British Columbia, the province of Canada that claims the Okanagan as its own territory, is a jurisdiction in which some 94% of land is owned by the government, in trust for the people. Largely, this means that the land base is viewed as the hinterland for early agricultural settlements — carved out of Indian Territory since approximately 1870. As this agricultural land is very limited, it has largely been filled with cities or their loose suburban substitutes now. As a result, and because these are now populist political societies, the land base is used to support demographic majorities, ie. urban agendas, whether that is the use of the entire province of British Columbia to support the city state of Vancouver or the use of the Okanagan Valley to support the central city of Kelowna or the use of the Okanagan plateaus and side valleys to support agriculture in the main valley. In all cases, the land that could support many is used to support a few, often to excess. In other words, instead of moving onto the land, Okanagan, British Columbian, and Canadian societies are mining it for energy; wealth is created by concentrating that energy in as few hands as possible. Notice that this is not true wealth. It is only a concentration. The situation is similar in the American Okanogan, except only 42% of Washington is government-owned (although that’s still a substantial percentage), the city state is Seattle (also completely outside of the bio-region) and the economic hub city isn’t even in the Okanogan at all, but further south, in Yakima. In both jurisdictions, the land serves the political agendas of a certain political and economic class. In other countries, this kind of situation might lead to land reform, and the dispersal of land to the people. Sometimes that works. Usually not. Sometimes, it’s a nearly-unparalleled disaster, such as in Zimbabwe. Here, it’s not even in the cards. That’s understandable. This model of concentrating resources works too efficiently for people to give up its seductions easily, and the image of the regions within the National states of the USA and Canada mean that there are millions of people willing to exploit the original colonizing metaphors. One option we do have to ensure that the wealth of the land flows through all of the people and that the land is given back the capacity to feed the people who live upon it, is to change how we use the land we have. Much can be done. Currently, the primary agricultural model is to give private citizens or corporations monopoly rights to land, and to subsidize them with low taxation, cheap water and other incentives, with the social expectation that they will use this monopoly (private ownership) to create jobs, food, and wealth. The miles upon miles of abandoned orchards in the Northern American Okanogan, the lack of even adequate returns on many of the thousands of acres of vineyards in the Canadian Okanagan (and their subsidy with vast amounts of oil money from the tar sands in Alberta), the insistence of Okanagan fruit farmers on growing apples that no one wants, usually for less than the cost of producing them, and the untenable prices for scarce agricultural land caused by its exploitation as urban investments, should indicate that the current situation is fragile and will soon either collapse or need to change. If it collapses, it is likely that much land will be gentrified, and food production will be out-sourced to Mexico, with all the environmental and social costs that accompany that (among them, the fact that millions of Mexicans come north to work, because this system is starving them, because their land is used to feed, well, us). This is an acceptable risk for transient urban populations. It is not an acceptable risk or outcome for people who wish to live as the spirits of this place, and have their grandchildren’s grandchildren do the same. It is also not an acceptable outcome for all the species that humans share this valley with. Now, in some other country, under different political ideologies, it would be possible to have the city states take on the role of exploiting land monopolies and growing food from them. That’s not in the cards, either. What is in the cards is the repurposing of the land that is already public within urban areas, and the use of land outside of urban areas in ways that do not interfere with the current water delivery systems, in which great political power and debt is invested. This is an avenue of great hope, and holds within it the capacity to change social perceptions and ideologies, land use, and to feed the people whom the current monopoly system is depriving of food. We can, in other words, feed ourselves from the land we have. To do so, we have to work with the life processes that surround us, instead of relying on the current colonial technologies, such as upland dams, public water delivery systems, and the skewing of food production (Well, largely its silencing) by the supermarket food selling model. What follows are some thoughts on the potential within the region for new food production areas. Many of them could be easily used, some with and some without adaptation, in other areas, as these tensions between the commons, monopoly rights and privilege are pretty universal across the continent. I won’t document all the exciting work that is taking place in reclaiming land in Detroit, or the communal gardens that saved the East German people from starvation under the continual capital depletion of their society under stalinism, or any other exciting movements like that around Canada, the United States, and the world. It will be enough if I add my perspective to the discussion, by documenting what is possible in a desaturated atmosphere east of the Coast and Cascade mountains on the Northeast shore of the Pacific Ocean and the Northwest beach of North America. There is much that can be done, and all of it is socially transformative. What’s more, it’s cheap. Young people without deep capital reserves can farm again. Sometimes it will be one weed at a time. Here are a few urban opportunities. I will show you some rural ones tomorrow. So, here we go…
1. The Boulevard Median
There are several acres of easily accessible soil in this subdivision boulevard alone, beautifully sloped and with prime sun exposure. The land could be watered solely by water collected from the road surface, which would cut down on infrastructure costs. It could supply vegetables and fruit to the people living here on the hill. Instead, it supplies decorative plants meant to give the image of agricultural bounty, including the jerusalem artichokes in the foreground, which are grown for their flowers and not cropped, although harvesting would actually increase the size of the flowers. Currently, strata fees in the residential neighbourhood pay for the aesthetic upkeep of the boulevard. Free land for a farmer would mean that instead of paying, the residents would receive wealth from their common land, plus they would be giving one young farmer space. In a society which exports most of its young people to distant city states, it’s vital to hold onto as many as possible, by offering real opportunities. And, yeah, that’s a single family castle.
