Thursday, July 17, 2014

Farm Feature: Masumoto Family Farm

by Sarah Janes Ugoretz

I recently had the pleasure of speaking with David “Mas” Masumoto who, along with his family, is responsible for the Sun Crest Yellow Peaches you’ll find in your box this week. An heirloom variety, these peaches have a wonderful, old-world flavor and a surprising meatiness to them. Unlike commercial growers, the Masumoto family is guided by a concern for quality over quantity. As such, I learned that the Sun Crest trees on the Masumoto farm have been around for over 50 years. Compared to commercial growers who tend to replace fruit trees every 15-20 years, the life span of these Sun Crest trees speaks volumes about the evolution of the Masumotos’ farming philosophy.

After emigrating from Japan in the early 1900s, Mas’ grandparents worked in agriculture in and around Fresno until 1942. Under an Executive Order authorized by President Roosevelt, Mas’ grandparents—along with over 110,000 other people of Japanese heritage—were forcibly relocated to one of several interment camps that were established throughout the country. After being held for four years, his grandparents were allowed to return to the Fresno area. Soon thereafter, Mas’ father purchased 40 acres of land, signifying the start of what would one day become the Masumoto Family Farm. I asked Mas whether he thought having been subjected to four years of internment had influenced his family’s relationship with and approach to farming. Experiencing what they did left his grandparents, and subsequent generations, with “a different perspective”—an awareness that “history is embedded in all that [they] do.”

Today, Mas looks at food through a historical lens and talks about the notion of growing not just fruit, but stories too. As an accomplished and well-respected writer, this line of thinking is not surprising. Like so many small-scale organic farmers, Mas sees more than just a peach. He sees the countless factors that go into producing that peach—from the most minute of details to the broadest of big-picture influences. “The equation is constantly changing,” Mas emphasized. “The biggest challenge of being an organic fruit producer is that we have to look at things long-term. This involves a holistic, whole farm system approach.” Essentially, everything is connected which makes running a successful organic fruit business like Masumoto Family Farm extremely management intensive. As Mas pointed out, “we can’t just find a pesticide to solve our problems,” because the adverse consequences of using that pesticide would have a spillover effect that would surely travel beyond the farm itself.

Growing up in a primarily Japanese agricultural community outside of Fresno, Mas was the only child from over 40 families to return to farming. When I asked him to reflect on the resurgence of youth in agriculture that we’re seeing today, his voiced brimmed with excitement. “Seeing young people get involved invigorates what we do.” Since 2007, his daughter Nikiko has been preparing to one day take over the family farm. “I get to be a part-time teacher, critic, coach and father,” Mas reflected. In passing down the farm, he recognizes that the decisions he makes about the farm are no longer his alone. The same goes for the external factors that impact the operation. “This drought that we are experiencing—it’s not just my drought, it’s her drought. She’ll have to deal with it too.”

This long-term way of thinking seems to permeate every aspect of Masumoto Family Farm. Their “O, U Fab!” campaign is a perfect example. Short for “Organic, Ugly & Fabulous!”, the “O, U Fab!” campaign aims to “radicalize how we view the aesthetic value of food.” If you recall from our earlier feature on Farmer Al of Frog Hollow Farm, only about 2 percent of fruit is ultimately classified as cosmetically perfect. The rest is, to varying degrees, less than perfect. Appearance, along with consistent size, is highly rewarded by today’s mainstream marketplace. Given that an overwhelming majority of fruit doesn’t meet these market standards, this poses a significant problem for many fruit producers. Mas sees the “O, U Fab!” campaign as being educational, but in a literal sense. By creating a localized market for fruit that is imperfect—both aesthetically and in size—Mas and his family are challenging folks to ask why we place such a high value on characteristics that are so often unattainable. For instance, Mas posed the question: “How much extra am I irrigating just to attain a certain size of fruit?” If producing smaller peaches uses fewer resources, especially during times of drought, then shouldn’t we as consumers attribute higher value to these efforts by putting our money towards practices that we support and that are environmentally sound and forward-looking? Mas and his family have recently begun talking to the chefs of a few high-end restaurants near their farm. The thought is this: if these restaurants can feature imperfect fruits and allow the consumer a chance to experience their high quality and superior flavor, then we may begin to, in Mas’ words, “redefine what is gourmet” and encourage consumers to give “ugly” fruit the respect it deserves.

By this point, it’s no secret that Harmony Valley Farm thinks Mas and his family are pretty special. In so many ways, their farming philosophy and the sincere, moral connectedness they feel towards their farm, the land, and the people around them exemplifies what small-scale organic farming is all about.  As our discussion drew to a close, Mas expressed the pleasure he takes in knowing that our farm and his are connected through this fruit share. “We’re pleased and tickled to be part of this.” Abstract as it may be, his hope is that in taking part in this CSA, you feel like you’re visiting his farm through his fruit. After taking that first bite of Sun Crest peach, we think you’ll understand what he’s talking about.

This week’s recipes are from the Masumoto family’s cookbook entitled:  The Perfect Peach: Recipes and Stories from the Masumoto Family Farm, by Marcy, Nikiko & David “Mas” Masumoto. 
Their book is packed full of delicious recipes from their farm and every single one of them includes peaches!

Spice-Rubbed Pork Chops with Grilled Peaches
“Pork and peaches are meant for each other…I like the pork chops best with grilled peaches, 
but you can use warm peach jam in the off season.” ---Nikiko

Serves 4
4 boneless pork loin chops
2 tsp ground fennel or 2 tsp fennel seeds
2 tsp ground cumin or whole cumin seeds
2 Tbsp dried oregano
½ tsp freshly ground black pepper
¼ tsp salt
Olive oil, for brushing the grill rack
2 firm peaches, halved, and pitted

1. Remove the pork chops from the refrigerator and allow to come to room temperature. Prepare two zones: a medium and medium-hot fire in a charcoal or gas grill.

2. If using whole fennel and cumin seeds, toast in a dry pan over medium-low heat until fragrant. Let cool, then grind in a spice grinder or with a mortar and pestle. 

3. To make the spice rub for the chops, mix together the fennel, cumin, oregano, pepper, and salt. Rub the spice mixture evenly on both sides of each chop.

4. When the grill is ready, brush the grill rack with a light coating of oil. To grill the peaches, place them cut side down, on the medium zone of the grill rack and grill for 6 to 7 minutes, until nice grill marks appear. Flip the peach halves over and grill for another 3 to 4 minutes until the skin is loose around the edges and grill marks appear on bottom. To grill the pork chops, place them on the medium-hot zone of the grill rack and grill on the first side for 6 to 7 minutes (or a few minutes longer if the cut is thicker than ¾ inch). To add grill marks, rotate the chops 45 degrees after the first 2 to 3 minutes. Flip the chops and cook for 4 to 5 minutes on the second side again rotating the chops 45 degrees after the first 2 minutes for grill marks, until cooked but still juicy. Serve immediately with the peaches.  

Prosciutto-Wrapped Peaches

Yield:  2 Servings
1 medium-large peach with give, peeled, halved, pitted, and cut into 8 wedges
8 large fresh basil leaves
4 slices prosciutto, each cut lengthwise into two 1-inch –wide strips

Wrap each peach wedge with a basil leaf and then with a strip of prosciutto.  Arrange on a platter or divide among individual plates and serve.

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