Towards an Indigenous Agriculture: Land Reform for British Columbia (and beyond)

Yesterday, I showed how an aspen copse …

… could be used as both a living and an agricultural space by farming both its edges and its shade. Here’s that post. Today, I’d like to demonstrate how the edges of the copse can be turned into copses of their own, and their own islands of living and farming space.

Here is one of the beautiful ones, malus fusca, the Pacific Crab. She’s a small apple, but she comes in clusters, like so many crabs: dwarf crab, the great golden cider apple Reine des Pommes, to name just two. So, here she is, ta da, malus fusca.

She’s a lovely one, who grows in the protection of thorn hedges on wetlands, and is the only apple that doesn’t mind growing in standing water. Paradise apples can take wet roots, but this is even more specialized. She is native to the Cascadian coasts.

(These two images were made on Vancouver Island.) Her lessons are fully transportable. Because of the success of apple breeding programs in Manitoba, Poland and Russia, we now have apple varieties and rootstocks that will grow anywhere that has 6 weeks of cold and freedom from late spring frosts between Alaska and Northern California and Winter Harbour to Halifax. Currently, these fruits are grown on paradise apple roots, for the dwarfing that comes from cross-species incompatibility of various kinds. Because of predation of buds by deer…

… and resulting stunting, the trees are grown either behind fences or in areas cleared of all, or nearly all, wildlife: birds, porcupines, snakes, wasps, insects…

…bears, deer, raccoons, and so on. That is an example of “making space” to fit the parameters of a space-claiming culture. It would be just as successful to grow tall, umbrella-shaped trees that resist deer predation, while allowing deer access to land, or even providing corridor passages for deer, to move them through. It would also be successful to grow thorn islands, of black hawthorns…

… a close relative of the apple and even capable of being a poor rootstock for it. When Black Hawthorn is young, she is a thorny one, keeping deer at bay.

When she is mature, she has few thorns and deer can prune her down to a single trunk.

We could, instead, grow wild roses, for the same thorny purpose.

Both of these guard plants can be harvested: roses for perfume, edible flowers, flowers… scent, and fruit; hawthorns for fruit …

…and  anti-cancer agents. We would have an orchard system in which apples are grown in hawthorn or rose arbours spaced out across the grassland…

Black Hawthorns, Falkland

…and thinned out over time. When young, they could support asparagus, which also needs the protection and loves the border between rose and grass…

Asparagus Among the Roses

We could plant orchards in gullies, either using these deer, bear and porcupine-proof saskatoons and chokecherries, or with the hawthorn-rose-apple combo.

… and along roads.

Columbia Hawthorn Doing Very Well in Priest Valley, Thank You Very Much

We could even plant the apples on malus fusca roots (although there are some grafting issues to solve first) and plant them in the wetlands, or at least on the edges of them…


Good Apple Land: No Need to Drain It

…where deer aren’t going to bother them. It works for willow, after all.

Good Crop for Honey and Cut Flowers

We could also plant them right on the edge of the water, such as here at Umatilla Rock. These trees are a century old now.

Got that?

We could have the health the grasslands provide, strengthen it, and have apples and vegetables, too, and the health the wetland provides, and apples too…


Each apple is 700-900 grams.

… without hundreds of millions of dollars of water-purification or delivery infrastructure and without barren lakes or the environmentally and economically costly procedure of continually reducing orchard land to blank space every ten years …


…to render it efficient for mechanized growing and harvesting.

Be assured, when a farmer says he can’t afford to grow apples any other way, he is saying that land use structures and the expense of monopolizing labour, allows no easy alternatives. In other words, by not following the land reforms that would allow for indigenous styles of growing and harvesting, we are not only killing the planet but making ourselves poor. Is it possible to change the entire land use system of Canada and the United States? Hardly. But vast swathes of unproductive land, such as the overgrazed and overgrown sagebrush hill behind this newly-replanted orchard (itself a nearly $2,000,000 investment), can be repurposed.


Currently, the thousand hectares of that hill supports a dozen cows for 4 weeks a year. Before it goes up in flame and takes out the city, and before the farmer can argue that “it is not economically viable as farmland”, regulations can be put into place that will allow for it to be returned to health and continue to feed humans and all the other people who care for it and live off it as well. Like, well, this big yellow black bear (below.) The image caught him in the upper centre of the image above (just below the dark saskatoon bush). Here he is:

Blurry, but you get the idea

He could prune our apples for us, freeing us up for this other important work. I think he’s waiting. You can see the story of that in this post from 2012: Apple Hunting With Bears,  

Don’t worry. Apple trees and bears evolved together. This rather rough pruning made the tree doubly-productive in two years, and increased the fruit quality.





3 replies »

    • I can’t keep up with myself, I tell ya! It’s like there’s a whole world to be spoken, and it’s a monumental task. I do my best.



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