There’s no place like home

By Tom Read

We came home to a plum-blossom surprise -- this young tree given to us by a neighbor a few years ago has never blossomed before now. Bees and other pollinators abound hereabouts, so we’re hoping for plums this summer.

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.


4 Responses to “There’s no place like home”

  1. 1 David Parkinson April 24, 2010 at 07:30

    Welcome back! It’s been too quiet around here… and I ended up on mini-hiatus with so much going on that it was hard to find time to sit and write. Feast or famine sometimes.

  2. 2 LIzzie Windsor April 24, 2010 at 09:54

    Enjoyed the article,Tom, even though it’s difficult not to get angry/depressed about the degredation and waste of good land. Southern Ontario, once the agricultural “Golden Horseshoe”, is in similar straits, but there it’s not so much the destruction of soil as it is the paving it over or covering it with houses. Farm after farm bites the dust to give way to mile upon mile of big new housing developent with tiny little yards and mile upon mile of paved streets – leading to nowhere in particular. And the crops roll in in – from Spain, from Africa, from South America, from Asia – all the far-flung corners of the world except our own. It’s sad and it will turn around but I wonder about the price that will have to be paid before that happens.

  3. 3 Tom Read April 24, 2010 at 22:06

    Hello David and Lizzie,

    I’ve driven up and down those US west coast valleys dozens of times in my life and not until this trip did I really see — and feel — what’s happening there. I could have included several more observations of trouble brewing in these agribusiness corridors. But you get the picture.

    So rather than get angry or depressed, my approach is to get growing. There is not a moment to lose in getting free of our dependency on these miserable places. I agree with Dan Jason, of Salt Spring Seeds, in his article “O Canada, How Can I Grow For Thee?”…


    …that the revolution has already begun.


  4. 4 Margy April 24, 2010 at 22:22

    Hi Tom – I lived most of my life in Southern California near LA. It was once a thriving agricultural area. My grandfather was a farmer near Compton. He grew crops like corn and beans, plus hay on land where they discovered the La Brea Tar Pits. After the war it all became houses, now city stretches all across the basin. But there are people even in LA who are worried about our food sources. They have a blog that I follow You might like to have a look if you don’t already know about it. – Margy

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