I was in the audience when Mas Masumoto gave
this address. For almost all of us in the audience,
I think, our own stories started swelling up in
us like buds or pregnant bubbles urgent to be
born, to flower, to be shared. Mas is right: For
all of us, it is the stories, the memories, that
bring pleasure, joy and meaning to the hard work
of growing and marketing food. If you sell directly
to customers, I strongly recommend you find a
way to tell those stories.
Late in his talk, Mas invited a lucky few down
to savor his peach preserves, then recall any
memories associated with that taste. I know I
was in the audience, juices flowing into my mouth,
and memories bubbling in my brain:
- My grandmother’s pickled peaches in
quart jars, studded with cloves, pungent and
heavenly. My 4’9” powerhouse of
a grandmother, Iris, always in an apron, with
sturdy lace-up half-boots, is long gone, and
with it her recipe.
- The hot, dusty, enduring, hardscrabble peach
orchard up the road from my granddad’s
farm in far-western Oklahoma, owned by his neighbor,
Clay. Picking bulging shirts- and aprons-full
of warm, fuzzy, “cling” peaches,
full of blemishes and bug-bites. Sneaking a
few slimy bites before they made it to the kitchen—the
stringy residue clinging to pit as we tossed
it in the red sandy, weedy soil.
- Heavenly fresh peach ice cream made with
a hand-cranked creamer. Waiting impatiently
for the ice cream to set, under its pile of
- Pealing peaches with my Grandmother. In Oklahoma
you peal everything — tomatoes, peaches,
apples … grapes, for God’s sake.
I remember the two-day collective effort of
the women in my extended family as they prepared
the “heavenly hash” fruit salad
for my brother’s wedding. (In this respect
I’m a lapsed Okie—I never peel.
It’s a running joke when I return home
to Oklahoma, the land of the pealed tomato slice.
See how memories tumble on top of each other?
And that’s just for peaches. Don’t
get me started on tomatoes. I urge you to do Mas’
peach exercise … or tomato, or corn. Let
the memories swell and break. It’s like
riding a wave to heaven.
--Chris Hill, Executive Editor
All of us have a story, and
maybe the best way to describe my story is to begin to tell
a little bit about a peach I grow. Suncrest is one of the
last remaining truly juicy peaches. When you wash that treasure
under a stream of cooling water, your fingertips distinctively
search for that gushy side of the fruit, your mouth waters
in anticipation, you lean over the sink to make sure you don’t
drip on yourself. Then the juice trickles down your cheeks
and dangles on your chin. This is a real bite, a primal act,
a magical sensory celebration announcing summer has arrived.
That peach only makes sense if you know what great peaches
taste like. My biggest fear is that there is a generation
growing up who have never tasted that sort of produce, and
if they haven’t tasted it, how will they know if they’re
missing something wonderful? I claim that it's all about a
sense of memory, a memory all of us in this room know and
understand; that’s why you’re here. You understand
that sense of difference.
The question then is, of course, what is that greater memory
that people share with food—and is there a generation
that’s going to grow up that has no such memory? I claim
that memories are often wound around stories. They belong
to what I call ‘The Memory Economy.’
Let me explain that. My peaches fill the flavor niche industry
left behind. Large scale farming operations can’t mimic
my methods, in which skill and human management replace huge
doses of capital and technology. I want my fruits to manifest
the life and spirit of a family farm. Mass produced peaches
are designed only to excite the visual sense as consumers
trade money for something that resembles a peach. But my peaches
begin a journey in taste, texture, and aroma accompanied by
stories. People who enjoyed my peaches understand and appreciate
flavor, they pay attention to memories.
And that’s why that memory that we hold, I think, is
the crucial link to going from just simply having produce
that’s farmed organically to something that’s
farmed wonderfully. Because it’s memory that fills that
gap in between, and as I said, we in this room have that memory,
we have that passion to understand and work with nature in
the environment. And as the organic market place matures I
hope we keep falling in love with that memory over and over
and over. It’s like my wife and I. We’ve been
married for twenty years, and I sometimes forget to tell her
that I love her … and you need to say it over and over
Farmers have these kinds of memories, and they’re deeply
attached to their land. It stays with you and it teaches you
things. I’ll read a short passage from my book Four
Seasons in Five Senses, that talks about that connection
we have with memory, the land and ultimately generation.
