David Mas Masumoto grew up eating soft, gushy rejects—the peaches from his parents’ orchard that proved too ripe for transport.
“Biting into one, the juices would drip down my cheeks and dangle on my chin,” he writes in Heirlooms: Letters from a Peach Farmer (Heyday Books, 2007). “Then, the nectar exploded in my mouth as the pulp slid past the tongue and down the throat. I stopped and savored the moment of pleasure: smacking my lips, sucking my tongue and still tasting peach. I gorged myself and grew fat.”
The sensation stayed with him—when he left Del Ray, Calif., to attend University of California, Berkeley; when he studied abroad in Japan; and when he returned home to help his parents on their 80-acre peach and grape farm.
Eventually Masumoto took over the family farm, and he and his wife, Marcy, decided to raise their family there. Over the years, this third-generation farmer has learned to appreciate the slow rhythms of country life. He devises ways to work with nature, not against it, taking pride in responsible, organic farming. He sacrifices personal comfort for the promise of sweet satisfaction; though triple-digit summer temperatures in the Central Valley are no doubt difficult for him and his crew to endure, they can be good for the peaches.
Farming, Masumoto realizes, will hardly make him rich. But he works for his family and his posterity, for the land to which he remains committed and the community to which he is attached.
What Masumoto most wants to leave behind is significance. “Imagine forever altering the landscape by keeping it the same: a farm that retains its identity while a region holds onto a piece of history. To know who we are because we still have a sense of where we are.”
By Christine Eng, a food writer in Oakland, Calif.