Food Culture in Crisis in Kelowna

Yesterday and the day before I spoke about a farming crisis in Vernon. I’d like to extend that into its context, as part of a food crisis in the Okanagan. First, to be fair, I’ll set the picture, as you’re probably not from this place. Although it might seem I’m talking about local issues, they’re pretty universal. Sometimes working up from the ground is the way to go. So, I live in a city called Vernon. Just down the road is a farmer who sells tomatoes to people who would like to save some money picking their own, as a patched-together substitute for the legitimate tomato-growing industry we used to have, but which we don’t have anymore for ideological reasons. You can read my post about him from a year ago, here, to see my thoughts about this a year ago: We Do Not Have A Food Problem. For those of you who didn’t click through, here’s a photo from that post, to hold the thought.

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Aging Farmer Tearing Up the Unsold Tomatoes at the End of the Year

Nest step: plowing them under.

So, I guess you get the picture. Forty minutes down the road is a city that I know as the administrative centre for Canadian fruit growing culture but which most people know as a series of condos on the lake, for the purposes of speculation, time-sharing and skiing holidays that condos serve. Notice I didn’t say “housing”, because too often condos aren’t really for housing. They often offer only the potential of housing sometime in the future, once speculation has run its course. This is a common problem in cities across Canada, and it’s no different here. Two weeks for a skiing holiday in the winter, and you can write the rest of it off against income, while waiting for prices to rise so you can sell it to the next investor. The city is Kelowna. You can see some some of its condo towers on an insert in the Kelowna newspaper last week.
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Notice the excellent 1980s style graphic design. This from the city that claims to be the cultural heart of the Okanagan Valley, and claims, as the title of the pamphlet shows, excellence. Sadly, the burnt hills to the far left, the smog hovering over the ridge, the bridge cutting the lake in two, the low photographic values and the amateurish graphics take away from the lustre of that excellence. But, hey, Canada found Kelowna tucked in its far west back in the 1980s, with its clean air, its farms, and its clean water, and has remade it in its own image. I didn’t know what excellence I would find inside the brochure, but what I found, the very first page, the first thing I saw when I opened the brochure, was this:

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There’s a lot of amazing effort and dedication going into this project, but I have to ask: where is the excellence, really, in a town that is a playground for the top 1% of Canada, when all of this social effort has to go to sustain the people displaced by that playground and that wealth, people without adequate food, housing or work picking (or, say, canning) tomatoes, like we used to do here proudly, not to mention producing apples and applesauce and apple juice for the world? What is wealth when it doesn’t belong to the people or the community? Well, a little of it is here, with the dedicated, hard-working and gifted director of the food bank, with no name brand tomato sauce, chicken broth, boxed macaroni and cheese and Heinz Alphaghetti from factories far away. This is not food. It’s money. Someone else’s money. Someone else’s work. Someone else’s assembly-line culture. food1

 

I in no way mean to take away from the essential work the food bank does in Kelowna. What I want to bring to mind is that the structure of Canadian society, which the Kelowna newspaper appears to call excellent, has created food banks. A society that can build condominiums by the hundreds and little (if any) housing for working people, condominiums which are often not lived in, is a society that can replace a food culture with an industrial supply-chain culture, in which food, if available at all, must be purchased with capital, not labour, or with an appeal to charity and good works. In a food culture, the boxes above would hold tomatoes, onions, chickens, beans, flour and eggs, not just the industrialized promise of them, however it is softened by dedicated creative energy. Here’s a sobering thought: when the fruit and vegetable industries thrived in this valley they were not based on a capitalist model. Neither were they based on a free enterprise model. Sixty years ago, the Okanagan, and Kelowna, were excellent. We didn’t have a food movement. We didn’t have the smoke screens of ideology.  We had work.

Land Crisis in Vernon

Yesterday I showed you an image of an apple crisis. Here it is again, from a different angle.

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People are so hungry to connect with a farmer over a supermarket that they will pay an industrial farmer as much for his cull apples as they would pay for his good ones at a produce store, and half what they’d pay in a supermarket itself. The only thing is, he’s an industrial farmer, and not, perhaps, the thing they wish to support. For instance, that fence? It prevents deer from migrating up and down the hills, as they need to do, and forces them to wander through neighbourhoods, where they get labelled “problem deer” and get shot. As for the land itself, look:

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Yes, mud. A tractor made that, hauling those apples out. This is what has been created out of this grassland soil after a hundred years: hard-packed, water repelling mud. 10,000 years of soil creation has been negated in 100 years. I don’t think that’s what people wish to pay for either. I think that an adjustment will come: either farmers will get the idea, or people will. That it all has to happen within an industrial metaphor makes it harder. Those are, however, only human issues. For the land, the issue is clear: stop this or the land will die.

Apple Crisis in Vernon

Apples for sale by the bag.P1550110 Looks nice, huh! Look more closely. Here are some Ambrosias.

