Bananas once grew in the Okanagan thanks to one industrious farmer

Fernandes Fruit Stand in Osoyoos today. The fruit stand became famous in the mid-1980s for its "Fernandes Banana Jungle," a large greenhouse where around 100 banana trees were cultivated.

PENTICTON - A long time ago, tropical fruit grew in the Okanagan.

If you think that’s bananas, you’re right.

Joe Fernandes put his Osoyoos based Fernandes Fruit Stand in the history books and on tourist’s must-see lists from around 1985 to 1995.

Fernandes’ daughters, Cidalia Harfmann and Laura Garcia talked about their father’s hobby recently at the family’s still operating Fernandes Fruit Stand on Highway 3 in Osoyoos earlier this week.

Cidalia says she made a trip to the coast where she purchased a banana plant back in the early 1980s.

“It was either a Bird of Paradise or a banana plant,” she says.

When she got it home she stuck it in the ground and it grew. She mentioned it to her dad, who became interested and asked for a shoot from the plant.

He built a makeshift greenhouse behind the fruit stand where he began cultivating banana plant shoots.

“He really went crazy after a while. He ordered different varieties and began growing several different types of bananas,” Cidalia says.

Eventually, Joe decided he needed a bigger greenhouse. He installed benches where he placed house plants for sale and made the operation open to the public.

Laura remembers the greenhouse being about 50 x 60 feet, and housing around 100 banana plants.

“He used wood and gas heat. It was expensive to keep them over the winter,” she says.

The greenhouse was simply constructed of two plies of plastic with air space in between.

“It was his hobby. Some people like to golf, some like to fish, he liked to grow bananas,” Laura says.

The ‘banana plantation’ became a tourist attraction. Even today, Laura says customers continue to come in looking for the banana trees.

“B.C. Magazine, Harrowsmith, and several other publications back east interviewed him, as did local media,” Cidalia says.

The bananas were sold in the fruit stand, but Laura says there were never enough of them. Some of them were dried and sold as well.

Joe died in 1993. Cidalia and Laura say the plantation continued for another couple of years, but no one had the time to continue operating the greenhouse, and it was too expensive to heat in winter.

“He also had a corner where he grew sugar cane, and fig trees. They could still be grown, it’s just the expense of keeping going in winter,” Cidalia says.

“In fact, you would probably need some shading or ventilation in the greenhouse in the summertime. It gets too hot,” she says.

Joe Fernandes stands in his Fernandes Banana Jungle in Osoyoos in this postcard image. The bananas were a tourist attraction for about 10 years between 1985 and 1995.
Joe Fernandes stands in his Fernandes Banana Jungle in Osoyoos in this postcard image. The bananas were a tourist attraction for about 10 years between 1985 and 1995.
Image Credit: SUBMITTED

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