Reading a Mountain Farm

Eco-Agriculture is a form of social art that unites the earth and human artfulness. Since, as the poet Goethe showed us yesterday, what you put into an exploration is what you get out, if the goal is land and earth and community, then land and earth and community with our fellow creatures on this earth are the starting points. In this spirit, let’s look at two distinct mountain farms…

Organic Peach Orchard in Peachland

This is where fruit farming got its start in the valley, in 1898. It prospered for the longest while, then it went bus. Now it’s looking for renewal.

Even at this height above the lake, we’re only just below the shoreline of the post glacial inland sea of Glacial Lake Penticton. These peaches are really growing on beach sand — from a beach with close to zero organic matter because it lasted less than 100 years. In fact, 10,000 years may have passed, but organically it’s like the glaciers left a week ago. Water hangs around for about an hour in this place, then it all drains away down to the floor of the world. Under such conditions, the peach trees require continuous water. That makes for tricky agriculture.

What Our Surface-Irrigated Peach Orchard Really Looks Like…

..from a water standpoint. These mosses and grasses are living off of water as it flows down over rock. They manage it by catching it within themselves.Peaches are gully plants. This ain’t their thing.Turtle Mountain.

The point is simple: this isn’t land. It’s a cloud held underwater. A sheet of water applied over the entire soil surface is a way of farming the soil surface and accepting that most water will be lost to evaporation or to drainage. It doesn’t tap into the water that’s really there. What, though, if we were to do something like this…

Ant Lion Traps Lytton

Just waiting for an unwary ant to tumble down the inverted cone to the bottom of the pit, where the ant lion waits, hungry, hungry, hungry.

In a desert climate, life is underground, where the water is. As the ant lion knows, if you concentrate an area, you can focus it to a central, manageable point. Funnels do that. Plants do that.

Biscuit Root Just Loving the Spring Sun, Turtle Mountain

Biscuit roots mines the water that concentrates off of sheer cliff faces and quickly falls downhill through loose scree and rubble. Half of the sisters of this traditional medicinal plant have been gnawed off by deer. It is also good for late stage AIDS infections, tuberculosis, and diarrhoea. Why are we growing peaches, again? Because of the real estate development dreams of a visiting gold miner? 

The seasons are about water here, and the natural systems have a way of recycling it, over and over again, before finally relinquishing it to the atmosphere. What if it were moved slowly down the slopes, through organic material? There’s none in the soil, so maybe it would look like this…

Passing the Seasons On…

…species by species as they flow downhill. Okanagan Landing.

Our peaches would be happy down in the gully. A set of structures within the sandy beach soil of our orchard, to inhibit water flow ought to do the trick. Thing is, they’d be expensive, unless alfalfa were used to mine the water thirty feet down and bring it back to the surface for re-use. It would then form part of an organic chain, where it belongs.

Vole Hole, Bella Vista

Wherever there are Balsam Roots, there are voles living off them underground. What happens on the surface is like the iceberg thing: 5% of the story. Now, that’s community. First Nations women used to use their digging sticks to open vole holes, because the voles did a great job of gathering seeds. If you found them with your stick, half your work was done.

The secret here is to get past monocultures and to remember that farming these slopes is a vertical affair that creates seasonal conditions by mining the way water moves in its vertical, subsoil weather. The way plants move that water around through the soil column is the way in which a solution is going to be found for agricultural and cultural renewal. Now, on other other farm, things look a bit different:

 Wild Strawberry Field Lumby

 Wild Crafting: Harvesting the Wild Woods. The rest of the year, it is a roadway. How cool is that?

This is an intriguing form of agriculture, in which the medicinal properties of plants are front and centre. There’s this, for instance:

Medicinal Wheel

Once herbs get established here, the dream is to market each of the forest’s medicine wheels, with its specific site and energies, and specific mixtures of plants growing in response to them, as a separate medicinal tonic.

Of course, in a wild-crafting situation, everyone else who lives in the forest wants to eat your crop as well. Here’s one solution:

A Tipi!

Cover it with netting and then see what the deer do about it. I dunno. As long as there’s enough biscuit root elsewhere, maybe they’ll turn up their noses, but, well, mint? We’ll see.

At any rate, wild crafting has the potential to bring in more money than the billions brought in by the forest industry in the past, that replaced the native grasslands and savannas. And going back our peach orchard aka sand dune in Peachland with the wild crafting idea in our pocket, there’s this:

Ponderosa Pine Cones, Turtle Mountain

And gravity does all the gathering work, too. Those pines in the Deep Creek gully might be trying to tell us something. These cones sell for big money in craft shops. They’re worth way more than peaches.

So, as for curriculum, here’s a classroom I have used to great effect:

 Colour and Social Writing Workshop, Kamloops

A renewed agricultural relationship to the land is tied to a renewed cultural one. In this workshop, we learned the colours for things. Participants said it changed the way they looked at the world.

And that’s how it is in the Okanogan Okanagan this week.

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