Salt Spring Island is the largest and most-visited of British Columbia’s Southern Gulf Islands. With a population of over 10,000, its inhabitants are some of the best-fed islanders in the Salish Sea. Food-to-fork permaculture roots back thousands of years to Coast Salish hunter-gatherer harvests of fish and shellfish, berries, roots and bulbs.
Farming origins on Salt Spring Island harken back to the first 17 settlers who arrived in 1859 and began cultivation. Root crops, apple orchards and creamery goods were nurtured alongside rooting pigs, grazing cattle, horses and sheep. Salt Spring Island seed companies have continued to grow their own.
Educator, author and seed-saver Dan Jason of Salt Spring Seeds specializes in open-pollinated and non-GMO seed varieties. “[Seeds] have the power to feed, clothe and shelter us… the power to clean our air and water.”
Whether it’s food to fork, field to feast, farm to table, seed to cup, agritourism, or food lit like Food Aritsans of Vancouver Island and the Gulf Islands by Don Genova or The 100-Mile Diet by Alicia Smith and J.B. MacKinnon, it’s that sense of knowing one’s food is grown organically and sustainably, nearby.
The shorter the chain between raw food and fork, the fresher it is and the more transparent the system. –Joel Salatin, farmer, lecturer, author
Salt Spring Islanders have adopted the slogan, “make it, bake it, grow it.” The Salt Spring Island Agricultural Alliance implements and oversees the local Farm Plan with the Farmer’s Institute, the Island Natural Growers, and a team of committed others including the Salt Spring Island Farm Land Trust, whose mandate is to acquire, manage and preserve farmland. The Farm Dinner Series, offered May through June, features four farms, four chefs and four memorable meals.
Wait until September and there’s The Harvest Food and Wine Festival’s Sip and Savour Salt Spring, a fiesta of local and regional food and wine. Locavores dine and dance the night away at Moby’s Pub as an “apple-tizer” to Apple Fest the next day.
Tsawwassen to Salt Spring (Long Harbour) is a three-hour, three-island tic-tac-toe — Galiano, Mayne, Pender. With each embark/disembark, we shed all cares and relish our breakfast-with-a-view. From Long Harbour, it’s an unhurried pedal to the Harbour House Hotel, where farm and fork are footsteps away.
What was once a hundred-acre farm at the head of Ganges Harbour, remains 15 acres of fruits, vegetables, livestock, eggs, hives and Big Leaf (syrup-yielding) Maples. Hotel guests, restaurant visitors, and passers-by to one of the island’s many roadside farm stands all profit from Harbour House Farm’s 100 varieties of local produce.
Farm manager, Rob Scheres says, “I’m doing what I was doing as a 13-year old with my grandfather in Holland… and now I’m in my late seventies!”
Harbour House Hotel chef Brooke Winters says, “It is the true love of the ingredients and where they come from that inspire me.”
We take a stab at some winter greens for lunch, scissor-cut that morning in the garden, with Dungeness crab and shrimp in champagne citrus vinaigrette. For dinner, Salt Spring Island mussels in a white wine and garlic butter broth, handmade ricotta gnocchi in a wild mushroom cream sauce, and farm vegetables fill us with gladness. For breakfast, whole wheat berry pancakes and warm quinoa pudding keep our spare tires taut.
Directly behind Harbour House Hotel, Still Point Yoga Studio owner-operator Celeste Mallett Jason has 30-year experience that led her to therapeutic and restorative work. Hers is the relaxing end-of-day backstretch at the Harbour House Farm Wellness Retreat.
Salt Spring Island provides visitors with lots of opportunity to munch on the move in an A to Z of activities from accessing beaches, boating, cycling, to fishing, golfing, hiking… on one’s merry alphabetical way to whale-watching, yoga and Zumba.
Ron Pither, a Southern Gulf Islander, has been a communitarian (a believer in connecting community with individuals’ shared interests and geography) these past 45 years. A farmer and a fair trade activist, Ron has helped spearhead an inter-island enterprise called Island Hopping Excursions in partnership with Salt Spring Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Janet Clouston.
