Miriam Pawel was not expecting to return to their tiny farm in Del Rey, California — at least, not every summer. Yet she found herself there once again, amidst the triple-degree heat in July for the ninth straight year of pilgrimage with her friends to an orchard just south of Fresno, near the geographic center of California.
We come to harvest peaches from a tree we “adopted” on the farm of 65-year-old David Mas Masumoto, a third-generation Japanese-American farmer who began his adoption program to connect people to their food and to find homes for old-fashioned fruit too delicate for commercial sale. He has succeeded in ways he could not have foreseen. We are drawn back each summer by the intense flavor of the heirloom fruit, but even more by the unexpected attachments that have deepened over the harvests: bonds among members of our multigenerational team, ties with the Masumoto family, and a connection to our decades-old Elberta peach tree.
This year, however, would perhaps be one of the moments Pawel would certainly remember.
Climate change has brought extremes in heat and precipitation that play havoc with the harvest season, now elongated and unpredictable. And farm labor, long one of the few factors growers could control, has become equally unpredictable, as immigration crackdowns cause shortages and fear suffuses the largely undocumented Mexican farmworker community in the state.
When we return next year, we will see one of the more tangible consequences: Our peach tree will be two-thirds its former height. All trees on the 80-acre farm will be pruned to make them easier to be cared for by women, who have become by necessity the preferred workers for this small farm during a labor shortage that shows no sign of abating. The Masumotos hope to turn the challenge into an opportunity by shaping the trees to produce fewer, larger peaches, which command a higher price.
More details of the story over at The New York Times.
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(Image Credit: Gosia Wozniacka/Associated Press)