Farmers and specialty producers along the Fraser Canyon and in the Cariboo Chilcotin Coast welcome the chance to share with road-trippers the art, science and dedication involved in raising livestock and growing crops, including their efforts to maintain sustainable farm and ranch ecosystems featuring healthy soils and free-range pasture lands.
The South Cariboo is young in terms of grape production, for example. But the vines at Fort Berens Estate Winery in Lillooet dig deep into soil enriched by 150 years of melon, tomato and alfalfa production – a factor, perhaps, in why the winery continues to make the headlines. Since 2012 the BC vineyard has won many gold, silver and bronze medals at international competitions, including gold medals in 2012, 2013 and 2014 at the prestigious Los Angeles International Wine and Spirits Competition.
Most recently, the Lillooet area has evolved into a hotbed for hop growers who are helping fuel the rise of BC ’s burgeoning craft-beer industry. In 2013, the organic hops grown by Lillooet’s Bitterbine Hop Company were used by Vancouver’s Powell Street Craft Brewery to produce the Canadian Brewing Awards’ Beer of the Year. The presence of local hop farms also enables BC brewers to craft new, trend-setting products such as “fresh-hopped” beer, made by adding hops to brews within 24 hours of harvest.
Backstories such as these are important to those with discerning palates, and for consumers increasingly aware that local, sustainably grown foods are vital to health and well-being and for reducing the environmental impact of long-distance shipping and the need for food stabilizers and other preservatives.
The Chilcotin River Valley, guests can overnight on a 1,600hec/3,954ac property serving home-grown organic produce as well as grass-fed meats processed in the ranch’s own abattoir. First Nations rodeos and powwows such as the Tillicum Society’s in Quesnel are a chance to nibble fresh, hot bannock and slurp hooshum, a traditional aboriginal “ice-cream” made from Soopolallie berries. Also in the North Cariboo, organic producers entice with the uniquely sweet taste of birch syrup tapped fresh from the tree, including a novel birch syrup BBQ sauce, and the historic town of Barkerville serves dishes re-created from the 1800s.
The central Cariboo features such delicacies as the Marguerite and Soda Creek areas’ sweet corn on the cob. From July through October, don’t miss the unique experience of the Cariboo Corn Maze at the Austrailian Ranch on Hwy. 97.
The fresh culinary perspective gained in exploring regional flavours is further honed with visits to agricultural fairs and festivals. At Quesnel’s Fall Fair the ambience is rambunctious (those chili and beer-can chicken competitions are fierce), while August’s South Cariboo Garlic Festival in Lac la Hache sees both serious and casual foodies lining up for garlic poutine, panini and gyoza against a backdrop of family fun, live music and a Master Garlic Chef Cook-Off. Many local fairs also showcase youth 4-H
competitions highlighting the rewards of raising livestock and growing crops while acquiring life skills.
Local restaurants and eateries are similarly diverse, from popular food chains along Gold Rush Trail routes to sophisticated dining options scattered throughout the region, where tempting meals are lovingly made with, of course, fresh, indigenous ingredients. As well, many communities host weekly farmers markets, often with local arts and crafts showcased. At the Bella Coola market, for instance, travellers can
stock up on fresh produce and sample regional specialties such as honey, giant prawns, Dungeness crab and salmon; gourmands can keep their eyes peeled for farm-gate offerings of sweet Walla Walla onions, Russian red garlic and sun-loving Kentucky wonder yellow beans. Other operators in the region, including B&Bs, open their barn doors so visitors can appreciate the fine art of “farming with the season” while sampling and purchasing local delicacies. Several also offer “Bed and Bale” for those travelling with equine companions. ♦