Summer markets are full of peaches, but what if you could go straight to the source and adopt your own peach tree? In the little town of Del Rey, just south of Fresno, the Masumoto Family Adopt-a-Peach-Tree program is wrapping up its eighth year. Reporter: Katrina Schwartz
Peach farmer and author Mas Masumoto gives his annual introduction to a day of peach picking at his Central Valley farm.
"This nectarine, by the way, is a Le Grand nectarine that is sexy as all hell," Masumoto laughs. "These nectarines are the ones you have an affair with. The Elbertas are the ones you take home to meet your parents."
At seven in the morning it's already clear the day will be hot, and the pickers are eager to get going. This is the second of two back-to-back weekends when groups who have "adopted" a peach or nectarine tree come to harvest.
Rosie Arenas lives down the road from the Masumotos and misses the Le Grand nectarines her family used to grow. She adopted a tree with her mother and sisters.
"Just being out here just brings back memories of all the fun we had doing the work. My two younger sisters and I would sing all day long, you know? We learned how to harmonize and everything out in the fields while we were doing the work," Arenas says.
The adoption program started when Masumoto planted Elberta peach trees, an heirloom variety popular 50 years ago. It has since fallen out of favor in the commercial marketplace because it bruises easily. Masumoto also wanted other people to understand how hard it is to grow a good peach.
"We didn't want people just to buy produce. We wanted them to take ownership of it. So we thought of framing this experience where people literally fill out adoption papers," Masumoto says.
He sends out emails throughout the growing season with updates, involving participants in the drama of the farm. People flock to this program partly because there are few others like it, but also because the Masumotos are a family of storytellers. Masumoto has written five books about the life of an organic farmer learning alongside his father.
Masumoto's grandparents immigrated to the U.S. from Japan in the early part of the 1900s, but were not allowed to buy land because of racist laws. They hoped their American-born son, Masumoto's father, would buy land for them, but World War II got in the way.
"They were interned in relocation camps, came back," Masumoto remembers. "My dad did a huge gamble, bought a farm, established us."
But his grandmother no longer believed in the American dream.
"She grew to not trust systems, not trust the government. When my father bought the farm my grandmother was furious. Because she said you don't take risks in America because they take it away," Masumoto says.
Mindful of that legacy, Masumoto returned to the farm after attending U.C. Berkeley. He was the one who transitioned the farm to organics in the 1980s, before it was popular. They sold organic fruit in the regular marketplace because that was the only way Masumoto could imagine farming.
Masumoto says he's happy his 26-year-old daughter, Nikiko, has chosen to continue the family tradition of farming ... and the love affair with peaches.
"Oh my gosh, the Rose Diamond this year particularly were just out of this world. They are super high acid, and it's like biting into a fireball that bites back at you," Nikiko says.
Nikiko has taken over managing the peach adoption program and is apprenticing to take over the farm. She says the program is smart economically.
"We do know when people adopt a tree it's paid for the whole year. So that's helpful. As opposed to our other fruit, it's backwards. We work all year and then see what price we can get," she says.
The adoption families are diverse. There are beer enthusiasts, bringing peaches to favorite brewers, hoping to inspire a sour peach alembic, families who want to teach their kids where food comes from and of course ... foodies.
Kristine Kidd, from L.A., is the ultimate foodie. She's the former editor of Bon Apetit magazine.
"We make bruschetta with goat cheese and thyme and peaches, and a rustic peach tart," Kidd says. "This year we're going to add in big meringues with fresh homemade peach ice cream and then peaches on top of that."
Gayle Keck, a peach-picker from San Francisco, values the relationship she and her team have formed with the Masumotos.
"The past five years, we put together a scrapbook that we send to the Masumotos each year," Keck says. "We put photos in, and everyone does a page about what they made with the peaches."
For Nikiko Masumoto, that connection is grounded in the land itself.
"This is our home, this is where we live. This is where my grandfather died. And there is something that shifts when you feel the dust, when you feel the heat, when you have to climb up ladders, the same ladders our farmworkers use," she says.
Eight years after the program began, it has more applicants than it can accept. The Masumotos' next project is a literary family cookbook, featuring peaches, of course.