August 22nd is National Eat a Peach Day. Each day of the calendar year is
increasingly being used to celebrate or to bring awareness to a variety of things: like Earth Day for major environmental issues, and World Breastfeeding Week for a critical international women’s right. In the food world, each day has also been selected for a food product; sometimes, even not-the-healthiest treats have their day. Today, healthful peaches are the stars.
At Change Food, peaches remind us of Nikiko , a beginning, Asian-American peach farmer from the Central Valley of California. In March of 2015, she was a speaker at TEDxManhattan with her talk “Reigniting the Soul of Farming”. On stage, Nikiko delivered a powerful and inspiring account of her life as a farmer. In less than 15 minutes, she was able to transport viewers to her family’s famous farm, the Masumoto Family Farm, and inspire all her listeners to “remake our food system”. After watching her talk, it is impossible to eat a peach without appreciating not only the fruit’s juicy, sweet taste, but also the dedicated labor that farmers like her put in year-round to harvest and deliver healthy, flavorful peaches in the summer.
Like most farmers in the Central Valley, Nikiko and her family are facing the challenge of growing produce in the face of a prolonged drought, and historically warmer temperatures. To help conserve water, the Masumotos decided to cut down on the irrigation of their peach orchards. The result so far has been both a blessing and a struggle: smaller peaches that are more flavorful.
The sweeter taste of the smaller June Crest variety has impressed Nikiko’s father himself, who has been growing peaches since he was a young boy. However, smaller peaches have not been an easy sell to retailers that have specific size requirements for the produce, or to customers who are used to grabbing larger peaches off the shelves. The Masumotos and other family farmers from California are thus struggling to make a profit.
In the past few weeks, national and international media outlets have reported on this issue, bringing awareness to retailers and customers alike. BBC titled it “The small fruit with big flavour” and included a photo of Nikiko and her father. Food & Wine Magazine urged readers to eat fruit that is sized or shaped differently than the “aesthetic ideals” to help reduce food waste. Most recently, Civil Eats noted the Masumoto’s social media efforts to change people’s perception of small peaches, using the hashtag #SmallFruitRevolution, to help save their orchards.
This Thursday, scientists from Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory released new findings that human-caused global warming is “substantially” contributing to the severity of the California drought and that the long-term trend is for drier conditions to follow in the future. They highlighted the importance of developing sustainable water management strategies to enhance the region’s resilience to future drought.[i]
National Eat A Peach Day goes beyond eating peaches, it is about the livelihoods of family farmers, the environment, and our ability to improve them both. Be inspired to change the world with Nikiko’s TEDxManhattan talk. In Nikiko’s own words, “Let’s do something radical with our lives!”
Related talk: “How Ugly, Unloved Food Can Change the World” by Dana Cowin, Editor-in-chief at Food & Wine Magazine.
Ligia Henríquez is a contributing writer for Change Food. She holds an MPA in Environmental Science and Policy from Columbia University, and is interested in the nexus between agriculture, the environment, and health.
[i] “Warming Climate Is Deepening California Drought.” Ldeo.columbia.edu. August 20, 2015. Accessed August 20, 2015. http://www.ldeo.columbia.edu/news-events/warming-climate-deepening-california-drought.