Food & Drink » Glenda Bartosh on Food

Food and drink: How green is your valley?

Between Whistler and the Okanagan, paradise found and lost

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Theo's in Penticton puts out some of the best Greek food this side of the Aegean. Iyara does out-of-this-world Thai. Then there's Rod Butters's Fresco in Kelowna and all those sumptuous little winery eateries, like the Casavants' Sonora Room.

On top of all that, observes a Whistler pal, finally the O.K. has all those good local cheeses and local this and local that, when for many years buying local in the Okanagan meant buying at the local Safeway.

Well, yes and no.

First off, arable or should I say irrigable land is so precious in the Okanagan, no one can afford to run sheep, cows or any other livestock there. Nor can they afford to grow field crops like they do around Keremeos.

So other than the tree fruit and a bit of local honey, and the odd bit of lavender - yes, you can eat lavender - and some herbs and hot peppers and the odd veggie or two you might buy from small, and I mean very small local growers, as in someone with a double lot up on the bench in Westbank or Peachland who wants to make an extra buck or two from his carrots or tomatoes this time of year - all that good local cheese and local this and that pretty much comes from the rich farm and ranch land in the Salmon Arm-to-Armstrong area which, despite the fact the latter is part of the Regional District of North Okanagan, is not usually regarded as Okanagan country, given it's an hour's drive from Vernon, which is generally considered as the northern end of the O.K. valley and the great lake it's named for, which stretches an impressive 135 km from top to its southern bottom in Penticton.

I say all this from a peculiarly personal perspective as my mother's family hails from the Okanagan since the beginning not quite of time, but at least of settlement there. Her dad's family came in by covered wagons from Ontario via the States in the 1880s, about 10 years before the first orchards were planted and 40 years before the first grape vines went in. Her mom's family seemingly sprang up like knapweed from the valley floor.

Streets in Kelowna and nearby Rutland are named for the McClure's and McCurdy's, from whose Celtic ancestral loins I eventually emerged.

Over the years, we've come to think of the proliferation of vineyards and the accompanying closure of the few Okanagan market gardens and the axing of acre after acre of apple, pear, cherry and peach trees, their trunks and limbs piled like skeletons in what was once a shady orchard, not so much as a greening or paradisal transformation of the valley as an invasive monoculture, another industrial agri-business gone a little mad.

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