California Grown - My Family Travels

When I wake up each morning, I look out my window, take a deep breath, and gaze out over the fertile fields. I reflect on the changing of seasons amidst the apricot trees and the table grape vines. The aroma of juicy oranges wafts in, yet just a few months ago, it was the pungent smell of raisins drying on trays in the hot September sun.

Tractor engines start — what will it be today? Disking, thinning, picking, pruning? Or finding a new alternative to control the omnipresent weeds? A rooster crows, twice. He is a bit late — the day for many here started hours ago.

Summer arrives onto this small family farm, the one onto which I was born and raised. A dying breed, statistics show.

Time drags on in the scorching triple digit heat, yet it goes too fast to be able to savor each delicate, perfect variety of stone fruit. I step into the orchard, my trusty Golden Retriever ‘watch dog’ trailing not far behind, her nose having picked up the scent of a jackrabbit or an opossum hiding in the underbrush. Birds chirp in the distance while a soft breeze cools the droplets of sweat that have formed on my forehead.

My hand reaches out, high into the branches of an O’Henry tree. I pluck a single peach from among the countless others. Its skin is a work of art, a fusion of shades of red, orange, and yellow, speckled a bit, enveloped in a protective layer of fuzz. This is the one.

I take it, spit onto it, and wipe the dirt and fuzz off onto my t-shirt. My teeth dig into the still warm, succulent, flesh. As I chew, the juice dribbles down my chin. The taste of the complex honey-like sweetness blends with the slight acidity, causing my body to tingle.

I look back on the summer before this, when I was away from the farm for two months in Boston, where I became accustomed to city life, one lacking wide-open spaces and bright starry nights, but full of ethnic cuisine and cultural opportunities — and busyness. Midway through the summer, I decided to walk to the Whole Foods in Cambridge to purchase a peach, something I had never done before.

In a state of curiosity and anticipation, I pushed my cart up to the stone fruit display. In front of me the sign beckoned, ‘California Grown Yellow Peaches: $2.49 per pound.’ I picked up a decent looking peach and read its label; it was from a packing shed and cold storage a mile or two away from my family’s farm back home. What was it doing here, so far away from its orchard, so distorted by processing and shipping? I purchased it anyways.

When I took my first bite, standing in the bustle of Harvard Square, my taste buds rebelled. What should have been the glorifying moment of the summer turned sour when I found the peach to be stringy, flavorless, and its skin waxy and colorless. To tell you the truth, I wouldn’t blame the discerning consumer for not purchasing one of these so-called peaches.

The varieties seen in supermarkets today, under the homogenized title ‘Yellow Peach,’ are grown for their long shelf life and superficial appearance. But what about flavor, what about substance? I wonder what will happen to my family’s small farm in the face of this status quo. How will we be able to weather the diminishing returns, the labor shortage, and sprawl’s encroachment? Will I be a part of the last generation to come from a mystical agrarian background? Or will I be able to bridge the gap between tradition and technology and save the small family farm?

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