Reflections by Nikiko
We kicked off spring in Oakland for the debut of a documentary film “Changing Season.” [NEXT showing in LA, info here!] It was an incredibly touching experience (and we’re so thankful for the relationships we continue to grow with our Peach Corps, who showed up in full force!).
I keep returning to one moment in the film when I’m standing in the kitchen with my dad, and we’re looking at groundwater maps. Even though our farm is located over a fairly healthy water table, nothing feels certain. We’re discussing the drought and the depletion of groundwater. I turn to my dad and ask, “Can you imagine the Masumoto family farm without peaches?”
Now I must pause and take a deep breath. A lot of things have to happen before we get to that decision point, but it’s a question that reflects the seriousness and hard questions this drought is provoking. What does sustainable agriculture look like in the Valley? How must we adapt to drought and plan for the future?
Lately the California drought has been buzzing in the state and national media. As Dan Charles from NPR suggests here, it seems that we’re looking for a villain. Someone to blame. Somebody to blame. Almond farmers? Farmers in general? California farmers? I’ve heard others point to market forces, to the rational decisions that farmers are making within the context of capitalism and consumer demand. Others point to historic patterns of over-promising water to both agriculture and people as population rises. In the midst of the dense figures and statistics, I find myself observing two things:
1) I keep wondering, what it would be like if we searched equally for drought heroes? Who are they? What are they doing? How can I be more like them?
2) It has felt like the sound-bite media has been pointing fingers at me (farmer = me). (This is a purely auto-ethnographic observation.)
I try to disrupt the impulse for defensiveness. I appreciate the call for accountability, the urgency for all of us and especially farmers to re-make our food system, and I am grateful for the critical perspectives and interrogations of savvy journalists that question some of the core trajectories and realities of agriculture in California and the United States (I deeply respect and listen to the work of Tom Philpott and On The Media‘s discussion of the CA drought), I also feel that there is a need to consider emotional intelligence: the ability to observe emotional responses and consider them as part of rational decision-making. This has been missing from the public discourse on farming and the drought.
As I struggle to translate the drought into choices for our future, I return to the question, “Can you imagine the Masumoto family farm without peaches?” I can’t help but feel an impulse to protect, to assert very aggressively: NO, that can’t be! Observing this reaction in myself, I realize changing how we farm strikes at some of the core parts of my identity.
To me, we don’t just grow fruit, this land and our perennial crops are deeply linked to a sense of who I am, to my ancestors who worked these fields and touched the bodies of our trees and vines. The landscape of our farm is my link to the memory of my family that I desperately want to keep alive. If we must change the landscape of agriculture to adapt to climate change and less water (and I think it’s pretty clear that we must), the process will involve profound loss.
There are farmers who have constructed their identities, families, and legacies upon the land. If we are to ask farmers to change how they farm, we might include considering and supporting a passage through grief, just as much as we support them in creativity and innovation.
Today, our farm is alive: the trees and vines full of vibrant greens. Baby fruit hang on the trees. There might be a blessing somewhere in this drought. I hope I will find the wisdom to create ways of preserving the essence of our farm, even as the landscape may change by necessity and the hard choices of how to use precious water.