review by Jack Kittredge
I have often hears of David Mas Masumoto, the California peach and grape grower on 80 organic acres who is a frequent and thoughtful writer of essays and books on matters agricultural and philosophical. But I had never read anything by him, assuming his location and farming scale must make his expe-riences quite different from my own. I finally took a book by him with me on vacation, and I am glad I did.
In this book David relates a little of his history. His grandfathers, both second sons and thus destined for poverty, left their families’ small Japanese rice farms seeking a better future in America. His family was agricultural laborers, just having saved enough over the years to think about buying some land when they were interned in 1942 along with 110,000 others Japanese Americans. His father, however, was assumed to be loyal enough to be drafted into the Army and his uncle was killed serving in France. After his discharge, his father and grandparents worked long hours until finally able to buy a small piece of land with lots of hardpan and rocks.
When David came of age in the 1960s he tried to run away from the farm to the excitement of Berkeley and the San Francisco Bay area. But he was slowly drawn back, especially as the older generation aged and required more care. He took over the farm, married a Wisconsin farm girl, and decided to farm organically.
The bulk of the book is various essays by David, followed usually with the thoughts of his daughter Nikiko, who has herself returned to the farm and will eventually take it over.
It is hard to describe the variety of thoughts covered in this small book – the seasons, personal mortality, his struggle to raise high quality and delicious fruit when the market cares only about perfection in color and size. In one I particularly enjoyed, The Lesson of the Three-Wheel Tractor, he describes a photo, perhaps taken during the war in Europe, of a farmer driving his ancient tractor down a street to get it fixed. The problem is that the left front wheel is wholly missing, from some accident. He speculates on the farmer pondering the problem of repair – he hasn’t the knowledge or tools to do it himself, he can’t afford to bring the local repairman to the farm, but he can’t drive to town in a tractor with a wheel missing. Or can he? The photo shows the solution – the farmer’s ample wife proudly stands on the back of the tractor opposite the missing wheel and serves as a counterbalance.
Masumoto loves the practical, rustic life and much of this book is descriptions in loving detail about his work and his ruminations. He talks about just getting by, not being the farmer his father was, how the business of growing has changed while the art of it has not, and his best friend — an old shovel. Nikiko’s contributions are less philosophical but she seems to be following a similar path to her father – she too tried to escape the farm, but felt drawn back by a deep respect for it that she is still gradually discovering.
I think any farmer will find many reflections here that will bring a smile or a warm remembrance.