Extra Fancy, Fancy, Commercial, Peeler, Hunh?

Sometimes I feel that no one is minding the show. Yesterday, I showed some images of the current state of affairs in apple production in the Okanagan. That’s not the half of it. Canada has regulations for the distribution of apples. So does the U.S.A. They’re much the same. Some of the regulations have to do with damage to the fruit, but the deal breakers have to do with appearance. It was clever when it was initiated, a bit over a century ago, designed to deal with apples coming from trees like this:

Picking Apples, Pridham Orchard, Kelowna, 1915

The women were picking, because the men were at war. Well, by this time most of the men were dead. This is not the beginning of something. It is the end. After the war, it was the Germans who took over this work. The British Empire became the lost German Empire. Really. This photograph is in the collection of the Kelowna Museum.

The bitterness and irony and horror of history aside, trees like this were umbrellas, with ripe red fruit on the outside of the tree, and green fruit at its heart. The bright colour of the ripe fruit was a sure indication of its quality and taste, and so the food grades were based around colour. Everything would follow. And that takes us to the grades: Extra Fancy (lots of colour, and no damage to the fruit), Fancy (lots of colour, and a bit of cosmetic damage not likely to lead to rot), Commercial (rather green and beat up, really), and Peelers (good for the pot only, and soon at that.) Thing is, humans are clever critters, and speedily got around all that.  For instance, first there was the delicious, which was usually about 5% red, with about 5% of the apples on the outside of the tree reaching Extra Fancy and commanding a high price. Then came a red skinned mutation, red delicious, which turned red with less sun, so you got, oh, I dunno, 35% Extra Fancy if you were really good at it all, and lucky, and the same high price, at the expense of a bit of flavour. Then it got nuts. By the 1940s, there were double red delicious, that tasted a little worse, and by the 1960s spur type, super productive, double red delicious, that tasted positively awful, and then there were hormones, to accentuate the shape of a delicious, hiding within those mutations, because these new apples were kind of lumpy looking …

Red Chief Apples Source

Showing off their thick skins. Notice the pale brown of the seeds. Despite their colour, these are not the ripest apples in the world. Black indicates full sun exposure. The motley colour of the individuals in the back would, in the past, have likely been Commercial Grade. Now it’s Extra Fancy all the way. Funny, though, that the price has fallen into the deeps. 

And so, in the end, we get the perfect, plunk-it-on-your-teacher’s-desk-and-put-it-on-a-thanksgiving-sticker-red-delicious-apple that tastes about as good as the flower stem that it was before it swelled up with water in the first place…

Sure. Go for it.




Gripple Apples

Gripple. Nice word. It has an active form, too: grippling. These old words don’t hang out in a dictionary, though, and Google is hopeless with them, but you can find them in Henry David Thoreau’s last work (1862), Wild Apples:

Such [apples] as grow quite wild, and are left out till the first of November, I presume that the owner does not mean to gather. They belong to children as wild as themselves, — to certain active boys that I know — to the wild-eyed woman of the fields, to whom nothing comes amiss, who gleans after all the world, — and, moreover, to us walkers. We have met with them, and they are ours. These rights, long enough insisted upon, have come to be an institution in some old countries, where they have learned how to live. I hear that “the custom of grippling, which may be called apple-gleaning, is, or was formerly, practiced in Herefordshire. It consists in leaving a few apples, which are called the gripples, on every tree, after the general gathering, for the boys, who go with climbing-poles and bags to collect them.”

Sadly, not any more. Here is the state of grippling today, behind the twelve foot tall deer fences that surround orchards like concentration camps:

Northern Flicker and Gripple

I sure do miss grippling.

OK, private property that only mice and birds are free to invade, I get that, sigh (Says a grippler of old), but it comes at a price. In order for apples to return a profit in a world in which there are too many apples stored too long and shipped too great a distance too easily, a few things have to take place:

1. Apples are grown on super-dwarf trees, to reduce labour costs and to double fruit size, which halves labour costs for picking and handling and creates apples the size of turnips or even acorn squash.

2. Apples are thinned on the tree, so that the apples left at picking time are of the highest aesthetic quality, to reduce or eliminate shipping and sorting charges at the packing house level, as well as the picking costs for fruit of low aesthetic value.

