Cynthia Stiffon, owner of Willow Creek Farm, welcomed waves of cyclists onto her cabernet sauvignon vineyard in Greendale this past Sunday. Her four-year-old organic vines will finally produce grapes this year, which means that she’ll soon send them off for processing and register the farm as the Willow Creek Winery.
This was a pleasant surprise to guests as they sat by the vines in shaded lounge chairs, sipping on wine and nibbling on local cheeses.
The 600 cyclists that showed up for the Slow Food Cycle Tour in Chilliwack on July 28 could not have asked for a sunnier day. Families and friends cycled along the often empty roads of Chilliwack’s farm country, leisurely stopping at interest points along the way to get to know local farmers and artisans a little better.
“It was the busiest year that we’ve ever had, and the farmers were very encouraged and tired at the end of the day,” said Vanessa Oddy, Tourism Chilliwack’s online communication manager.
As in previous years, most visitors were from the greater Vancouver area, but this year there were more people from Chilliwack than before.
“It really opened our community up to people from afar, and showed what we have to offer in our community,” said Oddy.
Despite the hundreds of cyclists, the 24-km route never felt crowded. People were comfortably distributed between the 15 stops.
One such stop was JMC Farms, a family dairy on South Sumas Road, where nine-year-old Vancouverite Matthew Yuen loved the calfs.
“They were so cute, and one of them tried to eat my shirt,” he said.
Yuen was a little more apprehensive about the turkey, and stared at it for a long time before cautiously approaching for a closer look.
His friend, 11-year-old Samantha Choo, especially liked the giant air pillow at the Chilliwack Corn Maze she visited earlier in the day.
Samantha’s dad, Wayne, didn’t know what to expect from his first time on the tour, and was surprised to discover there were so many dairy farms in Chilliwack.
“It’s fun,” he said of the tour. “It’s definitely good for the family to get out and see this area. I’ve driven by Chilliwack, but never stopped to enjoy the scenery.”
Over at Abundant Acre Family Farm, farmers Cara and Andy Abrahams shared their love of growing good food sustainably with visiting cyclists. The Abrahams switched to farming full-time five years ago after their ever-expanding backyard garden began producing great vegetables.
“We just got good practice having a bigger and bigger backyard garden,” said Cara.
The family now runs a CSA (community supported agriculture) program off of their 1.5 acre organic farm lot, delivering over 30 varieties of vegetables direct to program subscribers in Chilliwack and Abbotsford.
“There’s so much interest in local food. We don’t have trouble finding customers for the CSA,” said Cara.
And at the Greendale Pottery & Country Guest House, visitors enjoyed a catered lunch in the garden under the lilting sounds of a saxophone. Potter Holly McKeen led tours through her studio and showroom, while husband Ken carried trays of meatball samples and explained how the family raises black Angus cattle.
“This is the 100-yard diet, because they (the cattle) are right there,” said Holly. “People really like the ethically raised thing, so they can come and see how we raise them.”
The family has happily participated in the Slow Food tour for four years.
“It brings the Vancouver foodie crowd out to Chilliwack and shows them that we’re a destination,” said Holly, who also sits on the Chilliwack tourism board.
The day before on July 27, Agassiz’s own Slow Food tour, which has run for two years longer than Chilliwack’s, welcomed between 800 and 900 cyclists.