“My old peach orchard tells
my family’s stories. In the twisted trunks lay the
history of my father who planted these trees more than thirty
years ago. I recall helping him as the family lined up trees
by sight, holding up a bare root tree, closing one eye and
squinting the other, tearing down a quarter mile row trying
to keep the row straight. We weren’t perfect nor fast,
and for decades I’ve had to swing my tractor wide
to avoid the crooked tree I must have planted. But planting
five hundred trees by hand and trusting our vision seems
to be a wonderfully human way to begin an orchard. We made
mistakes and rationalized our efforts. Life in nature is
not always straight.”
And I think you know that too. The work that we do, especially
in organic farming, is not always straight, nor should it
be, and that’s the memory we celebrate. Knowing more
about my farm and the story behind it is part of buying and
enjoying my peaches. All these stories are engaged to the
senses for a type of authenticity, and when I talk about story,
I mean the story that you pause and reflect about. Memories
are grown slowly; memories are repeated like a good story
is told over and over.
The one problem sometimes with these memories, and especially
our work in organics, is that at times we forget there are
also those light relationships we have. We, and I’ve
been guilty of this, sometimes start taking this a little
too seriously. Ultimately, the favorite stories that we have,
that I have, revolve around those lighter moments in farming.
I’ll share one of my favorite stories from Epitaph
for a Peach with you. While weeding I feel something tickle
my calf. Without stopping my shovel, I brush the back of my
leg and it happens again and again. Finally, I shake my right
leg and a thing bolts upward. Immediately I throw down my
shovel and stamp my feet and the adrenaline shoots into my
system and my heart races. I initiate my lizard dance, shaking
my leg, pounding my feet, patting my pants as the poor creature
runs wild up my leg. The faster I spin and twirl the more
confused the lizard becomes and the more frantically he scrambles
up and down the dark caverns of my pants. In the middle of
my dance I begin laughing, recalling the familiar feel of
a lizard running up my pants through my shirt and down my
sleeve. My body dances uncontrollably to the feel of its tiny
feet and claws grabbing my skin. I try to slow down, knowing
the lizard will too if we both relax, but as the creature
scampers higher and higher my imagination runs wild. Vulnerable
body parts flash in my mind. If other workers were around
they would laugh watching me tug at my belt frantically, trying
to drop my pants. With luck, I won’t open a crevice
into my shorts inviting the lizard into another dark hiding
place, and instead he’ll be attracted to daylight, leap
out of my trousers and tumble to the ground dazed for a moment
before scampering into the safety of weeds and undergrowth.
I didn’t plan on raising lizards, but they’re
part of an organic farm landscape. Besides, their presence
reminds me of my childhood. I can’t return to those
days but I can try and foster new life on the farm along with
laughter and the lizard dance.
I told that story at a farm conference in the Central Valley
(my farm, by the way, is near Fresno), and at the conference
a woman came up and she said, ‘You know my dad (she’s
a farmer’s daughter) had the same experience. A lizard
ran up his pants but he captured it right next to his hip
pocket. He turned to his ranch foreman and said, ‘Quick!
Unzip me!’ I bet you that was one memorable afternoon
out in the fields.
|In that sense,
I think when people enjoy organic produce they never eat
alone because they’re sharing the story of all of
you in this audience with that meal. And it’s a
wonderful act to think about eating socially again, eating
As I said, memorable stories transport us. That’s how
stories and memories work. And if my peaches are working in
an interesting way at a certain point they’re no longer
my peaches. My hope is that a consumer, when they bite into
them, will combine their personal memory with that peach.
Their understanding of what that peach is about, where it
came from in their memory and mine, and understand that’s
the whole story about it. In that sense, I think when people
enjoy organic produce they never eat alone because they’re
sharing the story of all of you in this audience with that
meal. And it’s a wonderful act to think about eating
socially again, eating with others. The fast food industry
wants you to eat alone because you’ll eat faster. It’s
all based on speed. I think wonderful produce, organic produce,
works in the other way. It’s certainly part of a notion
of slow food.