Friday evenings, from the end of June until Labour Day Weekend, visitors walk, bike or drive aboard the Bowen Queen for a Friday-night fling to Galiano, Mayne, and/or Pender Islands and back again to Salt Spring.
Island-hopping attractions include view-gazing from Bluff Park on Galiano Island, Miners Bay on Mayne Island, or Hope Bay on Pender Island.
On Galiano Island, the Kunamokst Mural, 190 artists, 231 original paintings is an all-encompassing collage, and only a six-minute walk from the ferry. Artists followed the notion of Canadian illustrator and Mural Mosaic artist Lewis Lavoie.
Given a panel and a colour scheme under a wild-West-Coast theme, the whole concept was born (a mother orca and her calf) before the 2010 Winter Olympic Games. We are better together, as the Chinook word, kunamokst, suggests. That’s the watchword in this culture-sharing, island-hopping initiative.
Take in the Tree House Café with simply-delicious granola, yogurt and berries. Lattés in hand, we have the perfect pretext for people-watching at this Ganges hub — tourists, local business people and families gather, either on the patio or under the massive plum tree. We’re compelled to return for dinner under the stars to savour a Garry Oaks Pinot Noir, and listen to live music in this former 1920s heritage cottage, a plum’s throw from the proposed Ganges Harbour-hugging boardwalk.
A short weave away is the urban winery, Mistaken Identity, where oenologist or grape fermenter Jesse Cooper teams with his partner, Melanie, to produce organic estate wines and grapes. “Growing 10 varieties in one vineyard is quite unique,” says Jesse. “We have a northern Mediterranean climactic zone on Salt Spring.” That is why their wine is *mistaken* for European blends.
They pair wines with local cheese and chocolate, art exhibits and live theatre. We steal away with a Charmela 2011 dessert wine blended with Chardonnay grapes and 17 apple varietals, reflecting Salt Spring’s heritage as British Columbia’s apple capital in the early 1900s.
Foxglove Farm and Centre for the Arts, Ecology and Agriculture is at the foot of Mount Maxwell. Olivier, the farm manager, walks us around the five acres of cultivated farmland, just a portion of the total 120 forest-and-field acres.
“Whether you’re involved in five acres, 50 acres, or just a few pots,” says Olivier, “there’s something very meaningful in producing something for yourself… putting time and faith in nature… physically, mentally and emotionally.”
Olivier is an Australian who crossed paths Down Under with Michael Ableman: farmer, author, photographer, food advocate and co-founder at Foxglove. With his wife, Jeanne Marie Herman, an environmental consultant, outdoors educator and CSA board member (promoting Salt Spring’s community-supported agricultural relationships between eaters and growers), they started farming the property in 2006.
“Our programs include one to five-day retreats and workshops bringing well-known writers, artists, musicians, foresters, farmers and ecologists to share their knowledge within the context of a working landscape. We also offer a summer ‘farm camp’ for children, guided tours, school programs, culinary events, and an annual open house with tours, music and food,” says Jeanne Marie.
Brian Webster and Peri Lavender of Salt Spring Apple Co. live the apple-a-day philosophy from their orchard B&B. Apple to pie to plate — trellis to tart — Brian’s obsession with apples started at Salt Spring’s Apple Fest a few years ago.
“Salt Spring Apple Co. now has 325 varieties of dwarf and semi-dwarf trees, organic heritage and connoisseur types, 1,500 trees, trained to grow a specific size and shape… thanks to Peri’s grafting,” beams Brian.
Brian mixes and matches over 2,000 trees on three acres. B&B visitors can view and munch the product from their patio breakfast, two minutes away from downtown Ganges.
“Strike the perfect balance between sweet and tart apples,” says Brian. “North American apples are tart; Japanese apples are sweet. So find that crisp and juicy one with a wonderful crunch. Peri’s pies find the ideal apple texture and flavour.” Take home an apple tree grafted to your own specification.
