By Tom Read
Our 3,500-mile road trip from Texada Island to southern California and back is over at last. Our little Toyota Matrix burned about 110 gallons of gasoline during the 19-day sojourn, but this extravagance (for us) allowed us a rare and thoroughly enjoyable visit with family and friends ranging from Victoria, BC, all the way south to San Diego. Our previous road visit to California took place in 2007, involved travelling by pick-up truck and burned a lot more gas. Depending on the global price of oil a few years hence, maybe next time we’ll go by bus and train.
It was a refreshing, though tiring, trip. Being away from our island gave us a chance to see our lives here from a different perspective. For example, I’ve long been interested in the agricultural potential of Texada, which stands in sharp contrast to the huge agribusiness centres along Interstate 5 in California’s San Joaquin Valley and Oregon’s Willamette Valley. Any casual traveler along that route sees the vast monocultures of fruits, nuts, vegetables and grasses. My eye also caught the occasional grouping of bee hives, some looking normal but in several cases carelessly piled in a heap — dead.
What happened to the bees? Perhaps it’s not a coincidence that I saw, in nearly every field, at least one grouping of translucent liquid-filled plastic tanks boasting chemical company logos. Bees and toxic chemicals didn’t evolve together, so is it any wonder the bees are disappearing?
And then there was the soil. At 65 miles-per-hour you can’t do a soil test on the passing scenery, but you can see the emerging salt flats — white crystals on the soil surface amid flourishing salt-bush — caused by excessive irrigation and lack of soil tilth in a field that still shows eroding furrows from former food growing. There’s just mile after mile of it.
Along with the ruined soil I also saw signs, literally, of renewed political conflict over water in a place prone to increasing drought. One empty field after another for hundreds of miles contained a political campaign-style sign reading “Congress-Created Dust Bowl.” California agribusiness exists on federal subsidies, particularly for water, but since the state’s rivers and reservoirs have run much lower in recent years, the water-war propaganda has become more intense.
Bear in mind that these valleys provide much of the fruit and vegetables we find on grocery store shelves on Texada Island and in BC. Our dependence on this dying system becomes much more real when one sees it in person.
Which brings me back home to our island, where water is usually not an issue and the soil ranges from Agricultural Land Reserve Class 5 rocky pasture to occasional pockets of Class 1 bottom-land richness. Small-scale mixed farms once flourished here. The time is coming when factory food will no longer be cheap, and small local farms will once again become economically viable. Let the transition begin.