Climate Change in the North Okanagan 6: A Tale of Two Orchards

This is an old apple tree.

The government has paid for it to be replaced. Best read that again. The government has paid to have almost all of these trees replaced.

$2.50 per tree. Count them. You paid for them. Millions like them.

Up and down the Okanagan Valley, orchards have been replaced with plantations like the one above. Few are healthy. Few farmers can afford to farm them efficiently, or to maintain tree health. Most are about ready to be torn out. This is a story about climate change. How so? Look again.

See that? This spartan apple tree is self-supporting. It has lost limbs to bad pruning over the years. I did my best with them, and pruned the rest of the tree in accord with the tree’s natural growth patterns. Yield: about 300 pounds of apples, all pretty nice. Oh, and some bluebirds.

The tree and the bluebirds are all gone now. But we have government-subsidized orchards now.

Supported by wires and pressure-treated posts. Kept clear with weedkillers. Thinned with chemicals (which gives the sickly colour to the trees in the foreground, as they have been mildly poisoned to abort all but the strongest fruits.) Yield, about 10 pounds per tree. No profit yet. Not see the climate change yet? Let’s look again:

Above: self-supporting tree, planted by independent Japanese-Canadian farmers who escaped WWII internment camps by farming this land. Their son married a Japanese-Canadian woman, who was born in the Interment Camp in Kaslo. After he died, I helped her prune the last of the trees. The work put into this tree over fifty years is the annual profit from the tree, plus the deep cultural connection it carries. Here, men and women take their measures from trees and history. Below: trees used to invest in land, using temporary foreign labour and government subsidies to farm apples as a high-volume crop. Neither the farm, the farmers nor the trees can survive without technological and political intervention. Here, men and women take their measure by how they can manipulate social connections to gain the government supports that allow them to imitate the values in the image above.

So often, we hear about climate change as being the load of carbon dioxide in the air. That’s nothing compared to the cultural erasure on the land that goes along with the culture that created that load. Put this another way. If you plant an apple tree in 1960, and wait 50 years, you get a bluebird.

If you plant an apple tree in 2017, it will attract no birds, wild bees will be poisoned, deer will be fenced out, and the trees will be worn out and sick by 2019. We are almost halfway there, without a profit yet. Do you see? The bluebirds are gone, not because of lack of habitat on the mountain. That happened by 1960, but because of loss of habitat, financed by the government and its ideas of efficient, supported and culturally-integrated humans, not those free-standing types, they are gone. The orchards, bastions of other cultural values, kept them going for two generations. The real climate change here has nothing to do with carbon. It has everything to do with any human care for beauty, and its placement at the core of industrial values. And its subsidized destruction.

What we do to trees we do to people.

Doubt that? Look at the tree you’re with.

4 replies »

  1. Nice words! It is sad that food has become a commodity within a global economy. We seek to make every inch of the land produce a tangible value, clearing from fence line to fence line, planting monocultures and high-density varieties. We seek foreign markets and grow for them rather than feeding our own community. We try to eliminate hands-on farming techniques and farmers gain more and more land to “make a living”. We have definitely changed the landscape, both culturally and geographically, in the search for riches. It is human nature to leap over the simplicity that lays before us. There are many that are demonstrating the benefits of low impact and small-scale farming, but it seems that because they are not the big players, not supporting big chemical companies etc, their work is of lower value. The self-supporting tree of the old days is a very nice symbol of a simpler, somewhat more sustainable agricultural model.


  2. Right now, my county in Maryland is patting itself on the back for thousands of new trees planted–to replace mature trees mown down for developments over the last decade. Leave well enough alone, said few public officials ever!


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