Met a guy on the hike and bike trail recently and he said “who is Fred Steele?
Well he is my buddy and a former broadcaster like me
But he was raised by his dad to be a farmer – and he continues, in Kelowna, to be “Farmer Fred”
Flashback to 2018
This will be my last column as the President of the BC Fruit Growers Association (BCFGA) After four years as President, I have seen first hand how much the BCFGA is really involved in the lives of the members and the community as a whole.
I was reflecting on the changes the association brought to the community since its inception.
I think of the jobs that were created and the political battles fought and the course the industry followed until it reached its current place. Then it struck me. What might be different if the BCFGA was never formed?
Most don’t realize the industry didn’t start in the Okanagan; it had its beginnings in the Lower Mainland. The first BCFGA Board of Directors didn’t have a single farmer on it. The leadership was made up of real estate people and land developers. It started with David Oppenheimer, the Mayor of Vancouver and founder of the international fruit and vegetable broker sporting his name. The first President was J.M. Browning, the land commissioner for CP Rail.
What prompted the formation of the BCFGA? The first apple shipment heading east. It went from Chilliwack to Winnipeg in 1899. Fruit production, harvesting and transportation were going to be profitable, not to mention the sale of land to the growing industry.
Apples had come to the Okanagan in the mid-1800s with Father Pandosy who planted them at his mission in what is now Kelowna. In 1892 the Aberdeen’s planted thirteen thousand acres in the valley from orchards in Kelowna to Coldstream. In 1867 apples were in production in the Similkameen Valley.
The biggest problem facing growers is one we have even today; water. There is conflicting credit given as to who first thought of going into the mountains and damming the creeks and streams to develop the lakes that would supply irrigation water to the valley below. Some claim it was the Aberdeens and others give credit to John Rutland in the early nineteen hundreds.
When I look around I think, this area would look so much different had the industry not taken root, both in terms of the economic impact of tree fruit production and the infrastructure that was built to sustain the new industry. The BCFGA was the power house that brought the change to the valley. The list of development looms large. Here are a few:
At one time there were 64 packinghouses as the BCFGA brought SunRype into production to get some value out of the cull apples.