The Farmers’ Markets draw visitors and locals alike on Saturdays and Tuesdays at Centennial Park or Wednesdays in the United Church meadow, all within Ganges central.
From Hedgerow House, a Gulf Island inn, it’s a quick walk or ride to the market, if we can pry ourselves away. We enjoy the luxurious bed linens, towels and bath robes in our bird-themed nest. The décor reminds me of William Morris, designer of the arts and crafts movement, and his tenet — nothing without use or beauty.
Proprietors Peter and Jayne Lloyd-Jones present a mouth-watering array of dishes, and pepper them with lively conversation. Apricot clafouti (a rustic French tart) and smoked Sockeye scrambled eggs are part of our morning mélange. “How are these eggs so yellow?” I ask Jayne.
“We keep trying different egg stands on the island… all deliciously fresh.” A weather report, a Mt. Maxwell coffee top-up, some double chocolate cookies for the road, and we’re away.
Palu Rainbowsong stands at the market entrance, ready to interpret the past or future of passersby with his solar meditation bow. I watch a kaleidoscope of colours glint behind closed eyelids, and it’s a fine market primer – for the busker who strums his guitar with ankle-wrap tambourine, for Julie Matthews’ lavender jam, for Glass Foundry earrings, for Barb’s Buns from Barb’s Bakery & Bistro, for over 140 market tables and tents. A palatable potpourri. Past and future drop, kerplunk, into a satisfied present. What is made, baked and grown, we wear or ingest.
Jason Griffin and Yael Wand of Western Splendour Tour Company have a table at the market. Both come from extensive backgrounds in tourism and culture. What’s your interest? Wine, beer, culinary craft, arts and crafts, nature walks, history, politics, storytelling anecdotes? You propose it – they tour it.
Leaving Ganges, we put our bikes on the Fulford Harbour bus bike rack to avert the big hill. We’ll hitch a ride up the hill, then on to the ferry. We’re soft foodies (or food softies) with a transit solution. We’ll catch a second ferry home on one of Swartz Bay’s hourly crossings. That’s the plan.
However, others have the same idea. The rack only holds two bikes, one is already hitched on, and a young man is in front of us in line, with his barebones road bike without rat-trap, and a parcel tucked under one arm. In startling courtesy, he offers to ride his bicycle up the hill if we’ll carry his parcel aboard the bus. He’s young and we’re… not. Still, his gallantry touches us in the same way the island has. At the top-of-the-hill bus stop, we’re off and he’s back on. Getting familiar with Salt Spring’s food-to-fork events has been a rocket-booster crop of heart and tummy-warming encounters.
We plot our course from the Island Pathway Road and Bike Routes map. Island Pathways is a non-profit society promoting safe bikeways. Our route takes us along an undulating and shaded road with ocean views, past two cheeseries — Salt Spring Island Cheese (goat and sheep) and Moonstruck, a Jersey-cow variety. We stop in at Salt Spring Island Cheese for cheese making 101.
All cheeses are fermented milk products, like yogurt, and all Salt Spring Island cheeses are made from pasteurized milk. The riper the cheese, the firmer it is. Of course, our preference is for an indulgently spreadable slice… we’re softies and foodies, after all.
Tsawwassen to Salt Spring Island (Long Harbour) www.bcferries.com/schedules/southern/vade-current.php
Fulford Harbour (Salt Spring Island) to Swartz Bay www.bcferries.com/schedules/southern/sssb-current.php
Swartz Bay to Tsawwassen
Salt Spring Island Chamber of Commerce http://saltspringchamber.com/
Harbour House Hotel
Hedgerow House, a Gulf Island Inn http://hedgerowhouse.ca/
Foxglove Farm, Centre for the Arts, Ecology & Agriculture www.foxglovefarmbc.ca/
Salt Spring Apple Co. http://saltspringapplecompany.com/B-B-Salt-Spring-Apple-Co-.htm
MARCH 2015 SENIOR LIVING MAGAZINE
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