Masumoto Family Farm, pt. 1

A grove of the famed Sun Crest peaches in bloom

The first day of March, a pleasant warm day, I drove up to Fresno to photograph David "Mas" Masumoto and his family at their farm.

I'd met his wife Marcy Masumoto last Fall and I asked her about photographing her family for the Culinaria project. I had in mind photographing them closer to harvest time with peaches on the trees, maybe piggybacking the shoot with a trip up to SF to make for a more efficient production. Then I received an email from her in February letting me know that the trees were blooming. Peach blossoms! Being the city boy that I am, it didn’t even dawn on me to think about the blooms. As soon as I heard it though, I knew this was the right moment. Efficient production be damned, I needed to go to Fresno now! Taking a look at my schedule, We figured out a day for the shoot.

The agreed upon day was also Super Tuesday. I was happy to get out for a road trip and detach myself from the world for the day. I had been cooped up in my office for several weeks doing lots of retouching and following the crazy primary cycle listening to tons of NPR. When you start hearing the voices of Robert Siegel and Audie Cornish (lovely voices though they may be) in your dreams, it’s time to unplug! After taking many six-hour drives up to San Francisco during the course of working on this project, a three hour trip up to Fresno was a breeze. I was up there in no time.

Elberta peach blooms. Mas loves these blooms as they look like little pom poms covering the trees.

When you arrive at the Masumoto Family farm, the first thing that you will encounter are the five-dog greeting party. They run down the driveway to meet you and trot alongside the car back to the house. The dogs barking was the cue for Marcy as she came out to greet me as I drove up to the house. Mas was out working on the field so she welcomed me into their house and showed me around. Soon enough, Mas came in from the fields and after a brief chat, he took me on a tour of his farm.

Some of the welcoming committee

The Masumoto Family farm is the farm we have in our minds, the bucolic family-owned slice of Americana straight out of central casting: An “L” shaped lot totaling 80 acres with the inviting home in the bend of the “L” framed by a stately sycamore tree providing much welcomed shade during the 100 plus degree summer heat, a weathered old barn housing the tractors and tools, an old red truck to get around the farm and the previously mentioned packs of friendly dogs running around rooting for lizards. The only thing that looks a little out of place in this agricultural setting are the his-and-hers Priuses parked next to the house.

The Masumoto Home with the stately sycamore tree providing shade during summer.

Mas pointed out the different areas of the farm, what grew where, the history behind the varieties he grew, stories about individual trees. He explained how his farm differed from the other farms in the area in his methods. Gave me a quick lesson in botany as he dissected the peach blossom, pointing out the different parts of the flower and showing me the tiny little bud that will grow into a large, sweet peach fruit. And he did this all the while regaling me with his family history and stories from his experience growing the farm from one of many anonymous family farms in the San Joaquin valley into a highly regarded name brand in the food world.     

Mas peels away the petals to show the tiny white fuzzy orb that will grow into a peach

A Sun Crest peach tree is bound with ropes for two purposes: to train the branches to grow into the right shape and to support the branches from the heavy load of the fruits once they ripen

Mas's enthusiasm and pride in what he does as he gave me the tour reminded me of Gary Guittard, the head of Guittard Chocolate Company and fourth generation chocolatier. The time I met Gary, I arrived at the end of the day to photograph him and his daughter Amy. I asked for a brief tour of the facilities to figure out where to photograph them. I would not have been surprised if he gave me a quick cursory tour of the facilities being in a hurry to get home after having spent the whole day working. In fact, I kinda expected it. Instead, he took me on a detailed tour of the Guittard Factory showing me all the process in turning cocoa beans into chocolates, explaining the steps, turning on the machines that had quit for the day so that I can see the powders coming out of the chutes and so on. Gary was evidently very proud of his job and proud of carrying on the family business. And so is Mas.

A cluster of flddleneck plants. Mas encourages the growth of these "weeds" and other wildflowers for cover growth since they help enrich the soil. These plants don't attract pests and provide pollen for the bees. Peaches are self pollinating so Mas does not need to rely on the pollinators for his work but stresses the importance of supporting them for the health of the broader community

Another wild flower growing alongside the fiddlenecks

After the mini tour, we began shooting, with Mas and Marcy in front of the blooming peach trees. Soon after, Nikiko, their daughter arrived. Nikiko is continuing the family tradition of farming, the fourth generation to do so. I always enjoy observing the dynamics of a family and to see how each member relates with the others. It was wonderful to see the Masumotos interact with each other: joking around, talking about how their day is going, reminisce about various small family stories for the benefit of the stranger. Small talk, really. Nothing of consequence. What they said was less important than how they said it. The happy family before me was befitting the setting we were in.

Mas is showing me the consistency of the soil. He explains that the root system of the plants and the microorganisms make the soil act like a sponge when it rains, holding onto the water. In conventional farming dependent on fertilizers and pesticides, the soil lacks the root system and the water passes through the soil down to the water table

Four different set ups, with different permutations of the three of them, the shoot took quite a bit of time. During all this, they all patiently listened to my requests, stood where I asked them to stand, turn their bodies just so, raise their chins, move their arms. They were very generous with their time for the shoot, never once pressing me or watching the clocks. But once the shoot was done with the sun below the horizon, Mas promptly but politely said his goodbyes and excused himself, explaining he needed to get in one more task. For the work is never done for a farmer.

My last view of Mas was same as my first, on a tractor working the field. Mas drove his tractor into the field accompanied by a dog playfully jumping around the tractor, getting in the last chore as the sky quickly changed from indigo blue to no color at all.