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Cultivating a growing industry

Creating agri-tourism awareness in the Pemberton Valley

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Food is revolution. That message has been part of the public consciousness since Joni Mitchell begged farmers to "give me spots on my apples, but leave me the birds and the bees." In the last 10 to 15 years, what was once considered a radical idea has moved into the mainstream. And the great thing is not only is healthy food revolutionary, it tastes good.

From the middle of May to the first week of October, finding parking within a kilometre radius of East Vancouver’s Trout Lake Community Centre on a Saturday morning is next to impossible. Foodies from across the city flood the area to attend the Farmer’s Market. Commercial Drive hipsters rub shoulders with Westside yuppies while attempting to navigate the restrictive space of the community centre parking lot in search of the ultimate tomato or a loaf of fresh baked herb bread. Occasionally a grumbling, "It was better when it was more of a Drive event" is overheard, but more often what resonates is the whoop of recognition as friends and acquaintances have a chance encounter.

The space is teaming with booths featuring everything from honey produced by cottage apiaries to handcrafted cheeses and organic vegetables. There are craft booths offering pottery, jewelry and fabric goods. Local musicians and kids entertainers infuse the event with a festival feeling. But when it comes down to it, the food, the majority of which is produced on small farms in southern, B.C, is the real attraction. And the folks who are filling the market, many of whom were raised in the era of such prepackaged atrocities as Tang and Hamburger Helper, are willing to sacrifice a Saturday morning sleep-in for a shot at getting "the really good whole-wheat apricot scones."

These environmentally-conscious consumers represent an emerging market that is proving very important to small farming communities throughout the province. With every purchase of Pemberton heritage potatoes or Aldergrove ostrich pepperoni these aging Gen Xers and baby boomers are doing more than demonstrating their culinary sophistication, they are engaging in agri-tourism.

Agri-tourism is defined by the British Columbia Agri-Tourism Alliance as "travel that combines agricultural or rural setting with products of agricultural operation." Claiming a trip to Vancouver’s Eastside to pick up some salad greens in a setting featuring the type of rough hewn product stalls that facilitate farm-gate sales might seem to be stretching the definition of agri-tourism. The farm has made the effort to come to them; the next step is to get them to come to the farm. Sometimes that means simply extending an invitation.

It’s like riding a bike…

Lisa Richardson and Anna Helmer have extended such an invitation to residents of the Sea-to-Sky corridor and Lower Mainland. The two Pemberton women are the engines behind Slow Food Cycle Sunday, which happens this Sunday (Aug. 21). From engaging the various farms along Pemberton Valley Road to insuring that bicycle rentals are available, Richardson and Helmer have created an event designed to increase awareness and open the discussion about agri-tourism opportunities in Pemberton. The day will also demonstrate the connection between agri-tourism and Slow Food, a European movement that has taken hold in North America. Essentially the antithesis of fast food with its emphasis on drive-thru dining and cramming fried food down your gullet, Slow Food is a school of thought that respects the consumer, the food and that land it was grown on.

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