Small farmers turn to creative projects to survive

Gosia Wozniacka, Associated Press

In this photo taken on Friday, June 7, 2013, farmer David Mas Masumoto inspects just-harvested peaches in his orchard in Del Rey, Calif. The Masumotos, a fourth generation farming family, have seen the disappearance of family farms swallowed by giant agribusinesses, the turn toward organics, and the resurgence of small farm culture. (AP Photo/Gosia Wozniacka)

DEL REY, Calif. (AP) -- Farmer David Mas Masumoto knows his small peach orchard can't compete with the giant agribusinesses that dominate the nation's produce aisles.

So as he walks through his central California grove at harvest time, showing his two workers which trees to pick, his wife and daughter, Marcy and Nikiko, work a different side of the operation, preparing a recipe from the family's newly published cookbook.

They saute fresh peach slices in butter and brandy, then whip heavy cream and pour wholegrain batter into a waffle iron, creating one of the dozens of dishes from "The Perfect Peach."

"The cookbook," says Nikiko Masumoto, 27, who co-authored the book with her parents, "is a natural extension of what we've been trying to do for years on the farm: to use creative ways to share our story and galvanize people about our fruit."

Like the Masumotos, small-scale growers throughout the U.S. are looking for creative ways to set themselves apart as they find that survival requires more than just selling crops. Experts say these practices are shifting notions of how small farms operate. Since the little guys can't beat corporate giants on price or production, they're cashing in on something the big shots can't provide: an intimate, personal experience.

Across the nation, family businesses are capitalizing on small farm culture by selling products such as jam, olive oil and lemonade. They're also writing books, hosting dinners and renting rooms. The ventures allow the public to share the experience and flavor of small farm life.

"The opportunities for farmers are significant today, because many of us as eaters want to make the connection to the food system, the land and the farmer," says Craig McNamara, founder and president of the Center for Land-Based Learning in Winters, Calif., which trains and mentors new farmers.

In industry terms, it's called value-added agriculture, and statistics show the practice is growing. According to the most recent data available, farm operators generated $10 billion in 2007 from farm-related activities other than crop or livestock wholesale, an increase of nearly 80 percent from 2002.

Value-added agriculture projects are "a way to have a product to sell year-round, even during winter months," says Shermain Hardesty, leader of the small farm program at the University of California, Davis.

"It reinforces farmers' connection to consumers," says Hardesty, who teaches a popular class on the specialty food business. "And by getting involved in marketing their identities, they can expand their profitability."

The examples abound. Just south of Hood River, Ore., Draper Girls' Country Farm lets people pick their own fruit or rent a room, in addition to selling jams and jellies and cinnamon-sugar dried apples. The 40-acre farm also makes fresh non-pasteurized apple cider in its own mill.

The Free Spirit Farm in Winters, Calif., grows produce on 7 acres and delivers it directly to over 40 restaurant chefs in the San Francisco Bay Area.

And the 40-acre Green Mountain Girls Farm in Northfield, Vt., which raises pastured goats, chickens, pigs and turkeys and grows vegetables and fruit trees, offers farm stays, cooking classes and workshops on how to milk goats and make cheese and yogurt.

"Contemporary people are fairly distant from farms, so we're trying to reconnect them directly with family scale faming and rebuild their skills, so they can use them on a daily basis," said farm co-owner Mari Omland. "We offer something deeply personal, highly authentic, hands on."

For the Masumotos, who have worked California's fields for four generations, it took time to figure out how to best sustain their operation as giant agribusinesses swallowed other family farms.

The corporations that produce millions upon millions of pounds of fruit in the San Joaquin Valley take up massive tracts of land. Gerawan Farming, for example, controls 9,000 acres. And nearby Wawona Packing Co. grows stone fruit on 6,000 acres.

The Masumotos, by comparison, produce stone fruit on just 25 acres.

