Leading up to TEDxManhattan 2015, we've asked this year's speakers to introduce themselves by answering a few questions. This week's guest is Nikiko Masumoto, an artist, author, and farmer who works alongside her father to raise organic peaches, nectarines and grapes on Masumoto Family Farm. Nikiko will share an intimate portrait of a human side of sustainable agriculture in her talk about three generations in her family coming home to farm.
What’s the topic you’ll be speaking about?
I’m honored to share the stories of our family farm. I’ll be channeling the wisdom and resilience of my grandfather, and the innovation and courage of my father, to tell the story of the three of us and how we came to farm.
Why is this important?
We tend to think about merits and measurements of sustainable farming in their relationship to the environment, which is important, and I would like to add a humanistic approach to thinking and practicing sustainability. The farmer and farm worker, in their wholeness as human beings, must also be part of our compassionate plan to make food systems more sustainable.
Are there other projects you’re also passionate about right now – either yours or someone else’s?
One of the most inspiring people I’ve been honored to meet is Raj Patel. He’s working on a film called Generation Food which asks us to think about the ramifications of unsustainable food systems – tied to poverty – across generations, and he’s showing us some examples of radical re-imaginings of how farming and food can feed the world. He’s incredible, those stories sounds incredible, and I can’t wait to see the film.
I’m also involved with a national group of folks doing amazing work in rural arts and culture. Groups like The Art of the Rural, Wormfarm Institute, and M12 art collective are making connections between place and creativity that blow open so many limitations that are often associated with living rurally. For example, the Wormfarm Institute hosts an annual “Fermentation Fest” combining literal fermentation practices (making beer, pickles, etc.) with the land that produces food, in an innovative intersection of art and place.
Slow down the entire thing: our practices of eating, invite more cooking, think of long-term relationship building between food producers and eaters.
They also organize a 50+ mile “Farm Art Dtour” where commissioned art is integrated into the landscape. I had the honor of attending a couple years ago as a guest artist, and left so moved by the multiple ways in which the artists called attention to the beauty of the landscape and invited different ways of thinking about rural places and food production. They inspired me to continue growing my passions for farming, place, and art.
If you could do one thing to change the food system, what would it be?
Right now, my biggest wish is to slow it down. Slow down the entire thing: our practices of eating, invite more cooking, think of long-term relationship building between food producers and eaters. I want farmers to think slowly, to think about the ability for 100 more generations to live with this earth. Slow down our demands, listen to our smallest needs, and make a billion small changes that might change the whole thing.
The only thing I hope would speed up: innovative equitable policy.
Which other 2015 TEDxManhattan speakers are you excited about hearing?
The whole cast of speakers is tremendous in the breadth and depth of knowledge! I’m particularly excited to listen to Danielle Nierenberg. I find my work as a farmer increasingly focused on small, local interactions, so I’m really interested in hearing from her point of view thinking globally. I’m ready to be challenged!
Which past speakers did you find particularly inspiring?
There are so many incredible talks. Saru Jayaranam gave a riveting talk that really added to the fire of justice in our food system. Informative and at times shocking, her words are so inspiring. Her messages resonate so deeply with me: yes, people must be also in the heart of sustainability, and we cannot change the systems by consuming, we must advocate and change policy, change the framework through which we eat. Love it!
Where can more information about your project be found?
Our family farm has a website. We are the Masumoto Family Farm, and a documentary about our farm will be premiered at the Center for Asian American Media’s film festival in San Francisco in March 2015.
What do you feel is the impact of women in farming?
First, I must always remind myself, women in farming is a very old practice. The powers that be have successfully tricked us into thinking that “farmer” is an inherently male profession – this is completely untrue historically, and isn’t true for most of the world. In the United States, recent data shows that women are a small fraction of farmers (although I would argue that some of the ways the census has tracked this has erased women’s participation in farming for decades). So, we are in the situation in which women are perceived to be “new” into farming and the prevailing sexist notions of who and what a successful farmer looks like are still very deeply ingrained. But there are revolutionary moments happening all the time.
(W)omen in farming is a very old practice... We are in the situation in which women are perceived to be “new” into farming and the prevailing sexist notions of who and what a successful farmer looks like are still very deeply ingrained.
In my own life, sexism has manifested itself in my work as a farmer in many ways. But, instead of telling those stories, I want to share a moment of possibility and subversion. Last summer I was delivering the peaches we had picked that day to the shipping dock. One of the forklift drivers said to me in a curious and honest way, “I don’t see too many girls delivering here.” While I took offense to the concept of myself as a girl – I’m 28 years old – I decided the moment was ripe for some larger undermining. I looked up with a big smile and said, “Yes, but, I know I won’t be the last.” We nodded to each other.
This is the movement I feel coming, sustainable farming must be a feminist practice as well. We must continue to assess and re-create our agricultural system that opens the doors to people of all genders, including gender-queer, transgender, and otherwise yet to be imagined genders.
It is a small step, but it is one, and if women in farming in the United States can champion themselves, question the patriarchy, and continue to re-make the farm system a feminist one.
TEDxManhattan, "Changing the Way We Eat," will take place March 7, 2015, at the TimesCenter in New York City. Interested in joining the day? You can apply to attend, or host or attend a viewing party.