Slow Food Cycle to usher thousands to Pemberton August 21 

Cycling event helping turn Spud Valley into popular culinary destination

Slow Food Cycle Sunday is one of Sea to Sky's most anticipated summer events.

Taking place this year on August 21, the event invites food lovers the world over to bear witness to the bounty that Pemberton's farms have to offer. Participants travel 50 kilometres on bicycles through rolling countryside, stopping off for food and drink at a cornucopia of farms along the way.

Starting with 400 participants at its first event, Slow Food Cycle drew 3,000 riders last year and founder and organizer Anna Helmer, whose family grows organic vegetables in the Pemberton Meadows, only expects it to grow from there. It has become a key part of marketing Pemberton as part of the growing culinary tourism movement that's gaining traction in British Columbia.

"I think what's happening is the same people come back and they bring their friends and family," Helmer said. "I think they go away from here and they're like, wow, where is my food coming from?"

The Slow Food Cycle began in 2005, at a time when development pressures began encroaching on farmland in the Pemberton Valley. Helmer started the ride alongside Pemberton resident Lisa Richardson as a way to help people connect with the land where their food is grown.

"I think there's this great feeling that a lot of people get when they get a bit of exercise and get great food," Helmer said. "It's just a natural high that happens and for it to be happening in this beautiful place, you can't replace that with anything anywhere else."

The Slow Food Cycle has grown steadily since its inception, thanks in large part to word of mouth marketing. Richardson, a communications professional, said she started a "guerrilla marketing" campaign on a "budget of volunteer hours" to spread the word.

She started a Facebook page in 2006, in the early days of the social networking website, then created a site for Slow Food Cycle proper that is today located at the same location as when it started. She wrote news releases and letters to community stakeholders and framed the event as an invitation to see where your food comes from.

"I think the nature of it being that invitation really was powerful for people," Richardson said.

Beyond that, the Helmers' reputation in the city played a big part in growing the event's popularity.

"A huge part of the word of mouth factor was through the Helmers' relationship with Vancouverites in the city they served," she said. "They have a dedicated following among chefs in Vancouver."

The popularity of the Slow Food Cycle has risen in lockstep with Pemberton's appeal as a destination for culinary tourism.

Research performed by the BC Culinary Tourism Society indicates that there's a growing demand for travel experiences that include food. The society's website states that more travellers are seeking locally sourced food and information about the people responsible for growing it.

With row upon row of farmland surrounding its urban centres, Pemberton seems a perfect destination for any tourist wanting to try food from the earth that surrounds them.

The valley's relationship with and proximity to Whistler, said society coordinator Wendy Taylor, only enhances its popularity.

"I think it's critical because it just gives all of those producers a resource," she said. "That's where they can go. It's local, it's close, they can have a relationship with the farmer, with the producer. I think it's been a real boon for Pemberton to have restaurants and grocery stores offering Pemberton produce."

Anyone wishing to take part in Slow Food Cycle Sunday need provide no prior notice before coming. You can register on event day in the Village of Pemberton starting at 8 a.m. and the farms close around 4 p.m.

The event is totally free, and participants are asked to bring food and drink to tide them over. There will be food and drink for sale at each of the farms but supplies will not be guaranteed to last. An AugustFest Beer Garden follows at Pioneer Park from 1 p.m. to 7 p.m.

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