The real food cycle

Strap on a helmet and step into those stretchy sweatpants - you'll be grateful for that little bit of extra give for your girth as you make your way from farm to farm on the sixth annual Slow Food Cycle.

On Sunday, Aug. 15, hundreds, if not thousands, of cyclists/foodies will head to Pemberton, where they'll travel from farm to farm by bike. Any calories you burn off along the way will be quickly replaced, as this year's event features 11 venues, including Pemberton Valley Coffee Co., Riverlands, Ice Cap Organics, Across the Creek Organics, Helmers Organic Farm (of course), Rootdown Organic, Pemberton Meadows Natural Beef, Shaw Creek Farms, Pemberton Valley Farms and the Los Farm. All of them are hosting an assortment of vendors. Each stop on the route will be dishing up some decadent-sounding treats: potato salads from Araxi; scoops of Lucia Gelato; Whistler Cooks dressings; samosas; and much, much more.

Two Pemberton residents and long-time local food enthusiasts, Anna Helmer and Lisa Richardson, were inspired to start the cycle in 2005 after they started getting concerned about development pressures facing Pemberton's agricultural lands. Today, Helmer organizes the event with the help of Niki Vankerk.

"We felt that if more people appreciated its value, then that would ease pressure," Helmer explained. "We knew that the best way to inspire people would be to actually bring them to the area and get them to experience it."

The whole idea is really to help connect consumers with producers. And as a farmer, Helmer believes that's essential.

"I make my living from that connection! I wish that more farmers made their living from selling to consumers who really appreciate what they are growing."

Araxi's Executive Chef, James Walt, was ahead of the curve when it comes to the oh-so-trendy 100 Mile Diet. A Pemberton resident as well, he sources the bulk of the produce used in his kitchen from neighbouring farms.

"There are some great products and a lot of hardworking people (in Pemberton), and we get the majority of all our stuff from there, so anything to kind of showcase them," Walt said.

This year, Chef Walt is joining culinary forces with Grant Cousar, owner of Whistler Cooks, another strong proponent of the Slow Food movement and the Green Table Network. Together they are creating a decadent multi-course meal the evening before the cycle.

"We're using product from at least eight farms - it might be nine farms - in the area and just kind of giving something different to people the night before, so they can sample everything... in sort of a higher-end setting," Walt explained.

This Farm to Fork feast on Saturday night will feature five courses prepared by the two talented chefs. So far, the menu features Pemberton Meadows Beef; a seafood course of wild salmon with local beans and peas; and a fresh berry pavlova, with berries sourced from North Arm Farm. Tickets to the dinner are $125 (including wine pairings) through the Pemberton Chamber of Commerce, with all funds raised going towards the Slow Food Cycle.

Last year, the event was cancelled because of forest fires. But the 2008 ride saw 2,400 people come out and participate. Just to put that in perspective, the entire population of Pemberton is about 2,400.

And while last year's cancellation was a huge disappointment for organizers it seems to have worked to their advantage, in a strange way. For the 2010 cycle, the entire community seems to have stepped up to make sure this year's event is better than ever.

"I did wonder how many riders would have to turn up before we really got everyone's attention," Helmer said.

On top of the new Farm to Fork benefit dinner being held on Saturday night there have been a number of additions made to this year's cycle. Members of the local RCMP plan to be out in full-force on their bikes, implementing the traffic management plan and ensuring safety. The Village of Pemberton stepped in to run the registration. Pemberton Valley Grocery Store has prepared SWAG bags of calendars and water in reusable totes for participants. And the Friends of the Library and Rotary are teaming up to host AugustFest, a post-ride beer garden at Pioneer Park.

This year, organizers have again had to contend with forest fires and, most recently, the flooding threat associated with a massive mudslide, though those natural disasters aren't expected to affect this year's cycle.

"I suppose that part of learning about agriculture in Pemberton is understanding that the best farms are on the flood plain," Helmer mused. "The richest soil is there, built up over thousands of years from flooding, receding glaciers and volcanic activity. These actions have not gone away completely, although they have abated, and moderated. Not the best place for a fancy house, but what a great place for a field of vegetables."

Best of all, the event is free (though everything is for sale on the route). Ride registration starts at 8:30 a.m. in downtown Pemberton on Frontier and Birch. Sign in to get ride information, map and swag bag, and you're on your way.



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