So many kids grow up seeming to think that strawberries come from California, raspberries from Mexico, and milk comes from the cooler at the grocery store, naturally. Why not? It’s not like city kids get to visit farms much. We grow up completely dissociated from the people who grow and produce our food.
I cannot think of many cities that do not have some sort of farmland near them. Here in Vancouver we’re lucky, some of the best farmland in the country is at our doorstep: the Fraser River Valley. Want to live on the 100 mile diet? You wouldn’t get bored here.
On Saturday morning(ish) Carly and I packed the kids up and headed in search of local bounty and some farmland experiences. Aided by the Circle Farm Tour website (and later by their pamphlet), after a couple of phone calls we’d made our choices. The kids chose cows and chickens, and the moms chose berries.
First stop, due to its location, was Birchwood Dairy. This farm operates under the principle that happy cows make delicious milk, and specifies that they use no antibiotics, steroids, or hormones. Not only do they raise and milk the cows, they also process the milk and make the milk products that they sell.
Situated to greet people coming out of their cars was a large cow – a Holstein I believe she was – in a stall open to the outside of her barn. Eagerly, she sidled up and licked proffered hands. Ever wonder what a cow’s tongue is like? I’d forgotten how rough they are, and long. Kinda slimy too. We had lunch, then visited the petting farm, but the real play for the kids was on the two old tractors. We visited the nursery barn (after checking with staff to be sure we didn’t poke our noses where we weren’t welcome), and ogled the enormous mamas in waiting.
The new calves were mostly dozing, but one was a sociable little one, clearly hungry and eager to try anything to see if it was producing milk. Is it cruel to separate mama and calf? Well, maybe. But that’s the reality of a large dairy production. The calves didn’t seem overly anxious or distressed, nor did the adult cows ambling by outside, peering in to see what was going on. Last for us there was a quick shop in their store for yogurt, milk, and neighbour’s raspberries, and ice cream for all of us. That was a hit.
Off we went in search of our next stop. Between the sleepy eyes in the back seat and the time of the afternoon, it was decided easily that we’d buy at a stand instead of pick. Not ideal, but I couldn’t imagine wrangling two sleepy-wired preschoolers down rows of strawberry plants without leaving many foot-squished berries in our wake. For a very low price Carly got an enormous flat of strawberries, perfectly ripe. Do note that when you buy them like that, they’ve got to get used right away. By next morning nearly half were unusable. Also picked up there was a smaller box, just enough, of blueberries. We did, in our driving, see corn, strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, and much more growing in the fields we passed.
Chickens! We talked excitedly on the way to Rockweld Farms about what chickens sound like, what roosters do, that eggs come from them, maybe we’d even see chicks! Rockeweld Farms is BCSPCA certified, and raises antibiotic-free free-range chickens. I’m sorry to say that we’d forgotten one important detail when getting the little ones hyped up about the farm. It’s only been a few years since Avian Flu blasted through there, wreaking havoc and causing the wasteful slaughter of much of the chicken stock of the area. Big yellow biosecurity signs were fixed all over the farm on the way in. So, no fun for the little ones. I doubt that we’d have even seen a feather had we gotten the kids out of the car. Still, Carly picked up fresh eggs.
On a whim, we headed up the valley a bit farther to find more local bounty of the berry variety. Fermented berries. Wine! Kermode Winery makes their wines from local, wild berries. We spent some time in the tasting room, while the kids ran and played. No, Cameron is not sipping wine in the picture, he has grape juice. I’d expected blackberry wine and maybe salmonberry, and those were there, but I was impressed mostly by the elderberry wine, saskatoonberry wine, and blackberry port. The man who helped us in the tasting room warned that the mountain ash berry wine needed an open mind – and in the spirit of adventure we both decided to try some. It was … different. First sip was, “mmm? That’s different.” Second taste was, “Yeah, that is what it tastes like, I wasn’t imagining that,” and the third had me wondering why I didn’t stop at two. I bought far too many bottles of wine, but at prices better than comparably good grape wines in the city, I can justify the expense!
The drive back to town was perfect. Sunshine, cool breeze, mountains. The car smelled like strawberries, and we munched on blueberries with the windows down. We had milk, yogurt, eggs, three types of berries, and wine. Not a bad day of bounty hunting!