Stories of nature are always anchored in real places. We
don’t virtually farm organically. We farm at real places
that involve real people. And even on the farm, these places
have meaning. Sacred meaning. But also meaning because they
have what I call history. Sometimes the history ends up in
a lighter way too, and I’ll share a story with you.
All good farms have a junk pile. It stays with the land in
a succession of owners who contribute to the collection of
odd machine parts, old equipment, and discarded but never
forgotten stories. Since I have a forklift, my first major
contribution to the pile is to restack most of it on wooden
pallets. I now have a portable junk pile. I can move stuff
from place to place sort of like a modern archaeologist using
machinery doing his rummage through history. I use junk to
fix things and glean new ideas and inspiration.
When a sculptor friend and I probed through the pile, he
was enthralled by the variety of odd shapes and angles. We
pulled out a bright orange steel tooth from some kind of harvester,
sat it upright and then on its side, walked around it and
made comments. He buried part of it in the dirt and called
it modern art. I left it in place for a few months then dug
it out when I needed to cultivate that area, tossing it back
onto the pile … calling it post-modern art.
In my junk, treasures lay hidden. Old pieces from equipment
tell me the history of a farm. It’s as if time has left
behind these relics, but not as fossils or memorials to the
past; the remains are to be used by future farmers. So when
you farm with your memories you’re actually farming
in the future, too, because there’s the intention that
what you leave behind is to be used by future farmers, too.
At least that’s what I tell my wife as the pile gets
larger and larger. And it has a way of actually creeping towards
our back door too, and she’s actually worried about
I was at a farm conference in the Midwest and I shared that
story and one farmer came up to me in overalls and he leaned
over and he said, ‘You know, out here we don’t
call them junk piles,’ and I thought he was going to
use the term bone piles which some farmers do. Then he said
‘No, out here we call it inventory.’ Think of
the memory he has to have to call that inventory. And farmers
do know those layers and layers of junk that are part of those
piles. They’re important. It’s a sacred pile in
one sense on our farm because it captures that sense of memory
||If twenty percent
of the nation ate from their memories, with that memory
satisfied by the wonderful taste and flavor, it would
save all family farms.
Memory can become a tool of social action, because the more
that people commit to memory, the greater the value that’s
achieved. Memory is my greatest marketing tool, and when it’s
working you begin to save family farms. If twenty percent
of the nation ate from their memories, with that memory satisfied
by the wonderful taste and flavor, it would save all family
farms. Just think of the revolution in organics if people
started eating with that memory, and understanding the depth
of that memory.
Our job is to keep that memory alive, to get the public to
think in stories. A simple example that I have about thinking
in story has to do with my shovel -- and I brought it with
me today. [Mas holds up a spade that once had a pointed blade.
Now, instead of the point, there are two round humps separated
by a trough, like a camel’s hump.]
This is a wonderful shovel. This shovel was handed down from
my grandparents to my parents to myself. This shovel works
in the sandy loam around Fresno, where the rain falls about
nine to ten inches a year. Most weeds are very shallow-rooted,
so this shovel only needs to glide just below the surface.
It probably won’t work well in a heavy clay soil. It
may not work in your soil. It has a story that’s native
to a place. And that place happens to be our farm.
This shovel, of course, began as a point. And it took years
to hone it down to this. It took years of my grandparents
and parents gliding beneath the surface, the loam and the
sand of our fields, abrading it as if with a natural wet stone.
I tell this story to my children, telling them that I will
make my contribution to this shovel by wearing it down another
inch or two. And then I stop and actually realize I don’t
probably work quite that hard. So I’d actually be pretty
proud to just work down another inch. But it’s an example
of a simple tool that farmers have that’s also part
of their story and part of that memory of the land, and it
represents my farm just as much as peaches represent my farm.
Shovels, the tools that we use, the products that we raise
are all part of that memory economy that we all thrive within.
One wonderful thing about stories about tools like a shovel
is that you understand it works in real soils, it’s
a reality check, but it also assumes you have more to shovel,
so there’s this wonderful timeline that’s captured
in this memory of a shovel; the story of a shovel.
