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Senior Correspondent

When my ceramics teacher was demonstrating a particular technique, I said to my classmate, "He knows how to talk to the clay." The teacher quickly corrected me. "I know how to listen to the clay." That made a profound difference in his relationship to the clay and that has stayed with me.

So, a recent article in the Los Angeles Times by Miriam Pawel caught my attention. David Mas Masumoto is a peach farmer on a mission not only to grow wonderful peaches, but to "expose people to his farm and let them experience his world with all their senses — to kneel in the dirty, dusty loam, sniff the brown rot, maneuver the tripod ladders, mourn the broken branches, wrestle with the decision of when to harvest, and pursue the elusive quest for the perfect peach."

The Masumoto Peach Tree Adoption Program is a novel approach he has developed to "connect people with the food they eat." That is a simple statement with a complex, profound meaning. I, for one, grew up in the East Coast believing that food must grow in supermarkets. I didn't see my first walnut tree until I moved to California as an adult. I gasped in awe as I stood in front of a tree in my front yard and exclaimed, "Walnuts grow on trees?" One of my pure joys in visiting my students in the Chinese countryside of the 1990s was seeing rooms in their houses filled with "real" foods straight from a variety of natural sources from around their home. I especially loved hearing the chomp, chomp of the silk worms in their baskets contentedly eating the mulberry leaves. In my Russian friend's dacha outside Moscow, I delighted in picking berries that she turned into a refreshing drink.

Back to peaches. For the seventh year, Mr. Masumoto has "paired teams of peach parents with specific trees on his 80-acre organic farm in the tiny community of Del Rey, just southeast of Fresno." Trees are cutely nicknamed Fuzzy Wuzzies, Fuzzy Logic, No Peach Left Behind, among other clever monikers. In midsummer, the adopters come from all over to harvest their fruit. Four possible weekends are scheduled for the two weekends needed for harvesting because the peaches decide when they are ready to be picked. Some of the adoption teams return year after year.

Taste is the major determining factor, not durability and color stressed by Big Farma. In fact, the commercial market turns down the tastiest peaches "because they bruise too easily and turn golden yellow rather than red." Even a week can make a huge difference in the taste of the peaches. Mr. Masumoto guesses which time will be best, but if the peaches decree differently, the flexible harvesters rush to the farm to pick to the tune decreed by the peaches. The motto is, "A farmer must adapt, not fight."

Each year, the creative Mr. Masumoto, his wife, daughter, and a friend review applications of prospective harvesters and scrutinize the required essay, "If your tree could talk, what story would it tell about your team?" Up to six harvesters per team pay $600 to adopt a tree that produces 350 to 450 pounds of fruit.

The Peach Tree Adoption Program is a novel approach to what we humans need so badly these days — learning how to listen to all that nature is trying to tell us. It is perilous to continue to turn a deaf ear to nature.

Comments? Email Suellen at ZimaTravels.com

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