Experiencing farm to table

Touring Fraser Valley's agriculture scene

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When it comes to agri-tourism, there’s no better place to start a farm tour in British Columbia than Fort Langley — the birthplace of the province and where the first farm for settlers was created in 1829.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 29/09/2018 (1457 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

When it comes to agri-tourism, there’s no better place to start a farm tour in British Columbia than Fort Langley — the birthplace of the province and where the first farm for settlers was created in 1829.

The Hudson Bay Trade Company built the fort, now a national historic site, in 1827 and began receiving furs from the local First Nations people.

Guide Nettie Plant says the fort’s farm was important because it had fertile, cleared land, so it allowed everyone living within the fort’s walls to be self-sufficient. While there was a small farm within the actual fort, located adjacent to the Fraser River, the larger farm was further away inland.

Michael Boland / Parks Canada A Parks Canada heritage interpreter demonstrates blacksmithing at Fort Langley National Historic Site in British Columbia’s Fraser Valley.
“The fort’s farm was necessary for the survival of the men and the 25 families that lived here. They planted barley, wheat, beans, potatoes and had a few livestock for eggs and fresh butchered meat,” Plant said.

She also pointed out besides fur, salmon was also traded here. She noted salmon was an extremely valuable commodity at the time, since, when salted, it could last on the long voyages crews would have to make.

Although the farm’s 2,000 acres have long been subdivided, with some parcels taken over by residential developments, other parcels continue to be farmed today.

On one part of the original fort’s farm now stands the Milner Valley Cheese farm, a fifth-generation family farm and goat dairy.

Owners Marianne and Glenn Smith raise sheep and tend a herd of more than 200 goats, keeping up a busy schedule of milking 80 of the “girls” twice a day, 12 hours apart. On the side of their farmhouse, visitors can visit their store to buy their handcrafted cheeses, mostly Colby and Jack; fresh lamb; and, in the summer, their delicious, homemade goat-milk gelato.

A walk around the property will help city slickers get a better understanding of how a dairy farm works, with signs explaining how the milking and pasteurization processes are done. In the “milking parlour,” 12 goats at a time dutifully line up to be milked from behind, each producing two to three litres a day. (It takes 10 litres to make approximately one kilogram of cheese.)

“They’re a little like dogs,” Marianne says. “We don’t tie them up. They’re very trainable and, like dogs, they know the routine. They all have their own personalities.”

The curious ones will take a break from eating their grain, while the milking machine works its magic, to turn around and check out the comings and goings in the barn.

Photos by Kim Pemberton / Winnipeg Free Press A Parks Canada employee in traditional costume cuts a loaf of bread at Fort Langley.
The Milner Valley Cheese farm is just one of many farm experiences visitors to the Fraser Valley can enjoy — made easier by following a self-guided Circle Farm Tour brochure (available online or at any of tourism offices for the Fraser Valley communities of Langley, Chilliwack, Abbotsford, Maple Ridge/Pitt Meadows, and Agassiz/Harrison Mills).

Besides explaining where tourists can drive to have a farm experience or visit a farm store, there’s also a section on where local wines and spirits can be found. For instance, in Langley, not far from the historic fort, is a three-generation family turf farm, which recently expanded its farming side to include an artisan craft distillery.

Roots and Wings Distillery was the brainchild of Rob Rindt and his wife Rebekah Crowley, who planted corn and potatoes on five hectares of the Rindts’ family farm. Visitors can stop in at a new tasting room to try their potato vodkas and corn-based vodkas made on-site in 30-gallon and 100-gallon Hillbilly copper stills. There’s even a horseradish vodka.

Crowley says they are also now experimenting with making whisky, but can’t call it whisky on the bottle’s label because it has to have aged three years. “It’s too young to be called whisky and too refined to be called moonshine,” she jokes.

Before leaving the Langley area, visitors should take a stroll along the historic Fort Langley downtown streets and pop in to Lelem’ Arts & Cultural Café, which opened in 2013 and is run by the Seyem’ Qwantlen Business Group. There’s also a Lelem’ inside the fort, where visitors can buy a boxed lunch to enjoy a picnic on the grounds.

The Kwantlen First Nation has been supplying food to the fort since it was established. The tradition continues with the café offering traditional foods such as smoked salmon, venison, elk and bannock.

“We like to joke we’re the original farm to table,” food services manager Rocky Nenka says.

