Food USA network brought us an interview with Mas and Nikiko from Masumoto Family Farm near Fresno, California.
Through the adopt-a-tree program, the Masamuto family has managed to create a supportive network of people, who for the past 16 years, have flocked to their farm to harvest their own fruit, share a few laughs, and build a connection with their food, the land, and the people who have cared for it for generations.
Peter Ruddock, president of Slow Food California and co-chair of the California Ark of Taste Committee, and Joni Sare, chef and educator, and member of the Slow Food South Bay led the conversation featuring Elberta peaches, and interview with the Masumoto family, and a simple recipe.
The Masumoto Family
During the interview, the Masumoto family introduced their farm and their work.
“I’m Mas Masumoto, my grandparents emigrated from Japan, and my parents purchased a piece of land to settle the farm. I was born and raised here, and after I graduated I took over the farm and turned it into an organic operation. Our goal is to connect the past, present, and future through each organic, peach, apricot, raisins.”
Nikiko, Mas’s daughter, conveyed the importance of the farm for their family, and for the community, they have built around them.
“I’m a 4th generation Japanese-American, sitting in front of the farm my grandparents built and my father grew up, brings layers of meaning and family to this farm. The perspective of long-term sustainability as the core of a family farm, as getting to touch the same soil where my great-grandparents lived always brings great meaning to me. And this is part of the story we like to share. The story of the people who work the land gets communicated through the food, so people feel a connection with us, not just as sellers and buyers.”
Another stone fruit promoted by the Masumotos is the Le Grand nectarine, a full-size nectarine developed around the 1960s.
“It fell out of favor also because of its shorter shelf life, but we kept it as part of the adopt-a-tree program, so people could adopt a tree and come and pick up the fruit. So it’s a literal connection to knowing where your food comes from, giving a sense of origin to the fruit.”
“One of the dynamics of this pandemic is understanding the role of food in our lives, and the steps in our food chain. It isn’t just going to a restaurant to get food made for us, it [COVID] disrupted all of that. This year has been a real eye-opening experience, to understand and be more aware of where our food comes from, not just as a phrase, but all the hands that are involved in the food chain and the dynamics and the role of essential workers, from the farm to the truck to distributors or retail outlets, which we didn’t consider much when talking about Farm to Fork, that there are many layers to that. So the question remains, how can we push and empower systems that treat people equally?” said Mas.
The Adopt-a-tree Program
The Masumoto family started the adopt-a-tree program 16 years ago to continue cultivating Elberta Peaches. The elusive Elberta peach is part of Slow Food’s Ark of Taste, its delicate texture and short shelf-life make it a difficult peach to find in regular grocery stores. Instead, this flavorful peach adorns the shelves in small food stores, restaurant menus, and the homes of those who adopt a tree, or those who visit the Masumoto farm store.
“Elberta peaches were the inspiration for the adopt-a-tree program because it’s a delicate peach. So instead of discontinuing this varietal, we thought, what is another model or relationship to eaters? 16 years ago we adopted the program to bring people to the farm. We take very seriously the responsibility of growing food, and during this challenge of living through a pandemic, the trees remind me over and over again, despite the darkness and uncertainty, that the earth is still feeding us, that earth is still nourishing us, so it is an honor and our job, to steward that nourishment to people. How we couped with the past, present, and future, and how we continue through this year takes me back to our values,” said Nikiko.
To adopt a tree, groups of 10-12 people divide the investment of $680 and also divide the bountiful harvest of about 300-400 pounds of fruit.
“A group of us has adopted a tree per year for the past 4 years. Just finished the first weekend of the annual peach picking. The program is so popular, it’s hard to get in, you have to write a letter explaining why you’ll be a good ‘tree parent’,” said Peter
The Masumotos send email updates about the farm, and on when fruit picking be ready so groups can plan a harvest visit.
“The event is more than just harvesting fruit, we do group readings, poetry, eat breakfast, and this year, they spread out the picking from 3 days to 6 to follow social distancing, and had the support from the health department,” said Peter
This system is a great way to connect the farmers with the community, but also to ensure their survival, as they have direct contact with their customers.
“In the time of COVID, we talk about food shortages, but the farmers who have been doing direct sales have been doing much better, so programs like CSA have gone up this year. Also, these kinds of programs have fierce followers. If they had not done that, they would have had many problems this year, by doing direct sales farmers have more control over their sales.”
Preserving and canning provide buyers with months worth of summer flavor in jams, marmalades, chutneys, and fruit salsas. The Masumotos have also written several books in honor of the fruit they grow, including a cookbook inspired by Peaches, which include stories from the farm, to go along the simple recipes.
After the uplifting conversation with the Masumoto family, Peter and Joni took us to the kitchen to prepare a simple peach-almond cake. This is just one way in which to utilize the bounty of the harvest.
Joni shared her Peach Cake Recipe with us, including tips and adaptations to make three delicious sweets with one single batter.
“I like to help people get more comfortable with food, so it’s less decision-making stress and more about having fun in the kitchen,” said Joni.
Peter Ruddock is the president of Slow Food California and co-chair of the California Ark of Taste Committee. He spends much of his time working on food policy issues, acting as the coordinator of the California Food Policy Council and implementation coordinator of the Homemade Food Operations Act for the COOK Alliance. He is passionate about history, especially food history. You can find blogs, food resources, and other miscellanea from Peter at his website, Green Omnivore.
Joni Sare is located in Silicon Valley and is a member of the Slow Food South Bay chapter. She teaches cooking classes and hosts cooking parties with adults, children, and corporations. Her focus is two-fold: cooking without recipes and teaching skills to elevate your comfort level in the kitchen. Joni believes that by replacing effort with skill, you will minimize decision making and maximize the pleasure of cooking. You can learn more about her and her cooking classes here.