Jeff Bryde says he’s protesting what his employer is doing because he supports B.C. farmers and he objects to seeing apples from Washington State being sold by B.C. Tree Fruits.
Both his employer, the Okanagan Tree Fruit Co-operative, and the BCTF are operated by the 800 orchardist families in the valley and governed by the same board of directors, made up of grower/members of the co-op.
The chairman of that board is Kelowna orchardist Jim Elliot, who admits to being puzzled why Bryde has chosen to go on a hunger strike this week to protest the fact that some apples from south of the border are sold by the grower marketing agency to provide a continuous supply of fruit for their customers.
“We dovetail our supply of apples with other supply sources,” he explained. “We do not pack imported fruit or sell it as B.C. fruit.”
Elliot said usually fruit from outside the valley is brought in when those varieties aren’t available from local growers, to keep from losing their wholesale customers, who want a steady supply for their retail customers.
Elliot says in some years, it isn’t necessary to bring in outside fruit. But this year, the apples from last year’s harvest were all shipped by early August and some varieties were gone earlier, yet the current year’s summer apples weren’t available until the third week of August, with most main season varieties not ready for harvest until this month.
In addition to competing with apples from other countries, Okanagan apples also compete on store shelves with other produce, he explains, so it’s important to always have them available in front of the consumer, so they don’t just switch to a different fruit.
“We also import early California cherries from a supplier there (before local cherries are available) and that same supplier sells our late season varieties of cherries into the U.S. market,” he explains.
BCTF is a marketing and sales agency, providing services to major retailers, he adds.
Last year, for instance, $1 million to $2 million worth of fruit sold by BCTF, was imported. In some years, they sell tangerines or mandarin oranges, as well, he said.
It all puts money in growers’ pockets, and helps pay the salaries of the co-op’s employees.
However, Bryde says it just seems all wrong to have the B.C. Fruit Growers’ Association, a lobby group made up of the valley’s orchardists, campaigning to encourage consumers to support B.C. farmers on the one hand, while the BCTF is importing Washington apples on the other.
He has been carrying a placard protesting the move outside the offices of the BCTF on Water Street this week, as well as the fact he was suspended from work for five days for writing a letter to the editor, which appeared in last Thursday’s Capital News, about his concerns.
In that letter, he included information about BCTF suppliers which the co-op’s board says is confidential information an employee shouldn’t be sharing with the public.
It was the second time in the past few months that Bryde had written a letter to the editor critical of the co-op’s business practices, and he was warned at that time he would be suspended if he repeated it.
He says he will end his picketing and hunger strike today.