Festivals & Events

A Day at the Farm

Farm Cycle Tour offers participants a unique glimpse behind the scenes of local farms and producers

This year’s Comox Valley Farm Cycle Tour will offer participants a choose-your-own-adventure format, <a href=

story with the opportunity to visit any participating farm or producer on the map over the course of the day on September 26. ” src=”https://www.infocusmagazine.ca/wp-content/uploads/2015/09/bikers-602×401.jpg” width=”602″ height=”401″ /> This year’s Comox Valley Farm Cycle Tour will offer participants a choose-your-own-adventure format, pestilence with the opportunity to visit any participating farm or producer on the map over the course of the day on September 26.

Take a drive through the back roads of the Comox Valley, visit web and you will see signs of farm life everywhere. From U-pick berry farms to roadside vegetable stands, there is an abundance of local grown food for sale throughout the year. However, making the time to stop, finding exactly what you’re looking for, or pulling into someone’s driveway uninvited can seem daunting if you’re used to shopping at a grocery store.

That’s why on Saturday September 26, nearly two dozen farmers, vintners, nurseries and food producers from Royston to Merville will welcome cyclists on the Comox Valley Farm Cycle Tour through their farm gates to explore, taste, and experience the best of farm life. In fact, for the group of hardworking volunteers, staff, and farmers that put in hundreds of hours every year to organize and promote the Farm Cycle Tour, the event is a celebration of the importance of agriculture in the Comox Valley and the great things that happen when farmers are on a first-name basis with the community they serve.

Speak with anyone involved in the Farm Cycle Tour, and they will tell you that the event is a group effort. Two people, though, figure prominently in getting the whole thing started five years ago—Tyler Johns and Willy Van Kemenade of the Comox Valley Cycling Coalition. Johns was living in Pemberton when that community started its own farm cycle tour. When he moved to the Valley, he brought the idea of starting the same sort of event here. But, without any experience in organizing something like a cycling tour, the whole thing seemed like a pipe dream. That is, until Van Kemenade offered his experience as a professional cycle tour guide. They decided to make a go of launching the tour.

Van Kemenade and Johns approached a variety of groups and organizations looking for their support for the tour, including the board of the Cycling Coalition, Comox Valley Economic Development, and of course local farmers. That’s where Michelle Willem of Outback Nursery first learned about the tour.

“Willy presented at two separate meetings for the Comox Valley Farmer’s Market and the Comox Valley Farmer’s Institute,” says Willem. “I loved his enthusiasm, and best of all he was asking our permission. He needed to know that we wanted bikes coming through our businesses.”

Willem liked what Van Kemenade and Johns were trying to accomplish. Horticulture is not the first farm industry that comes to mind when people think of agriculture. Yet, as a source of edible and non-edibles trees and shrubs, Outback Nursery is the sort of place you’d go to start an orchard, add fruit-bearing trees or shrubs to your yard, or source out decorative plants for your garden. Meaning, Outback Nursery is the first stop for several kinds of agricultural businesses. In fact, Outback Nursery was already a wholesale supplier for garden centres on Vancouver Island.

“This tour promotes awareness that we are a farm industry,” says Willem. At the same time, the idea of a bike tour fit nicely with something Outback Nursery had begun to notice.

“So many people drive past our business on Headquarters Road but don’t realize what’s there, what’s ‘out back’ so to speak,” explains Willem.

A handful of people, though, were beginning to stop by wanting to know more about the business and the sort of plants Outback Nursery offered for sale. And a lot them were neighborhood locals who didn’t drive or didn’t drive far. The cycle farm tour was an opportunity to invite those people in to look around. Outback Nursery signed up as a tour stop the very first year, and has participated every year since.

“We really enjoy talking to the participants,” says Willem. “Every year we do something, whether it’s a demonstration on how we graft our Japanese Maples, or letting people into our fog house—that’s our greenhouse that has 100 per cent humidity and is how the Maple grafts take—and people are always so interested. One year, participants noticed the potting machine, something we use in our day-to-day work to help speed things up, and we ended up offering a demonstration of the potting machine.”

McCLintock's Farm, one of the many sops on the tour, will allow visitors to get a glimpse of their water buffalo herd.  Photo by Boomer Jerritt

McClintock’s Farm, one of the many stops on the tour, will allow visitors to get a glimpse of their water buffalo herd. Photo by Boomer Jerritt

At the same time, tour participants were eager to chat about the sort of trees, shrubs, and garden supplies they were interested in buying. Outback Nursery started bringing in requests, leading to more and more people stopping by for their garden needs. As a result, the nursery has shifted from being a strictly wholesale business to a local gardening centre catering to the needs of the community.

“This year we brought in quince, persimmon, hazelnuts and walnuts because our retail customers were asking for them,” says Willem. “Another big thing has been half oak barrels. If we can find it, we bring it in. We take names and numbers and will source items and get back to our customers.”

