Agriculture

Race and Apples 10: A Positive Future

This is the tenth of a series on race and apples in Northern Cascadia and the stresses this racial past places on food security and affordability, land access and environmental resilience. I urge you to go the home page, http://www.okanaganokanogan.com and read the entire series. Yesterday, I spoke about how a realignment of farm and water policy with Indigenous land use could go far towards correcting these imbalances and making the valley and its cities livable. Today, I would like to look at the same issue from the settler point of view, namely how to achieve the same goals within the other founding culture of the modern state, British Columbia, with jurisdiction over the region. These models would apply as well to Central Cascadia, currently under the jurisdiction of the US states of Washington and Idaho and their Native American partners. I will, however, concentrate on British Columbia, as that is the region I have built a home in and know best. I see three issues here: water, land and culture.

Where they intersect is where we live. The image above shows an economically questionable apple variety, Royal Gala, unpicked because of low crop quality on trees older than the cropping system was designed for, for no profit, on land worth a couple million dollars if it were planted in grapes, and farmed by machine, chemicals and Mexican temporary labour. This is cultural, and is what is called “a family farm.” I think it would be better to call it a real estate investment, using European and American technology, Vancouver capital and many millions of dollars of government infrastructure support and subsidy to maintain such farms as an economic model. The economics aren’t there in the farming, but the general view of farmed land creates an image of European cultural depth, raises all property prices, and drives a real estate and tourist industry, on the backs of farmers and the land. The farmer himself is present on this land only from the seat of his tractor. The labour is only done by untrained workers from a country far away, kept for a few months each year then sent back home. In a valley in which water is drawn down to the evaporation zone of the valley bottom and squandered to inefficiently produce food of questionable nutritional value that no-one wants, at a price no-one wants to pay, this is all a cultural luxury we can no longer afford. So, let me propose an alternative. To date, hundreds of millions of dollars have poured into the fruit industry from Canadian and British Columbian governments, for such things as deer fencing, tree-replanting, nursery production, grafting wood production, packing houses, water supplies, crop insurance, marketing support, disaster relief, and so on. Not a penny has gone into this Gravenstein tree on the Splatsin nation.

That has been the work of Sonya’s grandfather, Sonya, Laureen and Lyle of the Splatsin Community Garden, and me. I have been bringing her back to a productive state for Sonya and her family for two seasons now, among many others. There are very few settled places in British Columbia, between Yukon, Washington and Alberta, where apples cannot be grown, and pretty much any other place outside of Alpine conditions. None of those apples receive these massive subsidies, and none of them make the same extraordinary demands on water, or condemn surrounding land to be reserved as watersheds and lakes and streams as resulting flood control mechanisms. What would function better for the land and people of British Columbia would be to ease ourselves away from a 19th century industrial model of environmental use into a 21st century one, with support going to providing the following:

  1. Production and distribution of appropriate apple and rootstock varieties for eating, juicing, cider, cooking and baking.
  2. Land available out of high evaporation zones, for sustainable apple production.
  3. Small-scale processing systems in all communities.
  4. Development of urban food forest systems, as well as rural ones.
  5. Provision for land access for small scale orchard plots taking advantage of tiny water opportunities, even in dry regions.
  6. Marketing infrastructure in all communities, appropriate to community size.
  7. Development of Indigenous fruit crops into commercial crops.
  8. Development of training programs in communities.
  9. Provision for non-human grazers to have access to fruit.
  10. Go on, add to the list, please.

It would cost a fraction of current subsidies to the fruit industry, which is in direct competition with the real-estate based wine industry, anyway, on land that does not need such subsidy any longer. Of course, if as a society we decide that the aesthetics of orchards is paramount to us, then farmers should be paid for aesthetic values. It is done in Switzerland, where old trees are maintained because they provide nesting locations for birds. The apples that come from them are economically incidental. If we don’t decide that, it’s time to move onto the land, cut out the high petroleum costs of this farming method, and bring people and the land together, so we can all knit together and be fed. If you think it would cost to much, well, so does the contemporary water system. $100,000,000 for Greater Vernon, a region of 80,000 people, where I live, to update the water system. That is, frankly, ridiculous. If we can strip a big whack of agricultural water demands out of that, we all win.

Saskatoon, Currant and Lyle’s McIntosh tree at Splatsin. This could be yours.

The point is, the money is being spent, as a subsidy to industries that end up as real estate holding areas and have not shown stewardship for environmental values. We can spend it differently and be healthier. As a part of reconciliation with our Indigenous present, it is vital for our children that we do so.

4 replies »

  1. Fascinating journey, Harold. Thanks for sharing. Much to consider here.

    Brings to mind two other boom-bust apple production narratives that I came across while working and/or traveling in our corner of the continent. The one takes place on the San Juan Islands, the other in the Anderson Valley on the northern California coast. I will spare you my personal yarns; both histories can be cobbled together from numerous online websites. Concerning the latter, I will only add information I gleaned from local folk, a perspective that seems to be missing in the online offerings I’ve read: namely, that industrial apple production in Washington State ultimately undermined the 1950s boom years in the Anderson Valley where some report that as many as 39 apple varieties were being sent to market in the Bay Area.

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  2. In brief, from my biased perspective, your series is an excellent take on what needs to be addressed at the food and land-base “root” of life and community when faced with our impending ecological challenges; this in contrast to always “inventing” ways “forward” from the apex of modern technological and economic development.

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