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September 10, 2009

I was a country bumpkin

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I hope my lack of writing lately is a sign of a good social life rather than exhaustion. Here is finally my experience at the recent slow food cycle.

The gems are often tucked away at the end of a road. Like last year’s treasures in Pemberton, the most wonderful spots in Agassiz’s slow food cycle route lay a ways down a road or off a nondescript path you only just had to trust would lead somewhere.

At one end of the self-guided, circuitous route through Agassiz’s sprawling farmland and country houses was a paradise I could not have expected. The Back Porch seemed to suggest with its name a rustic and romantic place. Greeted by dozens of bikes, we found ourselves on a farm that could have been transplanted from the artsy, organic culture of BC’s Gulf Islands. A pottery studio and coffee grinding shop occupied the first outbuilding, a unique combination that was at once odd and harmonious. Antique coffee grinders (ca. 1919) sat among vintage graphic design pieces which tickled my design nerd fancy!


Inside the coffee house

In the next building, over 1,000 pieces of antiques spanned generations and made me discover that the Antiques Roadshow never shows anything exciting whenever I’ve had the misfortune of coming across it. Outside they had wicker chairs for sale, and my friend insisted I photograph the adirondack chairs she and her husband were relaxing in so that her father could reproduce them (lucky girl). I was delighted when she said it was designed so that one cannot do anything but relax sitting in those chairs.

Adirondack chairs The Back Porch field
Can you spot the goat?

Their garden supplied the heirloom garlic — a garden so large and dense I don’t think I could process it at the time. A lunch of vegetable and fruit samples kept us going, and eager me picked up enough fresh vegetables (from visiting Anderson Organics, Spences Bridge, BC) to make a delicious ratatouille that night. Farm animals had free reign in large enclosures, which included a “what breed of rooster is it?” sign with six photographs. The owners made an effort to educate visitors which I think is key in ensuring that local food and farms keep thriving — the main purpose of the event. (See details at the end of this post.)

Hazelnut tree farm
The orchard at Canadian Hazelnut (owned by a Finn).

We were lucky to have looked for the Hazelnut Farm that wasn’t visible from the road where its sign stood. It was another world there, like a tree-lined road in rural France multiplied and transplanted into, as Heather suggested, Narnia. The geometry and straight lines in every direction boggled and soothed my mind. I love riding under a canopy looking up, as the pace is perfect and serene as I watch the landscape shift as I move by.

Other highlights of the 20 km were Limbert Mountain Farm and their massive, delightful herb garden. We got a tour and brushed our hands against so many herbs and scented flowering plants (lemon verbena and geraniums, for example), my hand has never smelled so good! I bought delicious heirloom tomatoes there and a beautifully-shaped yellow squash. (I love bike panniers.)

Getting a tour of the herb garden by the gardener herself

The Farm House Natural Cheeses stop was popular:

Farm House

And why not?

Farm House cheese Kid and mom

I was welcomed at Heather’s parents’ farmhouse in Chilliwack, which in the end I preferred to Cultus Lake because it was a completely new and down-to-earth (literally) experience. The first evening there, we picked bucket loads of plums, then canned much of it. I took a bucket home fresh to supplement the small yield of my family’s tree. The pears weren’t yet ripe. Heather made some delicious concoctions including blackberry jam (they grow those, too!) and her mother sent me home with plum-grape jam which I’ll enjoy gratefully in the midst of the approaching winter.

My favourite was picking fresh blueberries for the first time. To stop myself from eating every second handful, I decided to see how much I could pick in 15 minutes and came in with a large bucket full… and my belly. The bushes were just bursting with ripe berries that would cascade down with just a tickle of the plant, and this summer’s heat wave produced more than they were able to pick. So good! It’s a different experience right off the plant. Next year the new plants in our own backyard will produce a little more.

It was a weekend of great food, cycling, swimming, card games, and enjoying down time with friends away from technology. It felt great to be put to work on a farm in my grubby clothes and put my city girl roots aside for a few days.

Check out the full photo album on Flickr, and be sure to mark your calendars for next year’s 4th Annual Slow Food Cycle Tour Agassiz, August 21, and 2nd Annual Slow Food Cycle Tour Chilliwack, August 22.

Agassiz

From Slow Food Vancouver via email:

… We had over 850 people on Saturday [Agassiz] and 670 on Sunday [Chilliwack]… We’d also like to thank you on behalf of the farmers who participated; they felt a deep pride in sharing their hard work with all of you and your support and respect confirmed the value of their efforts in helping build the local food culture.

The cycle tours are designed to build connections between the urban co-producer and the farmers who are responsible for providing our local food. The tours provide opportunities to meet local (and youth) farmers, sample locally-produced foods, and learn about agriculture in the Fraser Valley while enjoying a leisurely, scenic bike ride.

In support of our local farmers, the net proceeds from this summer’s cycle tours will be going to the Adopt-a-Farmer campaign that is raising funds to send two youth farmers to Terra Madre in 2010. Terra Madre is a biennial conference held in Torino, Italy, that gives farmers an opportunity to meet with over 7,000 farmers from 153 countries to discuss sustainable farming, biodiversity, climate change and other common issues.