It’s that sort of interaction between customer and business that has brought Gladstone Brewery into this year’s cycle tour. The Brewery has been open less than a year, but has already become a prime destination in Downtown Courtenay. It’s a popular stop for the Comox Valley Cycling Coalition, where members can enjoy a drink and some food on the patio at the end of a ride.

“We really want to be a community space,” says Alexandra Stephanson, who along with Daniel Sharratt, owns and operates Gladstone Brewery. “There is no question that our product speaks for itself; we brew a fabulous product and have tremendously talented brewer with an extremely refined palate. We also want to be that place—like an old school British pub—where everyone can come.”

For Stephanson, that means things like purchasing bike locks for cyclists who don’t carry their own but want to enjoy a drink on the patio, and having a bike pump available for top ups or emergency repairs at the end of a ride. Likewise, the pub has hosted art evenings, encourages mixing and mingling at the long indoor tables, and even has chalk for the kids to doodle.

Participants on this year’s cycle farm tour will have the opportunity to sample some of the Gladstone product, or choose to enjoy thin crust pizza pies made by another local food company, Guerilla Foods, and soak up the retro-garage atmosphere of the pub where the entire design scheme is based on the building’s history as a garage.
“This is a pub, and we are what you the community are,” says Stephanson. “We want to share.”

Share is something every farmer and producer on the cycle tour does each year. Innisfree Farm is a long time participant on the tour. Innisfree has the unique status of being the first internationally registered botanical garden in the Comox Valley, focusing on medicinal and food plants. Innisfree is also a teaching farm for holistic and herbal practitioners from around the world. Their tour stop usually includes herbal walks to share the vast amount of plant knowledge that owners Chanchal Cabara and Thierry Vrain possess.

“This is what we do,” says Vrain. “We are into health and nutrition, and we want to share that knowledge. People can come here and spend an hour on a beautiful property on the edge of Strathcona Park. Walk the labyrinth, enjoy the sunshine, and share a love of nature.”

This is the second year on the Farm Cycle Tour for Tree Island Gourmet Yogurt. In 2014, their first year as a business, they offered participating cyclists tours of their yogurt plant, educating participants in the ways they make their European-inspired yogurt and sharing the story behind their product. This year, they’re offering yogurt samples, lemonade, and yogurt popsicles.

“I think we are part of a really amazing group of agricultural businesses in the Valley,” says Merissa Myles, who operates the business along with husband Scott DiGustini. “This is a fun event and people are always thankful for us sharing. People have said so many times, ‘Oh, I didn’t know that’ or ‘I never would have imagined’.”

For Myles, though, the most memorable aspect of the farm cycle tour has always been the interesting people on bicycles from in and out of town. In fact, that’s where organizer Johns really feels the magic of the tour happens.

“I’ve been a farmer,” says Johns. “You don’t necessarily make money from selling five pounds of carrots. It’s the intrinsic value of being a fixture for your community. The long term relationships that get made by meeting the farmer, their family, and all the people that put work into growing and making your food is so important.”

Certainly, every single tour stop has a memorable story to share. For Willem it’s the gentleman that bungee corded a fruit tree to his rattrap, and proceeded to cycle his way home to Merville, or the woman that managed to fit 1-gallon pots into her saddlebags before continuing on the tour.

For Johns, it’s the musicians that greeted tour participants at one of his favorite tour stop. “We sat there for two hours and made half a dozen acquaintances, two from Vancouver and four from in town, some of whom we’re still in touch with,” he says. “And that’s the thing—everyone that’s done this tour has some story about bonding with people.

“I tell anyone thinking of doing this tour to be ready to be surprised and taken aback, whether it’s musicians or a goat that’s gotten loose,” Johns adds. “There is hidden entertainment behind every farm gate and you won’t be disappointed.”

This year’s Farm Cycle Tour will offer participants a choose-your-own-adventure format, with the opportunity to visit any participating farm or producer on the map over the course of the day on September 26.

Tour stops to date include: 40 Knots Estate Winery, Anderton Nursery, Beaufort Estate Winery, Blue Moon Farm, Winery and Ciderworx, Clever Crow Farm, Coastal Black Estate Winery, Forbidden Brewing Co., Gladstone Brewing Co., Grassi Point Farm, Gunter Bros. Meats, Innisfree Farm and Botanical Garden, Island Bison, Kehler Vegetable Company, McClintocks Farm, New Sprout Farm, Outback Nursery, Seaview Game Farm, Tree Island Gourmet Yogurt and Wayward Distillation House.

A new Shopping Shuttle service will also be available to pick up any purchase and deliver them back to you at the end of the day for a nominal fee. Take your time, and enjoy a fun filled day with family, friends, and visitors.

For more information or to register, visit www.discovercomoxvalley.com/cvfarmcycletour