Another great place to enjoy fresh local ingredients is at the Sabà Café by the Rustic Gourmet in Fort Langley. Owner Simone Hurwitz and Enrico Campani have partnered with local farmers and artisans to provide the best the Fraser Valley can offer.

“I really want the menu to change with what I can get locally. Make the menu with what I can find rather than to find the food to fit the menu,” Hurwitz says. “The goal is to showcase what the vendors have — the cheeses, the meats, the vegetables and fruits.”

All three of their daughters, Laura, 21; Danielle, 19; and Emma, 14; help out in this family-run café that is popular with the locals. Hurwitz adds while the nearby university students weren’t initially happy, she refuses to put in Wi-Fi in order to encourage diners to engage with one another in conversation — all part of building the community the café is intent on supporting.

The goats at the Milner Valley Cheese farm produce two to three litres of milk a day.
Continuing the Circle Farm Tour, a visit to Chilliwack isn’t complete without a stop at the Local Harvest, owned by young entrepreneurs Dan and Helen Oostenbrink, 36 and 37. The couple own the largest organic, mixed vegetable farm in Chilliwack, which is known mostly for its dairy and corn farms. Chilliwack is a community where it’s not uncommon to see drive-thru corn stands.

The Oostenbrinks recently opened their year-round store, selling produce they grow mostly themselves on their 16-hectare farm. They have 50 different crops growing during the peak growing season, not including the different varieties.

Helping out on the farm are their five children, ages 10 to 18. Their eldest child Dustin is the baker, rising early every morning and using only organic flour from nearby Anita’s Organic Mill to make homemade breads, scones, bagels and pizza — to name a few of the products sold at the store.

Dan, a former teacher, also offers farm tours to school groups, believing it’s important — for city kids, especially — to understand where the food they eat comes from. He also tries to encourage other farmers to go chemical-free.

Two popular farm experiences in Chilliwack, and part of the community’s Circle Farm Tour, are the Chilliwack Corn Maze, which celebrated its 20th anniversary this year, and the Tulips of the Valley Festival held in April.

Festival founder Kate Onos-Gilbert added a Sunflower Festival, from late August to mid-September, for the first time this year and planted 90,000 sunflowers for visitors to enjoy walking amongst. The tulip festival, which has been going on for 13 years — the past two in Chilliwack — involves planting six million tulip bulbs and attracts more than 33,000 visitors over the tulip season.

In the Abbotsford Circle Farm Tour, an exciting new concept is the creation of the Valley Food and Farm Collective, where local farmers will bring their fresh produce for the public to buy in the first ever “food hub” for the Fraser Valley.

“We have the highest growing capacity and B.C.’s largest agricultural region. That’s why this is the perfect place to have the hub,” spokesperson Kathleen Robinson says.

Kim Pemberton / Winnipeg Free Press Dan (left) and Helen Oostenbrink grow more than 50 different crops on their organic farm in Chilliwack and sell their produce at their new store, the Local Harvest.
The first phase of the farm collective has already started, with the weekly farmers market that happens every Thursday in the summer and ending in early October. The second phase will begin in November, with the opening of a commissary kitchen, communal brewhouse and local food café.

The collective is being spearheaded by Josh Vanderheide and Bonnie Friesen of Field House Brewing, who believe in the concept of collaboration amongst farmers and brewers over competition.

“We want to invest in the community and build something workable. There’s a lot of positive energy here and we should all be working together to get people excited about quality and craftsmanship,” he says.

“It’s a really fun time to be in the valley. We’re bringing the farm to the city people.”

kpemberton@shaw.ca

If you go:

Visitcirclefarmtour.com.

Stay: Brookside Inn Boutique Hotel (brooksideinn.ca) is located in the heart of the Fraser Valley in Abbotsford — an ideal jumping off point to venture out on the Circle Farm Tours in the region. All of the inn’s six suites are individually decorated with movie themes such as The Secret Garden, Under the Tuscan Sun and Midnight in Paris.

Owners Chris and Sandi Buis serve a lovely complimentary breakfast, using local fresh ingredients, and also offer customized winery tours in either their six-person van or 14-person bus. They can also take visitors on the Circle Farm Tours.

Kim Pemberton / Winnipeg Free Press Kate Onos-Gilbert and her daughter Mya stand amongst one of the paths at the Sunflower Festival, a new event that runs from August till mid-September in Chilliwack.
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