Table of plenty 

Sea to Sky gathers around the harvest table

click to enlarge Pemberton Pumpkins are so big they must be moved with a tractor.
  • Pemberton Pumpkins are so big they must be moved with a tractor.

Despite allegations of doping and genetic modifications, there was no evidence last month that Chad Gilmore’s giant pumpkin had been improperly interfered with in its quest for super status.

Sure, 890 pounds is a record-sized pumpkin even for Pemberton Valley’s champion giant vegetable grower, and granted, as the forklift lowered the winning behemoth onto the scales it did look more like Jabba the Hut than any squash I’ve ever eaten. But Gilmore swears its supersized girth was simply a matter of good growing conditions.

“There was definitely no doping!” Gilmore says. “There’s no genetic modification. I mean, you do select for seeds with the thickest walls, the best shape, you find the desirable traits… but really, the secret is good soil.”

Good growing is Pemberton’s defining quality — and that fecundity seems to extend beyond the fruits of the earth, with 57 babies plus four sets of twins born just this year.

Says Whistler chef, Grant Cousar, “It’s a clean, beautiful-growing, agricultural region, and it’s just 25 minutes up the road.”

Since his early days in Whistler 12 years ago, working in the kitchens of Araxi and La Rúa, to his current business at Whistler Cooks, Cousar has been working with Pemberton produce, from celeriac to banana fingerlings to blueberries to beef, and building relationships with local growers.

At first, it was because he wanted the best. “I wasn’t as emotionally married to this community as I am now. I was young and I just wanted to work with the best food. I didn’t care if that meant raping and pillaging some little village. I wanted the best and I got it. Then I got to know the people, and my backyard, and became more aware of the social impacts,” Cousar says of a growing politicization about food which has seen him become a leading member of the Slow Food Whistler conviviality.

The backyard he became aware of produces an estimated 12,000 tonnes of seed potatoes a year, in addition to other produce, with almost the entirety of that potato seed leaving the valley for far-flung destinations like California and Idaho.

Meanwhile, Cousar estimates there are between 30 and 40 food service delivery trucks a day driving up Highway 99 to stock Whistler’s kitchens, taking $150 to $200 million a year in food services sales back to Vancouver and the head offices of Sysco, Coca Cola, Neptune, Lays and other multi-national companies.

This globalization of the food network, says Resort Municipality of Whistler Sustainability Coordinator Kevin Damaskie, has happened in the few short generations since the 1930s. “There’s really a heightened awareness across the board that we’ve moved from a community food system to a globalized food system. In the pursuit of large scale efficiencies and profit, that global food system has undermined people’s ability to be as healthy as possible, and we’ve also impacted communities, society and the environment,” he says.

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