3. At picking, any apple not visually perfect is thrown on the ground. 

Up to half of the crop can lie on the ground after the completion of this process. There they will freeze over the winter and ferment in the spring. In the spring, the robins will get drunk on the resulting apple cider and have been known to lie feebly on the ground, lamely flapping a wing now and then, whee. There is nothing left for grippling. There is, also, no employment. In fact, the whole system is designed to eliminate employment. There is, however, this:

Royal Gala Apples

It used to be that apples like this would be picked up for juice. In fact, farmers in these parts once had their own processing facility, called Sun-Rype, to handle this juice. The victim of late 20th Century ideology, it ceased to serve the farmers and now sells huge volumes of concentrated juices imported by tanker truck. The price for apples picked up off the ground is now less than the cost of picking them up. Even so, no grippling.

There are some costs to this kind of land use. Here’s a bit of a list:

1. Precious water is, effectively, thrown away.

2. Farmers are going broke. Their investment and labour is, effectively, wasted.

3. Only people with money have access to food. To protect private property rights, people without money to purchase food receive donations at volunteer institutions called Food Banks.

4. People drink concentrated apple juice from the Third World, contaminated with pesticides illegal in North America. They also often drink industrial apple juice that is digested by enzymes in large tanks and then siphoned off, filtered, and sterilized. Did you wonder why it tasted so weird?

5. A fruit production system that maintains market competitiveness by lowering employment costs finds itself surrounded by people without the money to buy its luxury products. This isn’t accidental. It is a reflection of social structures.

The point is that for all of its benefits the concept of private property means that public, common law rights are removed to enable the property owner to profit from that privatization of public right. It is a powerful tool and actually all works fine, if all citizens are labourers (rather than citizens with inalienable common law rights, such as the right to gripple otherwise unused fruit), and if they are paid sufficiently for their labour that they can provide for their needs for shelter, clothing, and food. For many interlocking reasons having to do largely with industrialization, nationalism, and globalism, that is currently not the case. And by the looks of it…

… their food is lying right here. Would they pick it up? Maybe. Maybe not. Probably not. That’s not the point. The point is that when privatization becomes wasteful of the commons and when there is no one to purchase the products it produces out of its monopoly, something has to change. In fact, that change is already upon us. We are looking at images of it.

Royal Gala at the End of Its LIfe

The tree with yellow leaves has only a short time left. Trees like this were planted in the 1980s, with the expectation of hysterical profits over a ten year life, before they were replanted with yet newer luxury varieties. Economic realities meant that didn’t happen. They linger on, in both slow physical and social decline. To compensate, more and more apples are discarded on the ground every year.

So, there you go. Grippling. A darned good word to use when grappling with cultures in decline. In this story, there are no villains. All are being equally exploited by forces that separate them from each other to greater and greater extent. In this shifting dynamic of the boundaries of private and public space, I have no answers. I just have an observation, and, at heart, I have this:


No, not Red Delicious but the apple that settled the West.

One of the best apples I have ever eaten was a nearly-frozen Delicious I grippled under a cottonwood tree, on the edge of an orchard in November, 1980, as the first snowstorm was coming down the Similkameen Valley in a blue wall of darkness. By the time I got the apple off of the top of the tree, and brushed the long, yellow apple leaves from my neck, It was almost dark, the air was long past violet, and snow and the last photons of light were whirling around my head and through the bare, black branches of the trees. As I walked through the new snow, I ate that apple. It was like eating the sun and the earth together, at once, as I held them in numb fingers. It was freedom. It tasted like light. What did Thoreau say about that? Let’s give him the last word:

THE era of the Wild Apple will soon be past. It is a fruit which will probably become extinct in New England. You may still wander through old orchards of native fruit of great extent, which for the most part went to the cider-mill, now all gone to decay. I have heard of an orchard in a distant town, on the side of a hill, where the apples rolled down and lay four feet deep against a wall on the lower side, and this the owner cut down for fear they should be made into cider. Since the temperance reform and the general introduction of grafted fruit, no native apple-trees, such as I see everywhere in deserted pastures, and where the woods have grown up around them, are set out. I fear that he who walks over these fields a century hence will not know the pleasure of knocking off wild apples. Ah, poor man, there are many pleasures which he will not know! Notwithstanding the prevalence of the Baldwin and the Porter, I doubt if so extensive orchards are set out to-day in my town as there were a century ago, when those vast straggling cider-orchards were planted, when men both ate and drank apples, when the pomace-heap was the only nursery, and trees cost nothing but the trouble of setting them out. Men could afford then to stick a tree by every wall-side and let it take its chance. I see nobody planting trees to-day in such out-of-the-way places, along the lonely roads and lanes, and at the bottom of dells in the wood. Now that they have grafted trees, and pay a price for them, they collect them into a plat by their houses, and fence them in, — and the end of it all will be that we shall be compelled to look for our apples in a barrel.

