Race and Orcharding in British Columbia and Washington

This is the second of three posts about the costs of farming. This one is about the tangle between land and race. The next is about broader environmental and social factors. If you missed the first part, which is about industrial and environmental costs and how they impact contemporary society, have a look here: The True Costs of Farming in the Okanagan.  

If you just want the really, really short version of the first one (and I don’t blame you), it’s this:

Erosion Caused by Deer Blocked by Orchard Fencing

And this:

Your body wasn’t designed to breathe this much, cough cough, smoke.

Cultural habit advertises that orchards are wholesome places, full of clean air and clean water and food packed with the stuff of life. That’s a throwback to the 1890s, when the cities of England were choked with coal smoke and fog, the water was poisonous, and you had to get away.

Smog at Westminster Bridge, 1890s

Wouldn’t you, too, rather have an orchard in the Okanagan?

Orchards still have that potential, of course, but most of the time it’s more like this current online flyer from Save-On Foods.

It’s an industry, in other words, fulfilling the promise of the settlement of the West as a place that fulfilled the promise of American culture: to have people renewed by contact with the land and made into productive citizens through it. Again, a place of health. This was an important installation in that health process, at Grand Coulee Dam:

The dam had destroyed Indigenous salmon fisheries of the Columbia River in order to store water to irrigate the “desert.” The goal was to settle 150,000 black sharecroppers from the South, so that the land could make them into productive citizens, rather than vagrants and troublemakers. Then came World War II, during which this racial idea was used to produce the Plutonium that bombed Nagasaki, a profoundly racial act of its own. After the War, the land was taken up by wealthy White industrial farmers, not family farmers at all, of any colour. To the south, much of the land was planted into apples, including, likely enough, some of these:

The Granny Smiths Probably Come from the Okanogan River Mouth and the Ambrosias and Spartans from the Canadian Okanagan

The others are likely either a part of this water project or one like it. The Spartans were developed at the Summerland Research Station, a Canadian Federal Project put on the southern edge of Nkwala’s Prairie, because it was Indigenous Land, which meant the Federal Government had that land available and the power to pre-empt it.



  1. all the varieties here, except for Spartan in the lower right, were introduced to the valley to bring more value to orchards than Red Delicious (2nd from left in the middle row) could provide, because, well, those things are pig fodder, and yet, because they’re super red, they still fetch the highest price of all.

  2. any of the apples in bags are small, which is to say inferior apples grown on inferior buds, limbs or trees, likely in shade and likely in stress; they’re not particularly tasty and they are lower in nutrients than the others;

  3. Galas, Honeycrisps and Fujis lose their aromatic perfumes in the first few days after picking; what you are buying here are fruits that taste bland, and like the cold storage they came from.

  4. These apples are expensive.

  5. They are all machine packed.

  6. Is an Ambrosia, sold 18 weeks after picking “fresh”?

  7. Do you really want to eat one of those 425 gram Fujis? That’s, like 12 tbsp of sugar.  Whoa.


Today, the White image of health …

… continues to export this health, presumably the health of the land, around North America and the world. As I mentioned yesterday, this comes with certain social and environmental costs, not the least of which is the replacement of Indigenous peoples with apples picked by Mexicans. Mexicans are hard-working people, without question, but it’s quite the progression from, for instance: Yakama people (seasonal labour migrations) > Immigrants  (global migrations) > Mexicans (seasonal labour). Or, to look at it again: Yakama (people working for themselves and the Earth) > Immigrants (people working the earth for themselves) > Mexicans (people working the earth for others.) That’s not really the fulfillment of a promise of health. It’s more like a racial sorting. And there’s this:

Horse Suffering Away in an Abandoned Orchard Above the Yakima River in Kiona

Note the Red Delicious stump behind it.

We couldn’t have just stuck with the Yakama? Apparently not. Many settlers in early Washington were pretty focussed on extending the plantation culture of the American South, where racial distinctions between people were a source of both power and powerlessness. One would hope that fixing the environmental relationships of our orchards will be a good step on the other important work ahead of us, repairing the social and economic relationships between people. And between people and horses.


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