250 bikers take in scenery, local foods in Tour de Farms
BRISTOL — Cyclists in Saturday’s Tour de Farms enjoyed a gastronomic journey highlighting the fall harvest through the farmlands of Addison County, from sweet sips of fermented Aqua ViTea Organic Kombucha to fresh bunches of Boyer Farm’s Concord grapes.
About 250 bikers rode from Bristol to New Haven, Monkton, Hinesburg and Starksboro and back, making stops along the 37-mile route for creative and nutritious local samples from eight farm stands, three restaurants, and a total of 25 food vendors.
The Addison County Relocalization Network (ACORN), a nonprofit that promotes local food and agriculture in the southern Champlain Valley in addition to Farm-to-School efforts, has organized the annual event, its primary fundraiser, since 2008. This year’s tour took nine months of planning and boasted the longest route and highest number of contributing businesses to date.
“I think it was our best tour ever,” said ACORN Executive Director Jonathan Corcoran. “People were over the moon about the organization, signage (and) food.”
Corcoran attributes the fundraiser’s success to years of learning about event coordination, comprehensive safety measures, and the variety of fine local food.
As prior tours had all begun in Shoreham, organizers said cyclists enjoyed the new route through picturesque areas of Bristol and Monkton. Because many were unfamiliar with this portion of Addison County, they found the landscape all the more remarkable.
“Whether looking out to the Adirondacks, out to Camel’s Hump or seeing the Hog Backs, the light was beautiful and it was a gorgeous day,” said Corcoran.
“People were glowing when they got off their bikes at the end,” added ACORN Director of Marketing and Development Lindsey Berk.
According to Berk, a big draw on the route was the new technology exhibited by the methane digester that generates energy from manure at Bristol’s Four Hills Farm, a large dairy that supplies milk to Cabot.
The tour’s main attraction, however, was its abundant selection of meat, dairy, vegetables, and maple products. Cyclists loved the organic pulled pork from Full Moon Farm with coleslaw served on raw collard greens, and Bobcat Café and Brewery’s brisket chilly using grass-fed beef from Smith Family Farm.
Other standouts included ratatouille featuring organic vegetables from New Leaf Farm, and Bella Farm, LLC’s pesto on Good Companion Bakery’s baguettes. Kimball Brook Farm’s choices of milk and Farmhouse Chocolates + Ice Cream’s vanilla with cardamom and rosewater flavor and apple crumble flavor were also hits among the riders. In the closing survey, bikers with delighted taste buds raved about the food, saying that it even improved on previous years’ offerings.
The event also proved to be an effective marketing opportunity for the farms involved, organizers said. They distributed advertising materials, engaged riders interested in learning about their food, discovered new customers, and, for the first time in the history of the fundraiser, received 25 percent of pre-registration proceeds.
“Engaging more restaurants was a wonderful way for farms to show off their produce,” Corcoran said.
Ian Huizenga, owner of the Bar Antidote, a restaurant and cocktail lounge in Vergennes, prepared a South African vegetarian curry dish called Bunny Chow with heirloom tomatoes, sweet potatoes, garlic, and ginger from Last Resort Farm.
“It’s always fun to get to see new products,” said Huizenga. “If there’s anything I can help with in the community, it’s always been a pleasurable experience.”
Most bikers hailed from Addison and Chittenden counties and Montpelier. Riders from other parts of New England and as far as Seattle, California, Texas, Colorado, North Carolina, and Maryland also joined the event.
Turnout was a bit smaller than in past years because of the lack of participation from families and kids. Only about a third of the cyclists were families, and few were minors. Organizers are considering introducing a shorter, less trafficked 10-mile route next year to be more inclusive of families and children below the current age cutoff of 14. This change would require working around the logistical challenges of planning a shorter safe route with farms.
Forty volunteers from across the county supported the fundraiser. They included participants’ friends and families, Middlebury College students, Vermont Youth Conservation Corps members, and others who had heard of the event by word of mouth.
Corcoran emphasized the bottom-up nature of the event.
“It’s a labor of love, building community and connections,” he said. “The thing about biking is that you slow down. I can’t tell you how many people have said ‘Thank you. That was one of the greatest experiences in my life.’ I don’t think there’s anything like it in Vermont.”
RIDERS AT THE Caccavo Farm, home to Olivia’s Croutons, in New Haven sample Misty Knoll chicken ragout and vegetables from Lester Farm prepared by Tourterelle Restaurant.
By giving participants the chance to experience a variety of local farms and taste fresh food firsthand, Tour de Farms fits into ACORN’s mission of relating to and supporting Addison County agriculture in all its diversity.
“It’s getting people to meet farmers to talk to them, making our food system personal and real rather than just the product on the shelf, because there’s a story behind each one of these farms,” Corcoran said.
“When you go back thousands of years, people celebrated the harvest, the great time when nature was feeding us … It’s bringing that back into people’s minds. It’s like look, look, look at the bounty, and look at these people who bring it forward. The people who have ridden in the tour get it. That’s why it’s special.”