Walking on the Surface of the Sun

On the shore of the sea, the water goes up and down. You can walk around out there when the moon drags the ocean all here and there and the sun blows over the stones and the sand. It’s awfully beautiful. You won’t be alone.


Sea Stars, Willow Point

On the other side of the mountains, it’s still the shore. The rains rise and fall. Sometimes the ground is dry and hot in the sun. Sometimes the sun has lifted some water over the mountains and the earth turns into a tide flat. You can walk around out there, in those pools of the sun. Or you can just slide …

The Planet is Alive.

What a great place for walking on the surface of the sun. The sun itself is awfully hot, but here, right at the spot where the sun ends at last, right here where it touches the earth, there’s treasure.

X Marks the Spot

This is what it looks like when you share a habitat. Sometimes you see your neighbours. Sometimes you don’t.



Harvesting Water, Recycling Water, Respecting Water

This is how you comb water out of cloud and mist and drizzle (and let your cattle out of a burn zone for a night on the town at the same time).

Fence Down

More water blows through the fall and winter air in the grasslands than falls to earth. It would be great to farm that fog and those clouds. This combination barbed-wire and fine-meshed bird fence demonstrates the potential for drawing that water out of the air. Here’s what that looks like, up close:

… and closer …

When conditions are right, the wire doesn’t even need to be in a grid …

We don’t need to invent this technology. It exists. Societies have been harvesting water for thousands of years. A fascinating and richly-illustrated history of inventions, modern and ancient, can be found here. The last entry on that page presents the story of a successful cloud fence project in Chile, which collected 10,000 litres of water a day, supported a village, and established a forest, which then was able to collect its own water. Although it was abandoned, because of political reasons, it worked. It looked like this, back in 1987…

Fog Fence on El Tofo Mountain, Chungungo Chile, 1987 Source

On the grasslands, plants have known this for a long time. They have many ways of concentrating rain and dew. Here’s one …

Surely, this could be used as a model for a dew collector? 

Catch it on the ‘leaves’, tilt it to the ‘stem’, tube it to the ground? Cool, huh!

And what about this?

Apricots in August Keremeos

Thousands of tons of fruit, itself mostly water, are culled every year. They could be farmed for water before being discarded. Similarly, as I mentioned last January, millions of litres are simply evaporated away to create lumber. Meanwhile, through property taxes we subsidize so-called “free”  advertising “newspapers” stuffed full of advertisements for all the manufactured flotsam and jetsam of distant cities that mine the economic wealth of our communities. The purpose? To keep papers that didn’t need to exist out of the landfills. And yet we use water, which every plant, animal and human needs, once and then discard it. Why? Releasing it to the air just means it blows away to someone else in the east. Natural grassland systems, however, passed it on from plant to plant and species to species down through the hills in time and space. They kept it around for a long time before it was passed on to other valleys. We can no longer afford to rely on foreign, surface water systems imported from wetland thinking to turn water into waste. Since we’ve turned our valleys into machines…

Enloe Dam, Shanker’s Bend (Similkameen River)

Why use this water only once?

… let’s at least get some up-graded technology in keeping with current realities, rather than the 19th century technology in use today.


Fall: What’s Not to Love?

Autumn. It’s the beginning of the glory that is winter.

It’s About the Light!

Berry farm below Goose Lake, as the sun rises selectively.

And just in front of that? See what I mean?

Willow at Swan Lake

Morning light.

This is a time of year in which the sun actually moves, rapidly, as clouds release it and hide it, and as the earth turns away from it and towards it, at crazy angles. Well, at least that’s what the earth does with it. The results are intoxicating…

Ponderosa Pine and the Sun

Up close, where you can touch it. And it’s cool, like water! Who knew.

That’s the kind of planet it is. We’re made for this place. This is the time of year when every day just gets better and better.

Look Up! The Fires of Summer Are Over.

Now comes the season of life and mystery.

It’s so close, I can smell it on the air.





