Epicurious: Slow Food, Slow Cycle

Image via sumiredesign.com

My first stab at a food column. Lots of lifestyle writers have this down to a fine art. I hacked through it.

By Jesse Ferreras, Pique Newsmagazine

August 25, 2011

When you mow down a cheeseburger, do you think about where it comes from? About the cows whose meat makes up the patty, or about the fields that yield the lettuce?

I don’t – or, at least, I didn’t until last Sunday when I took part in my first Slow Food Cycle Sunday.

In three years of writing about Pemberton I had never experienced first-hand the community’s signature event. Held every summer now for five years (there was no event in 2009), it’s a chance to marvel at the bounty that nature has bestowed on the Pemberton Valley, and how that bounty travels from the ground to your plate.

The Slow Food Cycle began in 2005. Organized in its early years by Pemberton residents Anna Helmer and Lisa Richardson, they saw it as a way to raise awareness of agriculture at a time that development pressures were encroaching on the Pemberton Valley. The first ride marshalled 400 cyclists and the event has grown by leaps since then, attracting as many as 3,000 riders in the summer of 2010.

My first Slow Food Cycle is something of a family affair. I come up from the city on Sunday morning with my mother and father and together we embark on the long trip up the valley. The whole ride covers about 50 kilometres, but we’re not confident of making it all the way.

When the three of us reach a checkpoint at the Miller Creek bridge, we learn at 12:30 p.m. that we are the day’s 3,120th, 3,121st and 3,122nd participants. There are riders ahead and behind us, riding just about every variety of bicycle in existence. By the end of the day an estimated 4,000 cyclists will have taken part… a new record.

You start in the Village of Pemberton, signing up for the ride in amidst simple homes and commercial centres decorated to look like they belong in a John Ford western. Then you’re pointed north, instructed to travel along the Pemberton Meadows Road and visit a series of stations along the way.

The first place we stop is the Pemberton Valley Coffee Company and it’s obvious from the outset that the Slow Food Cycle has moved well beyond its origins to embrace Pemberton businesses alongside agricultural producers.

Here, in the courtyard, Pemberton funk artist Papa Josh entertains a crowd as they enjoy food samples from outlets such as the coffee company, Blackbird Bakery and Nonna Pia’s Balsamic Reductions, which provides four samples of balsamic vinegar. It’s one of the few food samples I’ll actually try all day, owing to my late start on the ride.

Not being a fan of vinegar, these samples are pleasant surprises. One’s classic; others are tinged with flavours like rosemary, lemon and ginger. You get a taste by dipping little pieces of bread into vinegar mixed with oil. It’s how they do it in Europe and it’s about 9,000 times better than slathering your bread with butter.

From there we travelled a fair distance before arriving at our next stop: Riverlands, a 1,240-acre property that leases lots of agricultural land to farmers who follow organic and sustainable practices. Investors at Riverlands include Namasthé Tea and Across the Creek Organics, a prominent producer of the famed Pemberton potato.

At this stop, the Riverlands’ owners have set up an exhibition for Pemberton artists Lynn Pocklington, Karen Love and Dave Steers in a barn. Together they exhibit images of wildlife and nature, with more than a few recreations of the iconic Mount Currie, which towers over the valley and signals to every dyed-in-the-wool Pembertonian that they’re home.

Outside the barn, meanwhile, is a bike sculpture/water wheel designed by Pemberton sculptor Martin Dahinden, who is otherwise known around Pemberton for “eco-tekture” such as a house he made of 85 per cent recycled material.

Around the property you can get a sno-cone, a cup of Namasthe Tea or purchase produce inside the barn. I suggest to my parents, both of them keen epicureans, that they get a pound of Pemberton potatoes. They get a bag of Sieglinde potatoes, spuds that already taste like they’ve been buttered.

From there it’s off to our last stop of the day, Helmers’ Organic Farm toward the far end of the valley. Run by Doug and Jeanette Helmer, mother and father of organizer Anna, this property has been in the family for 100 years.

It lies beneath Copper Dome and the Camel’s Back, two mountains that in the summer of 2009 bore witness to unprecedented forest fires that forced a temporary cancellation of the Slow Food Cycle.

The farm bustles with activity when we arrive. The Helmers tend to a stand where they’re selling all variety of potatoes. I pick up a bag – the very first I have purchased from Pemberton proper.

By the time we leave the Helmer farm we’re too tired to go any further. We get back to the car and I’m dropped off at my place in Whistler, where with potatoes in hand I’ve enough for a steak dinner.

I prepare a T-Bone and slather it with barbecue sauce and cook the potatoes as a side dish. The things are bloody delicious… and all the more so because I know precisely where they came from.

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About jesseferreras

Sea to Sky-based journalist. Snowboarder, cyclist, cinephile, bon vivant.
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