David Mas Masumoto switched to organics in the 1980s, but found that selling sustainably-farmed fruit proved challenging in an era of perfectly uniform supermarket peaches.

He wrote a book, "Epitaph for a Peach," about the struggle to save his heirloom peaches and way of life. And over the years, the family turned that unlikely crop and uncommon lifestyle into a hip, profitable business by involving consumers in the farm through stories.

Each year, people from Los Angeles, San Francisco and beyond come to the farm to pick their own ripe fruit and spend the day interacting with the farmers. Masumoto writes a farming column for the local paper, and Nikiko Masumoto uses Twitter and Facebook to update the public about the harvest.

The family hopes the cookbook adds to those efforts.

In addition to recipes ranging from peach gazpacho to peach shortcake, the book includes essays that provide glimpses into a small farm's life and vulnerabilities — the sweat, the mistakes, even death. It's an intentional effort, says Masumoto, because artisanal agriculture is highly personal and transparent when compared with the anonymity and homogeneity of corporate farming.

"The new agriculture is about story-based farming. It cares about the community, the farmworkers and the environment," Masumoto says. "The more we can differentiate from corporate farms, the more we can gain a new identity and be financially successful."

---

Follow Gosia Wozniacka on Twitter at https://twitter.com/GosiaWozniacka

  • Xi Jinping urges China's army to prepare for armed combat as Hong Kong protests restart over a new bill that would strip away the city's freedoms
    Business Insider

    Xi Jinping urges China's army to prepare for armed combat as Hong Kong protests restart over a new bill that would strip away the city's freedoms

    Reuters Chinese President Xi Jinping urged his army to increase its preparedness for "armed combat" as protests in Hong Kong ramp up over a proposed new law that would effectively strip away the city's autonomy. Xi on Tuesday told Chinese military officers on the sidelines of the National People's Congress (NPC) — an annual weeklong gathering of China's top legislative bodies — that the military must "explore ways of training and preparing for war" amid the coronavirus pandemic.

  • Pandemic probe: Brazil police raid Rio governor's residence
    Associated Press

    Pandemic probe: Brazil police raid Rio governor's residence

    Brazilian police targeted a staunch opponent of President Jair Bolsonaro's push to lift measures to contain the spread of COVID-19 in one of the world's disease hot spots, searching the residence of the Rio de Janeiro state governor on Tuesday. The federal prosecutor´s office said in a statement that Gov. Wilson Witzel, a former federal judge, was personally targeted by the 12 search and seizure warrants in Rio and Sao Paulo states. An ongoing investigation pointed to irregularities in contracts awarded for the construction of emergency field hospitals in Rio, and involved health officials, police said in a statement.

  • Malka Leifer: Rape-accused ex-principal fit for extradition to Australia
    BBC

    Malka Leifer: Rape-accused ex-principal fit for extradition to Australia

    An Israeli woman facing 74 child sex charges in Australia is mentally fit to face extradition, a court has ruled. Malka Leifer, the former principal of a Jewish girls' school in Melbourne, fled to Israel in 2008 after accusations were raised against her. Judge Chana Lomp set 20 July 2020 as the date for a renewal of the extradition process to take the suspect back from Israel to Australia.

  • Indian drones pursue locusts as swarms destroy swathes of crops
    AFP

    Indian drones pursue locusts as swarms destroy swathes of crops

    Huge swarms of desert locusts are destroying crops across western and central India, prompting authorities Tuesday to step up their response to the country's worst plague in nearly three decades. "Eight to 10 swarms, each measuring around a square kilometre are active in parts of Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh," the government's Locust Warning Organisation's deputy director K.L. Gurjar told AFP. The insects caused massive damage to seasonal crops in both states, devastating many farmers already struggling with the impact of a strict coronavirus lockdown.

