Editor’s Desk: Don’t just read, listen

Farm in the Tulare Lake Basin. Photo by Beth Beth LaBerge/KQED

By Samuel Fromartz

As you’ve probably noticed, we continue to expand our audio reporting, most recently in collaboration with The California Report, a magazine show from San Francisco-based KQED that reaches more than 60 stations and 300,000 listeners. We had two new stories on the show recently.

The first, from Teresa Cotsirilos, our West Coast staff reporter and producer, takes listeners to Allensworth in the San Joaquin Valley. The largely farmworker community of 500 residents was founded over a hundred years ago and was the first in California to be financed, built and governed by African Americans. The town sits at the edge of an area called the Tulare Lake Basin, site of a lakebed long ago drained by farmers. In March, California’s barrage of atmospheric rivers overwhelmed the area, refilling the lake for the first time since 1983. Allensworth found itself all but surrounded by a shallow sea and was fighting for its life.

“It’s a horrific situation,” Denise Kadara, an Allensworth community leader, told Cotsirilos. “We’re here like sitting ducks, waiting for the water to come and flood us out.”

At first the state ignored the situation — but as the clamor to help the town increased, Gov. Gavin Newsom showed up and promised support. You can listen and read the full story at FERN or on The California Report.

Photo of Mas Masumoto by Lisa Morehouse

The second story, by Lisa Morehouse, is part of our long-running collaboration with her California Foodways project. In an elegiac and deeply moving story, Morehouse visits with farmer David “Mas” Matsumoto as he reflected on his family’s history. He says he “farms with ghosts,” in the form of pruning scars from long-time workers and in the rows of trees he planted with his father. He finds the labor and lessons of his ancestors in the soil and the grapevines and orchards, and says he’s passing these on to the next generations.

Mas is an author, too, who has delved into the stories of his farm and family in more than 10 books. In his latest, Secret Harvests, Mas writes about the shock of a newly uncovered family secret. Morehouse says, “I’ve visited the Masumoto farm for years, picking luscious peaches and nectarines in summer. This time, I returned to hear what Mas learned about this hidden story, and how he rediscovered just how resilient his farming family is.”

This story is a bit of a change of pace for FERN, but very much worth your time. Listen to the entire report at FERN or at The California Report. And thank you for your support, which makes work like this possible.