Saturday, May 8, 2010

Wisdom of the Last Farmer - David Masumoto

My husband Jake jokes that if you want to start a successful restaurant in the bay area, all you have to do is work for Chez Panisse for a day, and then bill yourself out as a former employee. People will come running on the assumption that all your food will be fresh, organic, and innovative. So, David Masumoto did a good thing having the introduction to his book about peach farming written by someone who treasured the experience of eating Masumoto's family fruit at Alice Waters's restaurant. With this set-up, I was instantly drawn into the world of Central Valley farming, and excited to learn more about the peach growing process, as well as about Masumoto's life as the son of sansei Japanese-Americans who had lived through the horrors of the World War II internment camps. Wisdom of the Last Farmer is a collection of articles and essays Masumoto previously published about his life on his family farm (, and in particular about his relationship with his father and his hopes for passing the family farm along to his own two children. Because of this, there is a bit of repetition - as characters are introduced and re-introduced in different chapters, and some stories and themes are recycled. Masumoto provides an interesting perspective on the aging culture of farming, and what this means for the future of our fruit and vegetable industries. But, mostly what I enjoyed about this book was Masumoto's reflections on family - on tradition and obligation, on why we take care of the people we love, and why we need to tell the stories of our lives. I wanted to love this book - not just because Masumoto's peaches are served at Chez Panisse - but because he stands for so much, not the least of which is incredible success in the wake of racial prejudice and financial difficulty. I was not blown away by the presentation of the stories, but I was inspired by his anecdotes. Masumoto has written a number of other books about his life, Heirlooms, Letters to the Valley, Four Seasons in Five Senses, Harvest Son, and Epitaph for a Peach. While I won't rush out to request these from the library, Masumoto is someone I am interested in learning more about - and I look forward to buying and ordering his fruit from Berkeley Bowl, my local farmer's market, and neighborhood restaurants in the upcoming peach season.

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