When I talk about stories, it involves memory in different
ways and I thought maybe I could invoke something from you,
so I want to try something a little different here. Can I
have five people volunteer for something? It’ll be,
actually, fairly pleasant I think. If you come up to the stage,
just come up five people, stand up here. Great! Wonderful.
Three will be fine too if you just want to do three. Three,
four, okay we’ll take six. Six will be good. Here’s
what you do. We’re going to have a little lesson on
how to eat organically.
I can’t bring my peaches now because they ripen in
July, but I brought some peach jam. Each of you can take a
jar, and I have spoons for all of you too. Now, don’t
you wish you volunteered. Do you all have a jar? Now we’re
each going to take a spoon and we’re going to go through
this together. Face the audience if you would, and this is
a lesson in terms of looking at memory and how to enjoy things
slowly. First, you hold the jar up into the light and look
at the color. As you’re doing that I want you to slip
into the slow rhythm as far as thinking of what you’re
seeing. You see color, you see amber. I did this with my son’s
sixth grade class and one of the students said, ‘I see
summer’. The idea is you’re already starting to
fuse it so it’s not just a glass jar, it has other types
Alright, open the jar and get your spoon and take a big scoop
out of it. Take a big scoop out of it. Now, don’t eat
it. Don’t eat it yet. Bring it up to your nose and smell
it. The sense of smell is powerful, and I hope it’s
starting to take you back into other memories. You’re
suddenly maybe not in a seminar anymore. You may be at some
other place … I think we’ve lost them, which is
|...this is a
lesson in terms of looking at memory and how to enjoy
things slowly...And if it’s working, it’s
no longer my jam. It should be, and hopefully I would
like you to be thinking of a story that you have with
jams, with fruit.
OK now – slowly insert in mouth, and the jam should
slide across your tongue, your taste buds are at the back
of your tongue, and it should be slowly absorbed. This jam
is not made with a lot of sugar. You should be tasting the
fruit in it. And if it’s working, it’s no longer
my jam. It should be, and hopefully I would like you to be
thinking of a story that you have with jams, with fruit. Is
it working? Good. The trick now is to think of those memories
and translate it into words. And the reason why I want you
to do that is because when memories are committed to words,
you’re also committing something to memory. So it’s
not just good; it has a memory of something, of some place.
Can you think of anything you want to share? What do you think
“All the jelly bread I ate when I was a kid.”
Ah, alright, the jelly bread you ate. How much jelly he could
put on this little itty piece of bread. That’s wonderful,
wonderful. The memory that you have? [He faces another volunteer.]
“I used to go with my family when I was a young boy
to eastern Washington peach orchards.” OK, great, a
memory of going to eastern Washington and the peach orchards
there, and picking the peaches and bringing them home. Any
other quick stories?
“This reminds me of being by a river that I used to
go to with my family.”
“Being in the hot sun and eating fruit.”
Good. Going to visit a river when she was with her family
in the hot sun and eating fruit. Can you see how this is working?
This is how you eat organically. It involves memory, it involves
story, it involves place, it involves the notion of fusing
things together. These are not my peaches, these are yours.
Thank you very much for helping me out on this. Thank you.
||This is how
you eat organically. It involves memory, it involves story,
it involves place, it involves the notion of fusing things
together. These are not my peaches, these are yours.
For one last story, I want to share with you my perfect peach
memory, and I think you’ll find that eating is a social
act as well as a political act. It involves others, usually—often
family and friends. For me, the perfect peach was with my
grandmother, and let me close with this. My grandmother taught
me how to eat a peach. She’d sit on a small wooden stool,
slice peaches, and occasionally she’d stop like an innocent
child and steal the taste from the golden flesh and quickly
sneak a piece into her mouth. I watched her close her eyes
and they seemed to tremble, the muscles of an eighty-year-old
involuntarily twitchy and danciness that’s lost in a
dream. Bauchon’s savored flavor, a satisfying glow gently
spread across her face. Not a smile or even a grin, just the
look of comfort, relaxed, soothing in content. I thought of
that image even after she died, wanting to believe that would
be the look on her face forever. Bauchon grandmother and I
shared that perfect moment, and I’ve spent years trying
to re-enact that scene, closing my eyes, smacking my lips.
I smile and gradually too lose myself in a flavor of a perfect
Good memories to you. Thank you very much.