The food will be, well, outstanding in its field. Likewise the wine and beer. Of course, the ambience will also be out of this world as you sip and sup fine offerings from local farmers, chefs, vintners, brewers and a host of other food producers, all while meandering through the beautiful fields and gardens of North Arm Farm in Pemberton.
A pleasure, surely, and a precedent-setter to be part of the first Feast of Fields held in this neck of the woods. But also a political act, one aimed right at the underbelly of industrial agribusiness. In fact, with the feast on Saturday and the Slow Food Cycle on Sunday, Aug. 19-20 will be an entire weekend of having one heck of a lot of fun while thinking about where you source your food and drink – and why.
Feast of Fields is one of many projects supported and organized by FarmFolk/CityFolk Society, a non-profit organization started in 1993 by Herb Barbolet and Janice Lotzkar. While the two came from different ends of the food system, they both recognized the lack of cooperation – and the potential for collaboration – between chefs and local farmers, and how that could help create a healthy, fair and sustainable food system in B.C. The Feasts of Fields go a long way toward building that consciousness with the general public.
At the time, Herb was a farmer. Janice was a renowned restaurateur who set Vancouver’s restaurant industry on its ear and helped lay the foundation for an authentic West Coast Canadian cuisine in the early 1990s when she opened Raintree. It was dedicated to a concept that, at the time, seemed sensational, some even called crazy, but one we now take for granted: serving all things local/regional/fresh/seasonal. (It was a natural for Janice to break new ground – she’s the daughter of former Whistler resident and consumer advocate, Ruth Lotzkar.)
While the feast in Pemberton is the first for the area, it’s one of three FarmFolk/CityFolk now hosts annually; the others are held in the Lower Mainland and on Vancouver Island.
Borrowing the concept from an Ontario-based group called Knives and Forks, FarmFolk/CityFolk hosted the first "western Canada" Feast of Fields in 1995 in Vancouver as a fundraiser. The events have become so successful they now account for about one-third of FarmFolk/CityFolk’s annual budget. As well, about half the profits go to a local worthwhile project, in this case the Pemberton Community Garden.
So why a Feast of Fields in Pemberton, and why now? Basically you have Astrid Cameron Kent to thank.
"We’d often thought of expanding the feast to other areas, like Kelowna or somewhere up the Sunshine Coast," says Bonita Magee, project manager for FarmFolk/CityFolk.
"Astrid approached us this year and we thought it was fitting because the Pemberton Valley, in particular, and all kinds of areas around there have a really great agricultural community. It’s similar to other agricultural communities in smaller areas – the community is very strong. They all know each other, and they all work together like the cooperative movement in Italy – the businesses are individual but they work together so the competition is beneficial for them all."
Since the locale is such an integral part of the feasts, each one is unique. But Bonita expects that the good vibe in Pemberton will create an atmosphere like the feasts on Vancouver Island.
"We find that the Vancouver feast is a real foodie event, whereas the Island feast certainly is a foodie event, but you’ve got a different community over there because it is an island and they’re confined to a closed space. Again, they all kind of know each other and work together.
"So it’s a different feeling than in the city. The Island feast really feels like a harvest festival or a country fair. People are more relaxed. It’s very laid back and people will actually take the time to talk with the chefs more and sit on the grass and enjoy the fresh air, or actually go and look at the things the farm is producing – their gardens, or pigs, or barns, or whatever."
The Pemberton feast will be bookended by a special five-course dinner by Fairmont Chateau Whistler’s executive chef Vincent Stufano, a longtime fan of using regional ingredients. Tickets for this event are extra: 604-938-2036 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
So after the linen napkins have been cleaned and folded and the wineglasses put away, what do organizers hope the bigger take-away will be?
"What I would like to see is most of the chefs in town using local produce so that by the time the Winter Olympics come, we have all of our chefs on board using local produce," says Astrid.
"We have some chefs and groups, who will be there (at the Pemberton feast), who are definitely committed to local cuisine, for sure, but all of them can be serving local products – potatoes and root vegetables – during the Olympics.
"I’d also like to connect more locals to the farmers so they can see how they can actually get their produce from Pemberton and build that whole locavore – the 100-mile diet – mentality as best we can."
Adds Jordan Sturdy, owner of North arm Farm and mayor of Pemberton, "This is part of the future of agriculture in this valley, no question about it…
"This is the kind of thing we want to build on so Pemberton gets known for the excellence of its products. Potatoes will remain a mainstay here in the valley, but I think we need to look at diversifying and becoming a destination unto ourselves, so you drive through Whistler to get to Pemberton."
This year’s Feasts of Fields will be held 1-5 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 19 at Sturdy’s North Arm Farm in Pemberton; Sept. 10 at Vista D’oro farms in Langley; and Sept. 17 at Glendale Gardens in Victoria.
Tickets for the Pemberton feast are $75. Bus service will be available, starting at Whole Foods Market in West Vancouver. Tickets are available at Whole Foods Market, Park Royal; Squamish’s Howe Sound Inn and Brewing Co.; Whistler Creekside Market; Whistler Marketplace IGA; The Grocery Store; Pemberton Valley Supermarket; North Arm Farm; and at the North Arm Farm stand at the Whistler Farmers’ Market. For info contact Astrid Cameron Kent at 604-905-9666 or visit www.ffcf.bc.ca.
Glenda Bartosh is an award-winning freelance writer whose fridge is full of local farm produce right now.