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 hand-made quilts.
- 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 primo act, a magical sensory celebration announcing summer
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 its 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
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
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 and
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
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 with others.
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
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
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 that.
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 and story.
||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
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 of memories.
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 great.
|...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 of when….
“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 peach memory.
Good memories to you. Thank you very much.