  • Michigan Gov. Whitmer calls husband's boat launch request a 'failed attempt at humor' amid backlash
    NBC News

    Michigan Gov. Whitmer calls husband's boat launch request a 'failed attempt at humor' amid backlash

    Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer on Tuesday attempted to quell growing criticism after her husband dropped her name while trying to get his boat in the water for the Memorial Day Weekend. "My husband made a failed attempt at humor last week when checking in with the small business that helps with our boat and dock up north," Whitmer said. The controversy started when Tad Dowker, the owner of a northern Michigan dock company, was reported to have posted to Facebook that Whitmer's husband, Marc Mallory, tried to use his status as first husband to get his boat launched ahead of Memorial Day weekend — even as Whitmer was cautioning residents to resist flocking to popular vacation areas.

  • Philippine children have been traumatised by abusive drugs war, says Human Rights Watch probe
    The Telegraph

    Philippine children have been traumatised by abusive drugs war, says Human Rights Watch probe

    Thousands of children in the Philippines have suffered lasting physical, emotional and economic harm from the brutal drugs war instigated by Rodrigo Duterte, the Philippine president, according to an investigation released by Human Rights Watch on Wednesday. The disturbing report, which documents the trauma of children whose parents or guardians have been violently killed, comes a few weeks before an expected decision the UN Human Rights Council to set up an independent international investigation into the Philippines' controversial counter-drugs operations. The spiraling death toll among alleged drug dealers and users since Mr Duterte rose to power in 2016 vowing to “feed the fish in Manila Bay” has caused international alarm.

  • Easing Europe confident of avoiding coronavirus lockdown sequel
    Reuters

    Easing Europe confident of avoiding coronavirus lockdown sequel

    Armed with mass testing and tracing capabilities, a growing number of European countries are expressing confidence that they can avoid a return to economically-devastating coronavirus lockdowns. While most European countries failed to contain the coronavirus outbreak when it reached them in February and March, Belgium and Poland are among those who say they are far better placed to deal with any so-called second wave. After nearly two months of clampdowns, pupils are returning to school and non-food shops or restaurants are re-opening, albeit with warnings that this easing could be stopped or even reversed if coronavirus cases start to spike.

  • Coronavirus: Trump pushes for schools to reopen on ‘much very good information’ as Covid-19 death toll nears 100,000
    The Independent

    Coronavirus: Trump pushes for schools to reopen on ‘much very good information’ as Covid-19 death toll nears 100,000

    Donald Trump has implored schools to open as soon as possible, citing that "much very good information" could make it possible as the coronavirus death toll nears 100,000. Fox News anchor Steve Hilton made the claims, and he was later tagged in the president's tweet after the segment aired. During a virtual town hall with Fox News last month, Mr Trump was asked about reopening schools and said students would be relatively safe to return.

  • Tropical Storm Bertha forms off South Carolina coast, could bring up to 8 inches of rain to some areas
    USA TODAY

    Tropical Storm Bertha forms off South Carolina coast, could bring up to 8 inches of rain to some areas

    Tropical Storm Bertha formed off the South Carolina coast Wednesday morning, the second named storm of the 2020 Atlantic hurricane season, which doesn't officially begin until June 1. A tropical storm warning has been put in place for much of the South Carolina coast. The main impact from Bertha will be heavy rain, the National Hurricane Center said, primarily in portions of South and North Carolina and Virginia.

  • Sweden touts the success of its controversial lockdown-free coronavirus strategy, but the country still has one of the highest mortality rates in the world
    Business Insider

    Sweden touts the success of its controversial lockdown-free coronavirus strategy, but the country still has one of the highest mortality rates in the world

    JONATHAN NACKSTRAND/AFP via Getty Images Swedish officials praised the success of the country's lockdown-free coronavirus strategy on Tuesday, saying the relaxed policies had helped slow the transmission of COVID-19. "Transmission is slowing down, the treatment of COVID-19 patients in intensive care is decreasing significantly, and the rising death toll curve has been flattened," Swedish Foreign Minister Ann Linde said at a press briefing. But the wider picture of the country's coronavirus response is a bit more complicated.

