We didn’t invent tree fruits.
We just perfected them.
Fruit has been a part of the Okanagan Valley since before anyone can remember. And then some. The indigenous people picked wild crab apples, strawberries, thimbleberries and pin cherries. When European settlers showed up in the early 1800s, they found a perfect produce paradise. Luckily, many had the foresight to bring grafts along with them in their covered wagons.
It was Father Pandosy, a French Catholic priest, who really brought orcharding to the Okanagan. In 1862 he developed the first, large-scale apple farm on his mission. For the longest time, it was the only one in the area. Then slowly, more and more began to appear.
At the end of the 19th century came the gold rush. Some dug for it. Others planted it. That’s because Father Pandosy and others proved there was a good living in growing good food.
Orcharding officially became a commercial enterprise and moved beyond just apples to all the varieties of tree fruits we enjoy today. It became not just a source of income, but also a source of pride for the entire Okanagan Valley.
Trucks and trains weren’t refrigerated as they are now. And cold is key when it comes to keeping tree fruits fresh. Also road conditions were completely unreliable. The early effort failed. But when the growers regrouped 40-some-odd years later, the situation was such that they could, and did, succeed.
Today there are 580 grower families in our co-op. They work individually in their orchards and use their strength in numbers to pack, store, transport and market their produce. And work together for the greater good of the local economy.
Always getting better.
Since way back in the day, Okanagan farmers have worked hard to make the land yield both higher quantity and higher quality tree fruits. First there were irrigation ditches, then sprinklers and, since the 1990s, automated weather stations have helped our farmers irrigate more efficiently. Of course, the landscape has been transformed in other ways too.
Early apple orchards had between 200 and 250 trees per acre. Today, growers use dwarf rootstocks on super-spindle plantings. In layman’s terms, that means trees that are skinnier with shorter trunks so they can be planted closer together. Thanks to these advancements, farmers average 1,200 to 1,500 trees per acre. And each of those slim, trim trees gets more sunlight, so the quality of the fruit is superior.