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Slow rise, slow cycle



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.