Peach Picking Time at the Masumoto Family Farm

Last Tuesday, I received a text from Christine Schantz, Managing Director of programs and community at Seedling Projects. She was going to pick peaches at the Masumoto Family Farm with a group. Did I want to join? Heck yeah!

Ever since I heard about David Mas Masumoto and his highly regarded peaches, I've been eager to try one of his legendary peaches. Of the many problems we face in the food world, the one I lament the most is the decline in quality of peaches you find in supermarkets. So I was excited at the opportunity Christine extended to me.

The Elberta peaches.

Masumoto has been running a tree adoption program where you can adopt an Elberta peach tree or a Le Grand nectarine tree. For the adoption fee, Masumoto will do all the work in growing the tree and come harvest time, you get to pick the fruits.

For two weekends in late July or August, the tree adopters will gather at the farm to pick the fruits. It's an event with the Masumoto family welcoming all onto their family farm. Speeches are made, instructions are given on how to pick peaches and with the help of volunteers, meals provided for the pickers.

The morning orientation for the excited group ready to harvest their fruits.

Volunteers working hard to prepare meals for the group

A cross between a truck stop preacher and a street hawker, Mas evangelizes on the beauty of his peaches.

Mas squeezes a peach to demonstrate how juicy it is.

The group I was invited to join for the day was organized by Pei-ru Ko of Real Food, Real Stories. RFRS adopted four trees in all and the members of the group were all seriously active in the food community. Besides the aforementioned Christine and Pei-ru, the group included Naomi Starkman from Civil Eats, Zoe Wong from Cerplus, Sean Timberlake of Punk Domestics blog, Faun Skyles from Bi-Rite Market, and Anthony Chang from Kitchen Table Advisors. There were more in the group but I didn't get their names (sorry, peach in my brains!)

Zoe Wong introducing herself to the group

Zoe Wong, co-founder of Cerplus is on a mission to reduce food waste. Appropriately enough, she was finding all the ugly fruits including this one. It had the pit sticking out.

The participants are asked to sign a bucket. All the signed buckets from previous years were hanging from a tree.

Off to pick some LeGrand nectarines.

I don't know how many of you have pastoral fantasies of picking a fruit at its peak ripeness off the tree and eating it right then. I do. And it was dream come true in many ways to try a peach straight off the tree. Oh and what peach! Big, fat and juicy and sweet. Not too fuzzy or stringy. With a bite, the juices ran down the forearms and the flesh of the peach just melted in your mouth. It was the platonic ideal of a peach.

(L-R) Ken Park, Faun Skyles, Sean Timberlake, Naomi Starkman, Mas, Christine Schantz, Zoe Wong, Christie Lee

The big surprise for me of the day was the Le Grand nectarines. I was never a fan of nectarines. They just never tasted good. Often too tart, if they had any flavor to them at all. Usually mushy. And the way the flesh clung to the pit was annoying, unlike a ripe peach that gave up its pit cleanly with a gentle nudge. I was a bit disappointed to hear RFRS had adopted more nectarine trees than peach trees. That is until I tried one. It had all the attributes of the Elbertas but sweeter! What a revelation. Now I understand what all the fuss is about! And I realize I never had a good nectarine until now. 

The group was busy with harvesting when Mas came by to say hello. He insisted that they break for a moment and try the nectarines straight off the trees. As the group ate the fruit, he described the attributes of a great nectarine.

Naomi Starkman, founder and Editor-in-Chief of Civil Eats and Ken Park

Mas said the ripe nectarines remind him of ornaments on a Christmas tree.

Depending on the season, each tree will yield about 300-400 lbs of fruit.

Tables were set up around the orchard for people to eat, rest and socialize.

Nikiko Masumoto and Faun Skyles.

When you become involved in a community, the world becomes smaller. At a farm in Fresno, three hours away from LA, I ran into Anna Smith Clark and her son Brody as well as Anna Ghosh and her family. I randomly met the parents of someone I photographed back in April in San Francisco. I also ran into someone I know from the music/audio world. Amazing how randomly interconnected our lives can be.

(L-R) Abhijit Ghosh with his daughter, Brody and Anne Smith Clark, founder of Get Gone Traveler and Anna Ghosh with 18 Reasons

I randomly struck up a conversation with this couple, Jean and Paul. When Paul told me his last name, I realized I'd photographed his daughter Jenny back in April at the TCAF conference! Small World!

Anna with some of her bounty for the weekend.

One of the volunteers. She was responsible for baking the hundreds of the tasty biscuits we had for the brunch.

During the event, Mas walked around making sure to say hello to everyone, signing books, giving short lessons about peaches. "Isn't this great?" he told me, just beaming. "This is the day I get to see all my customers." 

For one day the machines were at rest.

Not too many farmers have books to sell.

This kid went up to Mas and asked him for a hug.

The folks at Bruery Terreux made a batch of sour beer with the nectarines from the Masumoto Family Farm. Here, Marcy proudly displays some of the samples they brought for the Masumotos.

Korio Masumoto and Jean

I've done crazier things than drive up three hours to Fresno at a moment's notice to pick peaches and nectarines. But none with such rich payoff: Hang out with the Masumoto family, meet cool people active in the food community and come home with boxes of the best peaches and nectarines I've ever tasted. When's the next harvest?

Thanks to Christine Schantz for the invitation. Thanks to Pei-ru and the rest of the group for welcoming me into their group for the day and thanks to the Masumotos for their warmth and fantastic work.