Last week, in writing about poet Omar Salinas, I mentioned another writer who inhabits our region, Mas Masumoto of Del Rey. Mas is one of our few voices who still lives on and from the land: a farmer who tells us regularly what it means to farm on a human scale amidst the increasingly powerful giants of agribusiness.

Mas writes quiet words, in keeping with his cultural ancestry and his occupation. But his persistence comes from that, too, and I have come to admire his relentlessness. His monthly column in the Fresno Bee has been running for more than two decades, and farmers I know wait expectantly to see what he has to say each month. He’s been their spokesperson to the wider world, the world of towns, cities and suburbs that now take up the vast majority of our population. He has reminded those other people that it takes human beings to keep them fed, and that some of those human beings still get up every morning and figure out what needs to be done to make that happen.

I first learned of Mas while I was at UC Davis, after he’d graduated and returned to Del Rey. A former professor had the cover of one of Mas’s first books pinned to the bulletin board outside his office door, “Country Voices: The Oral History of a Japanese American Family Farm Community” (1987). It is not common for an oral history to be done of a community; usually oral histories are about individual lives. But that connectedness to community is key to understanding Mas’s writing, his life. Though some Davis people wondered if he was wasting his education by returning to Del Rey to farm, I think he’s invested it where it matters most.

I first met Mas at the event in Parlier where he read with Omar almost 32 years ago now. One of the pieces Mas read was about being in the fourth grade with Jesse Alvarado, how they’d cheat together on tests and itch the same way during peach harvest. It ended wondering whether their class and ethnic differences had become barriers between them.

Mas’s reputation as a farmer-writer really took center stage when his book “Epitaph for a Peach” was published in 1995. Structured around the four seasons, it also takes us through the anguish of trying to farm well, with his values intact, within a marketing system that cannot respond either to questions of food quality or the needs of the land and the families who make their living producing food. I believe that book did more to awaken the sympathetic public, the people who also recognize the quality of their food declining, than any other. The book offered few solutions, but by delicately describing the problem in poignant detail, it may have led the way to greater public support here for finding some, including farmers markets and CSAs (community-supported agriculture.) I keep that book handy.

Another book to have handy is “The Perfect Peach: Recipes and Stories From the Masumoto Family Farm” (2013). Written with Mas’s wife Marcy and daughter Nikiko, who now also farms alongside her father with her Berkeley education, the recipes make me hungry and the stories make me want to camp out with them in Del Rey. Each page is a delight. It makes a great Christmas gift, by the way!

One of Mas’s greatest contributions, though, is his empathetic view of the rest of us, those of us who don’t farm, who have never had the privilege of living on the land. Month after month in his columns, he reaches toward us and makes a bridge. One of my favorites was about his almost-deaf grandmother learning to text, reconnecting her with family members. Another was about family caregivers and discovering the cries of their hearts in their end-of-life journeys with elders. Living on the land or off it, we’re all headed in the same direction, and we’re better off when we take the journey together. That’s something Mas has never lost sight of.

I count him as a friend, and also an anchor. Inside the cover of his book “Silent Strength,” Mas wrote “Please enjoy! My strength is your strength—no?” At this moment I can only say “yes. Thank you.”

Trudy Wischemann is chief cook and bottlewasher of New LEAF: Land Educational Arts Forum. You can send her your favorite peach recipes c/o P.O. Box 1374, Lindsay CA 93247.

This column is not a news article but the opinion of the writer and does not reflect the views of The Sun-Gazette newspaper.

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