From Farm To Fork
Vancouver Island has long been a place of plenty, and First Nations peoples have thrived off the bounty of the forests and the ocean for generations. Abundant precipitation, a mild climate, clean air, nutrient-rich water and fertile soils combine to make this one of the most productive places on the planet.
The historic roots of life from the land are experiencing a renaissance of sorts, fed by growing support for local, sustainable food. Vancouver Island's flourishing "foodie culture" is helping to grow the popularity of farmers markets, and nurturing success of small-scale farmers who lovingly produce an astonishing variety of fresh, high-quality food.
“Locavores” can choose from speciality meats, cheeses, eggs, mushrooms, tree fruit, berries, vegetables, herbs and value-added creations like chocolate, chutneys, antipasto, balsamic vinegar, honey, jams and jellies—well, the list goes on! Many sell direct from the farm gate, at roadside retailers and local farmers markets in nearly every town and city up and down the Island during the growing season. For a complete listing of markets, please visit www.bcfarmersmarket.org.
With the support of consumers and chefs who are dedicated to buying local ingredients whenever possible, farm-to-fork is more than a slogan: it’s the new way of doing business. The Island Chefs’ Collaborative (ICC) is one group devoted to a sustainable local food and agriculture system. The ICC was formed in 1999 as the first of its kind in Canada out of concern about food security and the supply of high-quality foods from local producers. Its members serve locally-raised produce, seafood and meats in their restaurants, educating diners and the public about the local food movement and the importance of sustainable agriculture. www.iccbc.ca
“Buy local, eat healthy, live well!” says the Southern Vancouver Island Direct Farm Marketing Association. The association has more than 75 growers and producers who sell their farm and vineyard products directly to consumers. Many also participate in fall fairs, farm festivals and farm tours where visitors can see their dinner growing. www.islandfarmfresh.com
Island Gourmet Trails offers delicious day tours in the Comox Valley, stopping at organic farms, orchards, bakeries, chocolatiers, oyster and scallop farms, wineries, bakeries and more. www.islandgourmettrails.ca
Great food deserves great wine, and on Vancouver Island the pairing is a match made in taste-bud heaven. Vancouver Island and the Gulf Islands are now home to more than 20 wineries, and this is BC's fastest growing wine region, second only to the Okanagan. The vintners take full advantage of the mildest climate in Canada, similar to the Mediterranean and ideally suited for growing many types of grapes.
Many of the Vancouver Island wineries are small and family-owned, and their focus is on creating exceptional wines available on site or at select restaurants. Most wineries invite visitors for wine tastings and tours, and some serve delectable gourmet-prepared regional cuisine to accompany the fine wines, served indoors, on patios, tapas-style, and on platters with fruit and cheese. Ask local visitor centres for winery information and maps, and follow the burgundy and white "Wine Route" road signs.
You can also read stories and recipes from celebrated local chefs at www.islandchef.ca.
FESTIVALS Several festivals celebrate the best local food. They include the Tofino Food and Wine Festival and the BC Shellfish Festival in Comox, both in June; the Cowichan Wine & Culinary Festival in September; the Bite of Nanaimo Festival in October; and the Clayoquot Oyster Festival in November. The “Buy Local! Buy Fresh!” Cowichan food map has more than 70 local farm listings and a guide to restaurants and cafes. It’s available at tourist info centres and online at www.cowichangreencommunity.org.