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See all that marking? These apples are worth zero. In a modern world of cosmetic fruit, these can’t be sold, so they’re being sold off the back of a 5-ton truck for $8 per10 pound bag — as if this were a family farm and not an agribusiness.

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That’s more than the farmer would get if they were cosmetically perfect. This situation won’t last. I saw this before in the 1970s. Troubled times are back.

We Are the Earth and the Earth is Us

I want to show you an image of the mind. Since that’s difficult, let me show you an image of the world instead, with my fingers crossed that the mind will be revealed in it if I give you the context. It’s an image of an abandoned rangeland fence high above Okanagan Lake. It speaks of the end of the ranching industry and the development of the land into a residential golf course resort. Given that this is the most sensitive and threatened grassland in the north of my valley, and one of the few left, this development required special approval. (In fact, the road built up the hill to service this resort destroyed an 8,000-year-old rattlesnake den, which seems to be way more than rude.) The way to get approval to build houses and golf courses on sensitive land is to sell ‘green’ or ‘environmental’ values that will ‘conserve’ species for ‘posterity’. Such conservation is pretty darned unlikely, but that’s why this stretch of land has been left ‘wild’ as ‘habitat’ for native species: it’s a social negotiation. In my mind, it’s less a living landscape than a zoo, but let’s just leave that, because this is Syilx land and thus sensitive in its own right. And just look at the view. As romantic as can be. You could sell $350,000-$1,700,000 golf course house lots like hot cakes with a view like this, especially to someone from cattle country, who’s changed his Angus herd in for a covey of oil wells and is missing them terribly. Fair enough, but that’s not the image of the mind I promised. That’s just a little background. Here’s the mind:

P1510311You see, the ‘wild’ness promised consists of a hillside overgrown by sagebrush (overgrazing in the past, combined with fire suppression) and trampled by deer (barred from the valley below by very operative orchard and vineyard fences) which have no business here where there is nothing for them to even nibble on. In other words, the ignorance that sees this rich landscape, transformed by ignorance into an impoverished landscape of weeds, is the same ignorance that the land displays in its weediness. The fence is the means by which that was accomplished. It remains, its work done, as something no longer extricable from the land. In other words, it too belongs in this transformed landscape, or this impoverished mind: just another weed, in a landscape of weeds. It is as if the land reflects precisely the attention given to it: settlers who come in as alien species, leave behind a landscape of alien species, and for images of beauty choose records of the moment of claiming a rich land, such as this fence and the bittersweet image of the loss of that richness (again, the fence). Now, let me make a proposal: it is exactly like that. The Earth is us and we are the earth. Calling the view in the image above “nature” is the problem, because that proposes an active force separate from human forces. It isn’t.

You Say Tomato, I Say Apple

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I’m still slowly picking and savouring this first crop of Benvoulin apples in 20 years. Here is one of them hanging out with the gals from the tomato patch, just for fun. There are three left on the tree, too. You can read the story of this unique apple here. The discovery, breeding, saving, grafting and distributing of apple varieties is an art form older than most others. It is illuminating to contemplate it beside such new forms of intervention with the natural world, such as farmer’s markets, community gardens, food banks, and university-based GMO breeding programs. Those are all social forms of art, while this is an individual, poetic one that comes from a man being the land he walks. I doubt any of the newer art forms would ever lead to an apple so powerful that one bite beats a $30 bottle of riesling— and yet which everyone can afford. In this respect, the simple image above is an image of wealth.

Teleportation, Anti-Gravity and Art

Defying gravity?P1540796

It’s a trick of light.

bright If the sun had moved its substance to earth physically, there would be no water and no life.

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Reforming itself in a new form, that’s the trick.

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The process of the sun transferring itself is not finished.

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At the moment, it is both here, and there. Look at it caught in this old, exploded star that my ancestors call, variably, water and Wasser and wetter and wody.

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It is the sun, defying gravity and moving itself across space by turning itself into energy, and then, through the lens of the earth, turning itself back.

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Art matters.

 

Wine Secrets

Wine making is such a romantic business.P1530740Noble Ridge Vineyard, Okanagan Falls

It’s a way of selling peasant culture as elite culture.P1530745It’s done within a metaphor of capitalization. Only industrialists need apply. It is very expensive.
P1530726Instead of people, it employs machines. This is part of the adaptation of agriculture to a capitalized model. Capital depreciation replaces wages. It is a way of concentrating flows of energy in single hands.

P1540498Vineyard at the Rise, Bella Vista

Standardization is part of this process. The image below is an image of what the contemporary social culture of Canada looks like.

P1540471Against that are the anarchists.

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This is a coyote vineyard access road. Every year it gets dug at a different spot. Every year it gets blocked, and the coyotes let it be, until a week before harvest, when they dig it again.

