2013 23.2 Farmer-Author and Daughter to Keynote 2013 Tilth Annual Conference

David Mas Masumoto is a third generation Japanese-American farmer in the central valley of California. His messages about living better by paying close attention to nature, knowing our neighbors, and valuing the process as much as the product are very compelling to his readers. Masumoto and his daughter Nikiko will give the keynote address at the 2013 Tilth Producers Annual Conference: Nourishing the Future: Cultivating our farming legacy. Save the date to join us in Yakima, Washington on November 8-10, 2013.

From the publisher:

In his book, Epitaph for a Peach: Four Seasons on My Family Farm (HarperSanFrancisco/Harper Collins, June 1995), Masumoto tells the story of one farmer’s attempt to rescue one of the last truly sweet and juicy fruits from becoming obsolete in a world that increasingly values commerciality over quality. The story of Mas Masumoto’s Sun Crest peaches begins on the day he turns the bulldozers away from his orchards and vows to give himself four seasons to find a home for the fruits of his labor.


Excerpt from Epitaph for a Peach:

They call in the night, deep voices outside my window echoing across the cold landscape. I can hear two, one in the distance answering the talkative one who sits atop a pole behind the house. At times their calls overlap and reverberate through the dormant fields.

Two owls return to my farm and announce their arrival with a nightly conference. I hope they will stay and join my farm. Despite the winter frosts, my fields are full of delicate and tasty creatures for their menu. Mice scamper over the barren fields. Small rabbits and gophers, confused by an occasional warm winter day, scramble out of their dens in search of food.

I’ve erected tall wooden poles for nightly owl perches. The staffs mark my rows but double as observation platforms for winged hunters. Nocturnal owls should have no trouble sharing them with the hawks of daylight.

Actually I need the owls. Mice, rabbits, and gophers run wild and multiply geometrically. Normally they are harmless, preferring the rich treasures of seeds and grasses to vines or trees. But I can see the nightmare of overpopulation. The stumps of a few trees bear scars of desperate creatures gnawing bark for food.

One mouse family invaded my irrigation pump. A small corner of the wire mesh was bent, opening the door for them. They must have felt cozy next to the core windings, especially on their first visit in the dead of winter when I had just tested the pumps. The motor remained warm for hours and the mice moved in. Even though I didn’t start the pump again until spring, the potential for warmth may have provided them enough justification for their relocation. When I first found the pump’s housing full of their droppings, I immediately retested it. Mice nibble at wire coils as midnight snacks and can disable the largest farm pump. I was relieved to hear the engine whine and see water tumble from the outlet pipe. I straightened the mesh and cursed the damned mice for invading my property. Weren’t they content with the eighty acres of winter grass covers I provided them?

Gophers create different problems. During my summer irrigations, their holes and tunnels change the course of my water, redirecting it from one row to another. I often play irrigation roulette, a game of chance to see which row will fill with water. For years my fields received free water from a neighbor when a family of gophers created a secret underground passage that connected his field with mine. Whenever he’d irrigate, my rows received his water too.

Lately I notice that the mice and gophers seem to be organizing, fighting back and reclaiming territory. They seem to be rising in numbers, not only in my fields but especially on farms that utilize a preemergent herbicide program. There, with a barren landscape, the mice have been driven out of their natural habitat in search of new homes. Sheds, barns, houses, and pumps have been invaded, desperate acts by desperate creatures. Gophers, though, have a wicked streak of vengeance. Every year more and more farms are expanding into previously undeveloped territory such as virgin hillsides and uneven terrain. New technology accompanies the transformation, drip irrigation systems are commonplace, the black plastic hose lines stretch over miles and miles of new farmland. But the gophers of the world have united against this intrusion upon their sacred ground. They attack these new settlements, gnawing on the plastic hoses. This terrorist activity forces farmers to spend hours checking for severed lines and spurting water.

Farmers wage a campaign to purge these vertebrate pests. Fields are disked and no weed is left standing, a scorched-earth policy. (Poison may be set out, but farm dogs have a bad habit of getting confused and eating the bait. Eradication becomes very expensive with the addition of a veterinarian’s stomach-pumping bill.) I know of one farmer who ends his winter by setting dozens of snares and checking them every morning. He reminds me more of a trapper than a farmer, spending hours on his early morning rounds. Most of his efforts are only minimally successful before a new population migrates to reconquer the territory.

Owls are wonderful hunters for gophers and mice. As a ten-year-old, I discovered a pile of small skulls and bones in a neighbor’s old dairy barn. Three farm boys –my brother, a neighbor’s son, and I—explored the wooden cavern. Sitting above the pile of bones in the dim light was an old barn owl. (Actually it was a great horned owl, but we had discovered it in the barn). We quietly backed outside and whispered to one another, the excitement making our voices crack. We talked about the bones, the owl’s dark hiding place, and the size of the creature. I wanted to see the owl fly.

Tags: 2013 Conference, David Mas Masumoto, Epitaph, Keynote, Nikiko Masumoto