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.
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.
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:
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.
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.