We had the chance to catch up with David ‘Mas’ Masumoto BA’76, organic farmer and author of nine books including Epitaph for a Peach, as he celebrates his 40th Reunion this year. His roots reach far beyond the orchards of his farm in Del Ray, CA, starting from his family in Japan, and extending to communities, cultures and generations in California. He remains deeply connected to his alma mater on many levels—as an alumnus, Cal parent, and now as an advisor for the UC Global Food Initiative, spearheaded by UC President Janet Napolitano. His Cal connections have also greatly impacted his business–25 years ago, Mas’ organic peaches caught the taste-buds of fellow alum and Chez Panisse founder, Alice Waters BA’67. Mas reflects on his time at Cal, and how his experience got him to where he is now.
Mas grew up on the farm his grandparents cultivated in the Central Valley after they were released from a WWII internment camp. When it was time for Mas to leave for college in 1972, he was anxious to escape what he always knew and explore the world. With that spirit, he set off for UC Berkeley with no intention of returning to the family farm. For Mas, campus brimmed with energy and excitement. It was there that he felt inspired by the passionate classmates that surrounded him, and where he cultivated his lifelong love of learning. He majored in Sociology, and studied under Dr. Harry Edwards, whose classes opened Mas’ world to totally different perspectives and to the power of learning. His Asian American ethnic studies classes had an important impact on his thinking and inspired him to dig deeper into his roots.
As a student, Mas took the opportunity to study abroad in the same rice village in Japan from where his grandparents came. Studying abroad was a life changing experience that allowed him to reconnect with his Japanese heritage. He internalized a deeper sense of history and understanding of what his grandparents felt, and the opportunity to connect this history to the immigrant experience of other Japanese Americans. Working on a rice farm also revitalized his relationship with farming and showed him the power of working with nature. He describes this experience as “coming full circle,” in realizing the “freedom that he felt at Cal was the same freedom he could feel on the farm.” Equipped with new adventures, Mas did what he never thought he would do, and returned to the Central Valley. In doing so, he brought his family farm to a new generation and era of farming. The farm continues as a family effort—Mas’ wife Marcy, and their two children, Nikiko and Korio, all work together.
Mas’ daughter Nikiko followed in her father’s footsteps and graduated from Cal in 2007. As a graduation present, Mas gave Nikiko what he received from his parents when he graduated—a lifetime membership to the Cal Alumni Association. He wanted his daughter to remain connected to her alma mater, just as he felt.
Similar to her father, Nikiko enrolled at Cal with every intention to leave the farm for good. Although they were on campus at very different times, both father and daughter shared similar experiences from college, especially in how they cultivated their passion for learning. As a Cal parent, Mas watched his daughter create her identity at school, majoring in Women’s Studies and finding inspiration in her classes. But the class that would impact Nikiko’s post-graduation life the most was actually in Environmental Studies. For her, something clicked in that class. She connected the significance of their organic farm, as an important part of a greater context. This class showed her that “going home could be a powerful, radical thing,” and was a significant factor in her decision to return to the farm. Their family collaboration isn’t just limited to farming—they write books together, and this year, Mas and Nikiko published their latest: Changing Seasons: A Father, A Daughter and A Family Farm.
In conjunction with the book, the Masumoto family made their screen debut as subjects of a PBS documentary called, “Changing Season: Life on the Masumoto Farm,” airing nation-wide this month. Over the course of a year, cameras followed the family and captured their lives as they transition the farm to a new generation. One scene in particular will be recognizable to Cal alums—the documentary shows Mas’ surprise 60th birthday party at Alumni House.
Giving Back to Cal
About 25 years ago, Alice Waters heard of Mas’ peaches, and since then, they have been business partners and longtime friends. She introduced his peaches to her restaurant Chez Panisse, which helped establish his farm as one of the top organic farms in California. Their relationship also helped pioneer the farm to table movement, in addition to supporting sustainability, local farming communities, and food education. Mas’ connection to Cal also extends to current students through his involvement with the UC Global Food Initiative, which seeks to solve problems in food security, health and sustainability. Through the initiative, he hosts students from a wide array of majors, addressing topics from engineering systems to nutrition. Working with a new generation of students has been a wonderful experience for Mas, as he continues to knit communities and generations of Cal students together.
For more information about Mas and the Masumoto Family Farm, please see their website. You can find where to get Mas’ fruits, and the schedule to watch their documentary on PBS this month. Please check out more information about the UC Global Food Initiative here.