I’m a book addict. At any given time, I’m in the middle of a handful of books, both fiction and non-fiction, and reading is one of my favorite activities when I need some downtime. I’m also a pretty critical reader, perhaps because I’m a writer, and I usually have a good sense of whether I’ll enjoy a book within the first couple of pages.
I must admit, when I began the book, I was expecting something a bit different – a straightforward memoir of farming, or a treatise on local food, maybe. But right in the first chapter, as Masumoto describes discovering that his father just had a stroke, I knew that I was in for another type of book altogether. Sure, it’s a memoir, but it’s also a story about a father and a son, it’s about healing, about Japanese American immigrants and California’s Central Valley, and it’s a glimpse inside the mind of a farmer who is truly rooted to the land.
“After his father has a stroke on the sprawling fields of their farm, Masumoto looks with new eyes on the land on which he and generations of his family have labored for decades. He sees the price they have paid to grow flavorful heirloom peaches—while the market rewards tasteless, big and red fruits—and the challenges of maintaining traditions and integrity while working in the modern, high-pressure agricultural marketplace. “Most organic farmers don’t do what we for the money,” says Masumoto. “Something else keeps us toiling despite the challenges—our emotional connections to the living things we grow, to the land, even to the people who eat what we produce.”
Masumoto comes from a family of farmers – farmers who immigrated to the US, were subject to internment during WWII because of their Japanese ancestry, and who worked tirelessly in order to eventually own land and put down roots. His family’s story is one of sweat, blood, and tears. It’s also a story of the blending of two cultures, and the struggle to work with the sun, wind, rain, and soil for a noble cause – producing food.
Masumoto’s father figures prominently in the book, and as he shared the many things he has learned from him about being a steward of the land, I found myself with a whole new appreciation for the skills and level of patience and persistence necessary to being a farmer. His descriptions of the farm are crisp and vivid, bringing me right into the orchards with him, and in his depictions of the day to day struggles of farming (especially organic farming and the growing of heirloom fruit varieties), I recognize once again the value of hard work and honest labor.
As I read Wisdom of the Last Farmer, I saw that not only does Masumoto understand how to work with the land to produce food, but he also understands the delicate dance that is the relationship between father and son. His thoughtful handling of his father’s condition, and the story of helping him come back to the farm and return to some semblance of his former work is touching, and shows a tenderness and respect for his father’s life and accomplishments.
I think that anyone with an interest in food, farming, healing, or the relationship between fathers and sons, will enjoy Masumoto’s book, and walk away with a whole new appreciation for the efforts necessary to bring forth fruit from the fertile soil of the heart.
David Mas Masumoto is the award-winning author of Epitaph for a Peach and other books, popular columnist, spokesperson for organic farming, and a fellow at the Kellogg Foundation. A third-generation farmer, he grows certified organic peaches, nectarines, and grapes on his family’s eighty-acre California farm. He lives in Del Rey, California. For more information, please visit www.masumoto.com.