Herd About It?
by Ana Agrarian
I have just finished reading “Praise for the Wisdom of the Last Farmer” by David Mas Masumoto. This is a beautiful book and a joy to read. David is a small organic fruit farmer in California. His grandfathers emigrated to the US from family farms in Japan, in the late 1890’s. In the US at that time alien land laws prevented nonnative-born Asians from owning land. So they worked hard for other farmers, saving their money, and dreaming of the time when their sons could buy a farm. They survived the Great Depression.
Then in December of 1941 Pearl Harbor was bombed and Japanese immigrants and American born Japanese were interned in “relocation camps” and their property confiscated. The dream was brutally postponed again.
In 1950 David’s father bought a farm in California’s Central Valley. After the war was over, when he returned from the Army (yes, as his family lived in the internment camps, he and his brother, and many other young Japanese, enlisted or were drafted into the Army of their new country) he first rented land and then bought what would become his legacy. Grandfather was happy but Grandmother fretted saying “why gamble when they can take it all away?” Her bitterness over the internment and the loss of her older son in the war was a hard thing to overcome. At first she refused to go, but eventually she supplied as necessary a part of the farm work as any of the men.
David acknowledges the difficulties his family has gone through. The unfairness in the early years. The difficulty of running a small farm first with the prejudice against Japanese and later as modern business practices demanded fruit with less flavor but greater resistance to damage while being stored and shipped over long distances.
Last Farmer acknowledges those difficulties but it is not about them. This is a love song. A love song to the wisdom of the last farmer, or previous farmer, his father. It is a song about lessons learned and the patience in which they were applied. David’s father had a stroke and David became the “man in charge” before he was ready. This book is a ballad of the way he and his father learned to farm together then, and the lessons he’s learned from the soil. It is a hope that he will also become a wise farmer and be able to pass that wisdom on to his daughter and to show the same patience as she learns. her way to farm.
This book reminds us why, in the long run we care so much about our farms and farmers. Why we do it, when we feel unappreciated and under the gun, and so tired at the end of the day. It is because the land and our heritage speak to us.