  • Huawei CFO Meng to find out if her fraud case will proceed
    Associated Press

    Huawei CFO Meng to find out if her fraud case will proceed

    A top executive of Chinese tech giant Huawei is scheduled to learn Wednesday if a U.S extradition case against her can proceed. Canada arrested Meng Wanzhou, the daughter of Huawei's founder, at Vancouver's airport in late 2018. British Columbia Supreme Court Justice Heather Homes is scheduled to rule if the allegations against Meng in the U.S. would also be a crime in Canada if committed here.

  • Nasa SpaceX launch: Evolution of the spacesuit
    BBC

    Nasa SpaceX launch: Evolution of the spacesuit

    The spacesuits that will be worn by astronauts on Wednesday's Crew Dragon launch have been getting a lot of attention. How do they differ from other attire worn by astronauts down the years? The futuristic flight suits that will be worn by Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken on Wednesday look like they're a world away from the bulky orange shuttle flight suits worn when astronauts last launched from Florida's Kennedy Space Center.

  • A Florida teacher convicted of multiple sex crimes involving students begged a judge for castration instead of prison time
    INSIDER

    A Florida teacher convicted of multiple sex crimes involving students begged a judge for castration instead of prison time

    Tony Giberson/Reuters Mark Lua, a former Florida teacher, pleaded guilty last year to charges related to the sexual abuse of students. Last week, during his sentencing hearing, Mark Lua asked for chemical castration instead of a prison sentence. The judge ignored his request and sentenced him to 12 years in prison, according to the Pensacola News Journal.

  • Taiwan leader vows 'action plan' for Hong Kong protesters
    AFP

    Taiwan leader vows 'action plan' for Hong Kong protesters

    Taiwan's President Tsai Ing-wen on Wednesday pledged a humanitarian "action plan" for Hong Kongers pushing for democracy in the financial hub as an influx of activists seek sanctuary on the self-ruled democratic island. Hong Kong was upended by months of often violent pro-democracy protests last year sparked by rising fears that Beijing is chipping away at the city's freedoms. Unrest has returned in recent days after Beijing announced plans last week to impose a sweeping national security law in response to the protests, a move that has alarmed many western governments and Taiwan.

  • Chinese media says Wuhan had live virus
    Yahoo News Video

    Chinese media says Wuhan had live virus

    The Chinese virology institute at the centre of US allegations it may have been the source of the COVID-19 pandemic has three live strains of bat coronavirus on-site, but none match the new global contagion, its director has said.

  • India detains pigeon on suspicion of spying for Pakistan
    The Telegraph

    India detains pigeon on suspicion of spying for Pakistan

    An intrepid Pakistani 'spy' pigeon is facing a life behind bars in India. The allegation was made after Geeta Devi, a resident of the Kathua district of Indian-administered Kashmir, reported a bird - painted pink and carrying a coded ring tagged to its foot - flew into her home on Sunday night. The Indian Border Security Force passed the pigeon on to the police, who launched an investigation and logged the animal as a 'Pak Suspected Spy.'

  • Trump shares disturbing meme of Biden's campaign in a coffin
    The Week

    Trump shares disturbing meme of Biden's campaign in a coffin

    President Trump has given the Biden campaign a death sentence — literally. On Tuesday, Trump shared a video declaring former Vice President Joe Biden's campaign effectively over for declaring that black voters who can't decide between him and Trump "ain't black." It first shares the devastating clip, and then cuts to video of Ghana's dancing pallbearers, with Biden's campaign logo on the coffin.

  • Brazil coronavirus deaths could surpass 125,000 by August, U.S. study says
    Reuters

    Brazil coronavirus deaths could surpass 125,000 by August, U.S. study says

    As Brazil's daily COVID-19 death rate climbs to the highest in the world, a University of Washington study is warning its total death toll could climb five-fold to 125,000 by early August, adding to fears it has become a new hot spot in the pandemic. The forecast from the University of Washington's Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME), released as Brazil's daily death toll climbed past that of the United States on Monday, came with a call for lockdowns that Brazil's president has resisted.

