By Anna Gaw
In “Epitaph for a Peach: Four Seasons on My Family Farm,” author David Mas Masumoto takes the reader through a year on his family’s peach farm in central California as he faces the prospect of the end of his Sun Crest peaches.
Masumoto’s melodic writing style captures the beauty and pain that came with running a farm while trying to work with, rather than against, nature in the economy of the 1990s. He shows us the importance of family, connection to nature, failure, and one’s own priorities.
My finding this book was somewhat fitting with its themes. I was with my family, dropping my sister off at college in California. One day, when they were busy with scheduled programming, I walked a couple of miles to a used bookstore. There, I picked up “Epitaph for a Peach” and added it to my list of books to read.
Fast forward a few months to winter break when I finally had a chance to read it. I enjoy reflecting upon the connections between my finding the book and the story within: set in California, being with family, enduring the seasons, and trying to be better to the environment.
Masumoto’s story begins in spring, where he discusses his history with cover crops. These are smaller plants grown in between fruit trees, for example, that help provide nutrients to the soil. The author explains how his father used them before being able to afford synthetic fertilizers.
Masumoto himself began using them again to benefit the soil and use a more natural and environmentally friendly method of farming, but primarily, to provide a nice view for his wife and newborn daughter.
He transitions from beans and peas to wildflowers, which confuses his farmer neighbors who see no benefit from such a plant. In contrast, Masumoto sees their physical beauty, their immense enjoyment by his wife, and their ability to bring pollinators and life to his farm, as his biologist friend predicted.
Masumoto then talks about his struggle with weeds. He describes how he used to aim to eradicate any plant that wasn’t a cash crop, but then switched to a more natural approach, only to be taken over by weeds.
Because of a shift in mindset, he says he now has “very few weeds on [his] farm. [He] removed them in a single day using a very simple method. [He] didn’t even break into a sweat. [He] simply redefined what [he] call[ed] a weed.”
The chapters flow from one to the next as seamlessly as the seasons. We see Masumoto struggle to maintain his income and trust in himself as his delicious peaches become obsolete in a world of GMOs and crops with longer shelf life and appealing exteriors.
Challenges come up regarding finding buyers for the peaches, reconciling with nature after unfavorable weather that destroys crops, dealing with pests in natural ways, and going back to his roots. With the help of friends with different perspectives and support from his family, Masumoto manages to complete the daily tasks of farm life and reconnects with his joy and appreciation for nature.
In the prologue, Masumoto writes, “When I first started, I realized I would never make a fortune in farming, but I hoped I could be rich in other ways and maybe, just maybe, my work would create some other kind of wealth in the process.”
I challenge you to pick up this book, or at least take some inspiration from this review and reflect on your own values. Don’t be afraid to stray from the obvious path. As we see in “Epitaph for a Peach,” while the wealth of gold maybe only goes so far as its luster, the gold of a peach represents a story – the hard work, environmental conditions, and love of a family.