2. Denaturalized but Undeveloped Land
It took five years, but the clover has finally moved into the bare gravel on the road margin to the left of this image, turning a failed subdivision into productive space, supporting many wild insects and birds and with the potential to support a large honey industry. Last year there was virtually no clover here. Clover has the advantage of being able to fix nitrogen from the atmosphere, and to grow without real soil. It would cost next to nothing to seed all subdivided or otherwise unused land into clover and use it to support an expanded honey industry. God knows, the bees need all the help they can get. Alternately, the clover could be grazed, mown and fed to livestock, including rabbits, or harvested for seed and fed to free range chickens, etcetera. There is no reason that private land monopoly should extend in situations in which the public interest in the land, that granted the monopoly in the first place, is not being upheld. Clover is only one of many crops that could be grown here. Mustard is another, as indicated by the bright green and yellow patch on the hill below the house and above the boulevard median in this image:
Yeah, that’s the castle again. This time, notice as well the potential for fruit trees. These flowering plums are suffering, due to poor varietal choice and ridiculously inept rodent protection, but it could easily be done better. This, too, is what could be done better:
For the love of the earth, if you don’t plant clover the skeleton weed will come and then, soon thereafter, the whole ranching industry will collapse, as well as most species on the grasslands. Private ownership rights do not extend this far. $40 worth of seed. That’s not a lot to ask.
3. The Retaining Wall
What? You like to bend over while picking vegetables?
4. The Crack in the Asphalt that No One Can Afford To Fix
Might as well build it right in, to harvest this water, and to grow beautiful purslane (like this) for salads, or if there’s a contamination issue, just to mine contaminants from the road runoff, so the water can be used elsewhere. Purslane is a mighty fine water purifier.
5. The Street.
Street Sidewalk in Kelowna
So what if homeless people eat the stuff. Is a food bank more efficient? Hardly.
Yes, this is a downtown Kelowna street, not an alley. If it can grow wild lettuce and mustard, it can grow herbs, spinach, cress, lettuce and even grains. There is no need to protect farm land and production monopolies from the stomachs of poor people. Let them eat their city.
6. The Road Margin
Same deal with the wild lettuce, except here it’s against the road surface instead of the building surface. Self-irrigating. This location can also be used to mine run-off water for sand and soil, like this:
Plants will do as well at this as rocks. Queasy about road contaminants? Fine. Go for the honey again:
7. The Base of a Retaining Wall
This escaped lavender is showing the way: in this landscape, any cut made in the soil profile will concentrate water. Placing rocks along the cut face will deliver the water underground directly to the plants at the face’s base. Similarly, this fire hydrant …
In this case, that’s a bit of domestic russian sage that has escaped from the boulevard above. Hey, beats the skeleton weed I yanked out of here before snapping the image. You could grow a decent crop of currants along that entire wall, for kilometres, like these that have moved in just down the hill…
Wild Syilx Currant, Bella Vista
Fruit and honey for free.
If you’re going to cause the hill to cough up its hidden water, you might as well use it rather than running it down the storm drain or growing knapweed or skeleton weed with it.
8. The Rooftop
Alley, Downtown Kelowna
Note that a tree growing on one square foot of space and irrigated by a downspout is capable of being trained to provide cooling shade, beauty, and fruit to a rooftop garden. Notice as well, the garden to the right of the tree, and this one…
Tomatoes and Beans Above the Restaurant, Downtown Kelowna
If you cover the land with buildings, it doesn’t mean that the exposure to the sun is lost. Irrigation can be done with grey water from the kitchen and the bath.
9. The Subdivision
All that’s missing is a collection and distribution network. I promise you, if there were even a small food collection fee, the gleaners and bottle collectors of the valley would regularly pick up everything. There are many people who look to $100 dollars of money a month as the difference between existence and a healthy, happy life. Currently, the natural gleaners of the human genome are being under-utilized. That’s a big price to pay for ideology. Here’s a little tour of a mature subdivision. There are thousands of acres of stuff like this in the Okanagan, all growing more food than the inhabitants can deal with. All that’s missing is a collection and distribution network. I promise you. These are just a few of the many crops that could be harvested…
Assorted Fruit Trees (in the grass.)
Currently, this homeowner bags the nuts for disposal in the annual garden waste pickup program. The labour is not the issue.
A Much-Loved Cherry Tree (and a smaller peach tree too)
Junipers for the Floral Industry (and for gin)
Well, you get the idea.
10. The Walking Trail
This section of Vernon’s Grey Canal Trail, in the bed of the infilled old, clay-lined Grey (irrigation) Canal, runs for about 3 kilometres and produces two crops of alfalfa without irrigation other than the rain that the clay trap of canal bed keeps in place. You could support several cattle or a kazillion goats on that. All you’d need was some small-scale baling equipment. In fact, this model is so good at retaining water and placing crops within easy human access that it could be used to grow asparagus, dandelion, spinach, lettuce, mustards, grains, amaranth, saskatoons, chokecherries, currants, etc, etc, etc, with easy access to harvesting.
Pretty exciting, I’d say. If you add all these observations up, you get enough crop land to support dozens of young farmers, to feed hundreds if not thousands of hungry people, at zero land cost, almost no input costs, no irrigation costs, and often zero transportation costs. Multiple tons of food could be produced with no cost to anyone other than some labour. What’s more, if we did these things they would develop into an industry of environmental innovation and forms of social renewal that would make us world leaders. Even the commercial farmers would not suffer: truly hungry local people are not the market for their industrial products, anyway.