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Some festivals celebrate, others intimidate

Autumn was upon us and we found ourselves at the community hall at 10 a.m. It was packed with cars.

Autumn was upon us and we found ourselves at the community hall at 10 a.m. It was packed with cars. Volunteers rushed about. Begun 11 years ago by Harry and Debbie Burton, the annual Salt Spring Island Apple Festival, known as AppleFest, was underway.

We paid our $10 and received our apple sticker. Stuck to our clothes it allowed us to enter the hall as well as visit 17 farms on the island, each displaying their apples, their goods, their food.

Inside the big hall were rows of stands and displays of produce and products. Seed sellers, orchard mason bee houses (necessary now that the honeybee populations are plummeting), environmental and aid organizations. There were horticultural and ecological books for sale, next to a trio of apple experts armed with a pile of identification manuals. “We will name that apple!”

Over 350 apples were laid out on plates in the centre of the hall, along with their history and descriptions. Yes, it was a real festival. The community talking to itself, engaged in being a community.

Festivals are just one of the ingredients that go into the broth that makes a community, a chance for us to mingle and learn about each other. Every good community has lots of festivals: Halloween, Robbie Burns Night, potlatches, Greek days, heritage days, winterfests, Klondike days, Garlic festivals, bird festivals, fall fairs ....

It’s astonishing the number of reasons we find for getting together, and the reality is there’s not enough of them. A community that knows itself is a healthy community.

We started out on the south island armed with our map. First up was the renowned Salt Spring Island Cheese where David and Nancy Wood have developed some of the great cheeses of Canada, including a sheep milk cheese, montana, that’s to die for.

They’re only a few kilometres from Moonstruck Organic Cheese, another renowned fromagerie - masters of blue and Camembert cheese among others.

Then it was down to Ruckle Park, one of the few Canadian parks that houses a working historic farm run by the energetic Mike and Marjorie Lane, where we fed cornstalks to their Highland cattle

After brief stops at the spectacular wood-oven bakery and the expansive gardens of Wave Hill we found ourselves at Yeo Point where we ate Thai noodles and rolls, and Chris Hatfield’s garage displayed his painstaking archeological dig of a century-old Chinese midden that will eventually end up in a museum somewhere.

Up island was “Beddis Castle,” an exotic stone mansion embracing the sea. I’m told there’s basement portholes where you can watch the seals and salmon underwater. One of our oldest orchards, its apple seeds were planted here in 1872, and the scions (the branches for grafting) survived the long voyage from England stuck in potatoes. We watched them press their fragrant apples into a magnificent juice, rare and beautiful, like a fine wine.

Then there’s Whims Farm, with its heritage grove and stunning pottery.

At the north end of the island, Neptune Farm, first homesteaded in 1860, waits for the last stragglers to inhale the magic of the whole island.

The treasures of the island extend even farther north to Blue Horse Pony Gallery, and the Burkes display their impressively designed xeriscaping and water reservoirs and a small apple ‘living-fence’ near a gallery of folkloric carvings and elegant raku pottery.

For a while, festivals were a dying tradition until revived in local living paradises like Salt Spring. Now the spirit and the good news of local living is spreading again.

Yet less than 50 kilometres across the water we are witnessing what happens when a festival is overwhelmed by corporations and international politics. I can only feel sorry for the Olympic athletes who spend their lives trying to reach that magic moment while being manipulated by a festival that’s been converted into a monstrous corporate spectacle.

One billion dollars for security costs! I don’t think security even occurred to anyone at our little festival. Hey, this is Salt Spring. Security?

Laws are passed to allow the rounding up of homeless people because they’re unsightly. RCMP ‘visit’ dissidents. Shades of totalitarian Russia. Laws against signs in the windows of your homes. The city of Vancouver inflicted with a form of martial law, now relabelled ‘security.’ Streets closed. Businesses closing. The locals fleeing. This is not a festival; this is an offensive corporate invasion.

I’m an idealist. I still love those beautiful athletes going for it, trying to be the very best, and to deny them that would be unfortunate, although to take away their childhood for the slim chance of gold is also unfortunate.

Meanwhile, that Nazi innovation, the silly fake torch procession, will cover 45,000 kilometres and cost millions. Imagine how many nurses that could pay, how many homeless people that money could house.

I’m glad to live in a community where the word security would make us look at each other and say: “From what?” The only tyrants we have to fear are the health gestapo, and so far they haven’t been stupid enough to show up on Salt Spring and try to shut down someone’s muffins or home-cooked ribs.

We know the dangers. We prefer making our own choices. We’re a community. We don’t want ignorant bureaucrats who miss 9 million tonnes of poisoned beef because they’re busy seizing three dozen lovingly raised, local, free-range eggs. They need to get a life.

We have a life and we call it a festival. It’s an island. It’s a community. Our neighbours make fine food, grow fine fruit. We’re apple masters, garlic kings, and we can grow good lambs if they don’t regulate us out of existence.

Globalized festivals, globalized food, globalized bureaucrats. They’re the danger. Give the people some credit. Give the community credit, and they will surprise you. They will show you that life is a festival. Taste the apples. They’re delicious. They make us ready for winter.

Brian Brett, poet, journalist and novelist, lives on Salt Spring Island and returns to the Yukon whenever he can. His new book, Trauma Farm: A Rebel History of Rural Life, has just been released by Greystone Books.