Canadian Mennonite
Volume 6, number 11
June 3, 2002

Beyond 'sheer food'

The cover photo-and the story of how it came to my attention-illuminates some of the urgent and complex
themes woven into this issue's feature package, "Making peace with the land" (pages 4-12). The photo also highlights an essential ingredient amidst the complexity.

Last summer, on a flight from my parental home in Kelowna, B.C., back to Ontario, I couldn't help but notice the picture on the lunch box distributed by the flight attendant. The box included a shot of the Prudence Heward painting, Apple Tree, accompanied by a poem entitled "Apple Jelly" from no less than Margaret Atwood.

"No sense in all this picking, peeling and simmering if sheer food is all you want," wrote Atwood in the opening stanza of her poem. "You can buy it cheaper...."

For over a year I had been looking for an appropriate art reproduction by which to remember my father, a retired orchardist, who passed away in late 1999. Further, my mother's health was beginning to fail as well, and I suspected already then that the memorial art would apply to her as well.

When I saw Apple Tree, my search was over. Although painted in eastern Canada, the piece captured a typical Okanagan Valley scene-a fruit-laden tree overlooking the valley and distant mountain range. "We thought we had arrived in heaven," wrote my mother in her journal as she recalled her first glimpse of Oliver, B.C., as a 16 year-old in the spring of 1938-after enduring the rigours of 1920s immigration from Russia and the depression-era prairies.

I'm sure that for them this painting would evoke nostalgia, as it does for me. But it evokes a whole lot more. I worked alongside my parents on the farm long enough to know about the hard work and the uncertainties, both natural and economic, that sometimes made "harvest" look quite unlike the fruit-laden branch in the painting.

Cherry crops were particularly vulnerable to the weather. More often than I care to remember, a light summer rain followed by sunshine left the cherries with huge splits. When I once asked Dad about his keenest farming disappointment, I thought he'd mention the failed cherry crops. But instead he mentioned the bumper prune crop which rotted because the fruit marketing board had been unable to find buyers.

The economic questions were the most troubling. We frequently shook our heads in amazement at the price of imported fruit in our local grocery stories. How could they sell fruit cheaper than what it cost us to grow the same produce just down the road? Further, why did local retailers import fruit in the first place when their stores were surrounded by orchards?

It seemed at times that the whole economic system conspired against the fruit farmer, much like the tourists who stopped at the roadside and helped themselves-sometimes literally ripped off whole branches-without apparently realizing that the fruit which they were grabbing cost something.

So why do farmers persist with all the "picking, peeling and simmering"-as Margaret Atwood put it? Perhaps it's precisely because they want more than "sheer food." They intuitively understand the connection between the food on our table and what it takes to produce that food. They want that connection to be understood and appreciated by others as well.

The relationship between food consumer and producer-that's the focus of the consultation to be held in Saskatoon this July. There will likely be lots to talk about as grocery shoppers and farmers compare notes, and try to understand each other's concerns. One that warrants more than passing attention is the importance of staying connected to the source of our food.

-Ron Rempel, editor



Copyright for the contents of this page belongs to the Canadian Mennonite. Please seek permission to reprint from the editor .

Canadian Mennonite
490 Dutton Drive, Unit C5
Waterloo, ON
N2L 6H7
Phone: (519) 884-3810
Toll-free: 1-800-378-2524
Fax: (519) 884-3331