Pemberton made a serious mark on the musical map last summer as host of the inaugural Pemberton Festival, which attracted over 40,000 to this traditionally sleepy town of about 2,000. But local foodies have been flocking to the area for years now - four, to be precise - to take part in a unique, grassroots culinary event.
If you've ever ventured past Whistler up the 99, you may have noticed that Pemberton is littered with rich, fertile farming grounds. Lots of stuff is grown just a few kilometres past Whistler and most local fine dining hotspots discovered the wealth of produce long ago.
Anna and Jennie Helmer are just two of the many fine farmers toiling this land, producing 16 to 18 varieties of specialty potatoes, root crops, mixed veggies and honey at Helmer's Organic Farm. The Helmers are currently in the midst of harvesting a crop of potatoes, which apparently have flourished in this unprecedented heat wave. But aside from their regular duties on the farm, they're also busily preparing for the Aug. 16 Slow Food Cycle, clearing out their barn for the vendors and cyclists who will set up shop there in just two weeks' time.
While some people and restaurants were catching onto the Slow Food movement, Anna and Lisa Richardson, another Pemberton resident, saw a disconnect between the average consumer and the local farmer.
"A lot of people in Pemberton didn't really have any idea of what was going on in the Meadows area, which is where most of the farms are up here," Anna said. "...I know that people are really interested in farming and how it all looks, so we talked to the farmers up here and everyone agreed that it would be fine to have a day where people came and had a look."
So, they started the Slow Food Cycle, an event designed to sate people's curiosity and reconnect people with the land by showing them the "gritty underbelly" of food production, taking them to the lands where local produce is grown, and introducing them to the people who painstakingly grow it, all from the comfort of their own bicycle seat.
"It's meant to strengthen that important link between consumers and producers," Anna said. "It's a link I feel has been lost. It's a little bit too easy to get food right now - cheap and easy - and good food isn't cheap and easy."
She points out that this year, there are over 1 billion people starving in the world.
"A billion people don't have enough food, and we've never failed so miserably with our food system before," Anna said. "...The conventional industry is really scrambling to improve their image and put down this new way of doing agriculture, which is a more sustainable model, so a lot of the old chestnuts are coming out, like, 'organics can't feed the world.'"
The 50 kilometre bike ride is family-friendly and follows a cruisey route throughout the valley along Pemberton Meadows Road, stopping along the way at North Arm Farm, Across the Creek Organics, Helmer's Organic Farms, which is hosting executive chef Rob Clark from C Restaurant in Vancouver, Pemberton Meadows Natural Beef, Riverlands Organic Farms, and the property of Marty and Andrea Van Loon.
The event has become increasingly popular each year, growing from just 400 riders in its first year to attracting more than 2,300 participants last year, all eager to learn more about local food production. Organizers expect there could be as many as 5,000 participants this year, though they're only preparing for 3,000.
This year, the cycle takes place on Sunday, Aug. 16. Registration starts at 8 a.m. at the old community centre, but you can start later in the day, as well. It all goes ahead rain or shine, so riders should come prepared with cash (about $25 for lunch and buskers), water, snacks, proper footwear and helmets, plus a reusable bag or panniers, just in case you want to purchase a few of the goodies you discover along the way!
An extra scoop
There's a new restaurant getting ready to open up in Creekside, and before they fire up their ovens, they're asking the community to come lend a hand in the construction. (Don't worry, it sounds like fun - no heavy lifting required!)
The owners of Creekbread Restaurant, the new organic flatbread company which will be located at the Creekside Lodge, are asking locals to come out and help build the clay dome for their wood fired oven on Saturday, Aug. 8, starting at 11 a.m. It's a family-friendly event, and one that the owners say will ensure it "truly becomes the town's ovens."
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