It is asparagus season in the North Okanagan, particularly in Armstrong and Spallumcheen, both of which have become famous for the legendary green vegetable produced every spring.
However, more than 100 years ago, the area was known for another green veggie: celery.
According to a passage from thegreenestworkforce.ca, Armstrong, in 1892, was a “lone boxcar, a home for the rail agent.” One early settle remarked that apart from the boxcar, there were just “willows and swamp.” Innovative farmers drained the swamplands and exposed fertile black soil, ideal for vegetable and fruit production.
Along with berries, potatoes and turnips, the farmers began growing celery. E.R. Burnett (second from left in the accompanying photograph from the Greater Vernon Museum and Archives) grew the first celery crop with amounted to 300 pounds, and soon earned Armstrong the nickname “Celery City.”
In her writing for bcfoodhistory.ca, Mary Leah de Zwart says celery “has one of the highest sodium contents of all vegetables and according to BC Agriculture in the Classroom, it’s a “great way to balance your electrolytes after exercise and illness.”
de Zwart pointed out that celery likes to grow in mucky bottomland and Armstrong had everything celery needed – cool, moist fertile ground, bright warm days and cool nights.
The celery was individually planted and hand-weeded. In Armstrong, she wrote, Chinese market gardeners quickly took on the monumental task of celery production starting in about 1906. They developed a celery stamper that enabled 12 seedlings to be planted at once and they harvested the crop by hand.
Up to 900 Chinese people came to Armstrong to work in the celery fields and in other market gardens, but the head tax, the Exclusion Act of 1923 and economic conditions during the Great Depression caused many hardships and finally an end to the celery industry in Armstrong by the 1940s.