 

The Tragedy of My Generation… And Its Hope

This is what our parents’ farms largely look like today, after we were taken away by promises of distant glories.oldfarmThis too is an image of war. Our parents came through the Second World War as children. We came through its consequence, the Cold War — again as children. After all of that, this. We left it for arts, of various kinds. That was also the story of war. Perhaps we come back to it with art as well. Perhaps that art has been cleansed. That tree is hopeful. That is one beautiful tree.

 

The Art That Insects Make

In the summer, light strikes the leaves of the dogwoods unevenly, as they flit about in their environment of light and shadow filtering through other leaves that move and shift with sun and wind and the turning of the earth through its days. Look at the result!P1540244Amazing!

P1540242There’s more to this story than just sun and light, and I’ll get to that in a sec, but for the moment look at how small patches of some of these leaves are delayed from maturing and shutting down photosynthesis in preparation for fall.
P1540241Frozen in time, that’s the thing.

P1540239Now, here’s the other player in these beautiful game. See the aphids on the underside of the leaves below, below the fruiting cluster?P1540233They are very responsive to light and growth and settle in the choicest spots, and then, as they divert the sap flow through their own digestive systems, they change everything. In effect, they become part of the plant, and the plant’s living processes are blocked and re-routed by the intervention of the insects and the whole year’s worth of redirected minerals.P1540227Aphids, light, shadow and the mysteries of an earth continually in motion.P1540224The scientist in me thinks this process could be put to use. The farmer in me knows it can. The poet in me is in love with the earth. The artist in me is just plained thrilled to see his body alive in the earth like this, down to the tiniest thing.

 

Romantic Images of Autumn

It is possible to read land by colour. The Douglas firs on the ridge line below are ready to pass through the coming winter. So are the yellow choke cherries in the gully in the foreground.P1520857

 

These grapes, growing just a hundred metres below and to the right of this image are not.

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They are responding to different climatic needs (from the Rhine and the Rhone rivers in Europe) and the petrochemical fertilizers that are their environment. When they lose their leaves to the winter, the winter they lose their leaves to will be as much the petroleum industry as the weather. There’s an interesting principle at work here. Notice how the grapes above are set up to catch the sun that their genetics and their fertilizer aren’t tuned for. A little mechanical intervention is meant to make up for the difference. In any other context this would be called art, or at least artifice or artfulness. Look at them from a different angle…

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See, they are designed to filter the cold down the hill, and away, and to catch the afternoon and evening sun, which comes in from the West (to the left of this image). Look how the bunchgrass and sagebrush, native to this place, do this.

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They do it by responding to the water when it is in abundance and to the sun when it is in abundance, through specific adaptations of their growth, including stem structures and growth cycles for the bunchgrass and water-trapping leaf hairs for the sage. Winter is not an issue for these plants, because it is part of them. Not so for this apple orchard halfway down this hill:

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The trees are trained like grapes, with vertical walls to catch the sun, and lots of nitrogen fertilizer to push sap through the wood of dwarf trees. The fruit would be bland and colourless, except that two weeks before harvest, all the new growth is cut off, to expose the fruit to the sun. You could do all this by growing big old apple trees that droop their fruit down on hanging limbs and drop their leaves in accord with water, light and temperature, but it wouldn’t fit with the desire to derive profit from the land, rather than to become it. The result looks provisional. That’s because it is. You can see that, perhaps, in the next image of the same apple orchard.

P1520565This is not really a living environment. The grass is barely surviving. The trellis system can’t cope. The trees aren’t thriving. In fact, they’re overgrown. The orchard was meant to turn land into an image of capitalism, and to be replaced after ten years. It has outlived that, but, such is the nature of capitalization when it hits the land, no farmer can afford to tear the trees out to start again. This is because the system is not designed to last. The image below shows a system that is designed to last. Here’s a gully, that harvests morning and evening sun, one flank at a time, to produce one long row of fruit watered by the forces of gravity at work in the slopes and the way they interact with light and heat.

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It will last forever. Instead of thrusting up above the land, it moves within it. Instead of creating a profit over ten years, or the myth of one, it creates a steady state over 1000s of years. The profit is the excess of production, which is naturally designed to carry the plants into new territory, but can be harvested by humans and other animals. In other words, you can have your profit in ten years (or not), in systems that are fragile and require an entire system of supports, or you can have it over thousands of years. You can take profit from the land or you can become the land. Anything else is a romantic image of Autumn as death, because that’s exactly what it is: the point at which the earth asserts itself over artificial folly. The inability of farmers to beat the ten year capital cycle is an example of that folly, and the earth’s retribution. Our folly as observers is to see the ruin after the cropping of this land as the bittersweet fruitfulness of Autumn. It’s not. It’s our culpability we’re looking at. A crop in balance with this place looks like this at this time of year:

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Choke Cherry in That Gully

That cherry is not our profit. That profit fell onto the soil, when we neglected to pick it. This berry is for a bird that’s going to need it mid-winter. A waxwing, most likely.

So, remember, if you’re buying a product of the fall, and it comes from green leaves, you’re not buying sustainability. You can read it that simply, and that well.