  • A member of a North Carolina anti-lockdown group says he's 'willing to kill people' to defend his rights
    Business Insider

    A member of a North Carolina anti-lockdown group says he's 'willing to kill people' to defend his rights

    ReOpen NC, an anti-lockdown group that has entered the spotlight for its protests across North Carolina, may use violence to ward off public-health measures, says one member. "Are we willing to kill people?" asked Adam Smith, the husband of ReOpen NC founder Ashley Smith. The anti-lockdown group describes itself as "peaceful" on its social media page.

  • Afghan government releases hundreds of Taliban prisoners
    Associated Press

    Afghan government releases hundreds of Taliban prisoners

    The Afghan government released hundreds of Taliban prisoners Tuesday, its single largest prisoner release since the U.S. and the Taliban signed a peace deal earlier this year that spells out an exchange of detainees between the warring sides. The government announced it would release 900 Taliban prisoners as a three-day cease-fire with the insurgents draws to an end. The Taliban had called for the truce during the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Fitr that marks the end of the Islamic holy month of Ramadan.

  • 'Deeply disturbing' report into Ontario care homes released
    BBC

    'Deeply disturbing' report into Ontario care homes released

    A Canadian province has launched an investigation into five Ontario elder care homes following the release of a "deeply disturbing" report. The Canadian armed forces report found instances of insect infestations, poor hygiene practices, and neglect, among other concerns. In one home, patients who had tested positive for Covid-19 were able to wander the premises.

  • 'I can't breathe': Man dies after pleading with officer during Minneapolis detainment
    NBC News

    'I can't breathe': Man dies after pleading with officer during Minneapolis detainment

    A man exclaiming "I can't breathe" as a Minneapolis police officer pinned him to the ground and put his knee on the man's neck for about eight minutes died Monday night, prompting the FBI and the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension to step in and investigate. Video of the incident shows that a white police officer had a black man pinned to the ground next to the back tire of his patrol car with his knee on the man's neck. Onlookers outside the Minneapolis deli urge the officer to get off the man.

  • $11,000 in personal items stolen from doctor visiting New York to fight coronavirus, report says
    The Independent

    $11,000 in personal items stolen from doctor visiting New York to fight coronavirus, report says

    A Texas doctor who moved to New York temporarily to assist in the fight against coronavirus has had $11,000 worth of personal items stolen from her hotel room, according to a report. Police sources told The New York Post that a woman who was believed to be in her 20's reportedly broke into the unidentified doctor's room at the Brooklyn Hotel on Atlantic Avenue at around 9am on Saturday. According to the report, the suspect proceeded to steal around $11,000 worth of personal items from the room including jewelry and clothing.

  • Family separation returns under cover of the coronavirus
    LA Times

    Family separation returns under cover of the coronavirus

    U.S. officials are fighting in court to take the three children and deport them to El Salvador — to no one. The only way to avoid being separated from their parents, officials say, would be for their mother in Mexico to give up, too. Government lawyers said they'd put her on a plane with the kids if she agreed to return to El Salvador and never again try to join her husband in the U.S. This is the new family separation, two years after taking kids from their parents at the border blew up into a crisis for the Trump administration.

  • South Korea sees biggest jump in virus cases in seven weeks
    AFP

    South Korea sees biggest jump in virus cases in seven weeks

    South Korea reported its biggest jump in coronavirus infections in seven weeks on Wednesday, driven by a fresh cluster at an e-commerce warehouse on Seoul's outskirts, as millions more pupils went back to school. The country has been held up as a global model in how to curb the virus and has rushed to contain new infections as life returns to normal. But officials announced 40 new cases Wednesday -- taking its total to 11,265 -- with most new infections from the densely populated Seoul metropolitan area.