Red Cabbage For Christmas

It’s never too early to let the shorter days lead one into getting ready for Yule, and this is the time for red cabbage, pickled. My German ancestors did weird things with it, with caraway and lots of bacon fat, and there’s no need to talk about that, because the Danish family I married into has a better idea: finely grated, with butter and red currant jelly. Oh, yes! However, even though I can make it taste the Danish way, perfect for roast duck or for open faced sandwiches, and even though I love the Danish way, I can’t exactly do it the Danish way. Here’s what I mean:

So Far, So Good

Ah, yes, well it starts slow and pretty…

But then it starts picking up speed …


If you think that looks like fun, you’re right. That’s because the camera doesn’t show this:

Gosh, nowhere to even stand. So, I swept that up right away before it stained the floor (success!), and pretty soon I had all the bits that wouldn’t grate, so I got out that knife from Brazil, that we got three decades ago, and that knife from England, that I got last winter, urged them to merge in a happy union, and I was off!

Then I had to sweep again….Still, pretty soon I had a huge pot of cole slaw!


Of course, I forgot the melted butter, so I had to empty it all into a big bowl (and, yeah, you got it, sweep again), but then I was finally all together, with my mind and my body and my enthusiasm all in the same place, and within five minutes it was all sautéed, its bulk reduced by half, I added sugar, vinegar, and red currant jelly, stirred and stirred with a big wooden spoon, and put the lid on it to wait. Four hours later, after adjusting the vinegar three times (I swear, vinegar isn’t what it used to be), I had four quarts of this…

Don’t worry about the white stuff. That’s the vinegar steaming off that does that. When It’s cool, into the freezer it’ll go, in meal-sized packs. Yeah, it’s best if one does all this on Christmas, but the sweeping? I tell ya! It’s best to do that the messy way when one’s Sweetie is out of town at a conference. And so, there you go: Jul, Day 1. Now I have to keep my eye out for a duck.






The Story So Far

Two things for you today: a cool monolith from the Peshastin Pinnacles, and the complete pdf version of my summary of my year wandering in the grass, which I presented to the Okanagan Institute a couple weeks back. First, the monolith…

 A Character in the Land of Story or a Natural Landform?

Both. That’s the way it is here in this amazing country.

And now the summary. Click here and it will come to you: okokfull2. I’ll have an audio version for you soon.


Homeless in Vernon

How could this happen? 

Homeless in Vernon

How could this happen, in between a highway bypass, a rail line, and a marsh? Really? Not even under the sheltering limbs of the elm tree a hundred metres away?

When the land, which belongs to all of us by ethics and law, annually generates incredible wealth? This is as much an image of personal poverty as of social poverty. It hurts.


You Want to Know What Cold Looks Like?

It looks like this!


This is why heat-loving foreign plants like tomatoes can be supplemented in this landscape by ones that like the cold and think the heat is bad news, like this:

Watercress, Swan Lake

Anything that grows this well in weather this chilly in an old hayfield chopped up with irrigation canals and rebuilt as a wetland deserves respect. Especially, when it’s worth starting a new food industry over.

Here it is without the foreground distractions …

That’s a lot of gourmet salad!

It has the advantage of being great at borrowing water and then passing it on cleaner than it was when it arrived.

Not only does watercress make exquisite sandwiches and salads, but it contains significant amounts of iron, calcium, iodine, folic acid, Vitamin A and Vitamin C. It is a source of antioxidants, a diuretic, an expectorant, and a digestive. Claims have been made for cancer-suppressing qualities, especially against lung cancer and, perhaps, breast cancer. When mixed with vinegar, it forms an ancient Jewish remedy against bleeding. Not bad for a salad! The Okanagan is one of the places in the world in which watercress is eager to grow wild and free in the wetlands that are the twin of the dry hillsides that gather most of the attention. Water supply is not an issue for a plant that lives in it and passes it on. And to think that it is commonly treated as a weed!

They grow this stuff in Hawaii. It seems to want to grow here.



All of a Sudden, Winter

One minute, the sun is shining and a guy is bringing in the last of the tomatoes…

… and in awe, a bit, as to how the spring soil he made out of clay, sand, and piles of landscaping mulch that were lying around the place as if it were a building site could become so bittersweet, so quickly, as if part of an ancient fable old even in Gilgamesh’s time …

Cherry Tomatoes That the Sow Beetles Got 

They come out when the nights are cool and nibble nibble nibble, the little rotters. (Do click on the link in the title above. Gilgamesh would so have battled this guy.)

… and then snow.

Just One Cloud’s Worth, Over Kalamalka Lake Behind the Hill

But still!

I should have known this would happen. And, you know, deep down, I think I did. I mean, I was ready, right?

One Green Beefsteak and Lots of Plain Green Friends

Eight more boxes just like it. They’ll be ready to can mid-November, I suspect. Plus, I might even get five months of fresh tomatoes as a reward for all that spring shovelling.

That snow’s exciting, or what!