Agriculture

Growing a Future from a Living Past

I want to show you something about money. And something else about life. (Hint: choose life.) Here is a future apple orchard.

P1600194Nursery Done on the “Cheap”

In this case, cheap is expensive. These are grafted trees, lined out to grow for a year before being planted out into the orchard itself.

Here’s what it is intended to look like in a year. By the look of them, these are trees imported from Europe.

P1600178

Newly Planted Apple “Orchard”

The money is in the posts. Really.

Before I left this valley for 20 years, I was the guy who did the kind of grafting you see in these photos. I used local grafting wood, added my labour, and used trees grown locally for the roots. I was well paid and in high demand. Now the ready-grafted trees come from Holland. Instead of an industry, and all the creativity and spin-offs that come from it, we now give the work to Holland. That would be bad enough, but it’s not all. Have a closer look:

P1600197

Dead Soil

This is not how to do this. This soil has been depleted of organic matter by years of growing tomatoes under plastic, depleted of oxygen by being compressed under heavy equipment, infected with bacteria because of the tomatoes, and depleted of nutrients. It is not soil. It is just ground up rock. Not the same thing. Not only that, each tree here is planted in the space really needed by four trees. It means more space for more tomatoes, and a cash crop for this year, but the trees need that space, too, because once they’re planted out in a high density system they will need branches and will need to produce fruit immediately. That is a stretch. It will only happen with incredible access to nutrients, soil bacteria, light, and freedom from cultivation damage. None of those are present here. This means that the approximately $2.50 a tree in likely borrowed money paid here is money large thrown away. But that’s not all. See if you can see anything growing here.

P1600199

Not Growing

These trees have been in cold storage and have been fumigated to get across the border. Both of these mean that they won’t start growing for weeks (and let’s hope that works). As for the soil, it’s not even fit to cough up a single weed.

Meanwhile …

P1600273

Apple Blossoms (Royal Gala, actually)

See the leaves? The grafts should have been fully-leafed by now. Not this far along, but on the way.

The consequence of the contemporary economic system can sometimes be impoverishment: of the soil, of horticultural knowledge, and of the future. In this case, at any rate, they have all been sacrificed . We used to be able to do this in a first class way. Now it’s fifth class, at best — and fifth class, in something as expensive as this, means: don’t bother. But, don’t be depressed. Please. This is just a story about an error. It can be reversed. Easily. The knowledge is still here. It is only in the last two decades that the changeover has been made from trees like this (kept for sentimental reasons)…

old

Apple Trees Planted Circa 1975

OK, so, not old. These were the high density trees of their time. Notice that the process of replacement has resulted in … do you see that? Nothing! The land is wasted instead, waiting for houses to come, or for someone to have a better idea.

But let’s just take our eyes away from the story of the trees for a moment, as seductive as it is, and concentrate on the posts.  The money is just flowing away into them.  They are made using extremely toxic chemicals, and devour huge sums of money, which the farms are hard-pressed to repay. Yet, 120 years ago, there was a better way …

P1610103

Black Locust Trees

These are the trees that graced every original farm in the intermontane region. There was a reason for that. Fence posts made from these trees last in the ground for, get this, 120 years. Compared to the 25 years for poisonous pressure-treated pine posts, that’s, um, pretty good, right? Not only that, but creating the posts is good, productive, life-giving work, and the beans on the trees are edible, too. And bees love their flowers. 

Our young people and the life in the earth that they represent need us to get real. Fortunately, it is possible. Memory is part of the story. I have been given a chunk of it. By reading this, you are sharing in my work at figuring out how to pass it on and put it to use. Thanks for being here. I couldn’t do this without you all.

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