Food Matters – Fantastic Food Festival Season!

September is often noted as the beginning of a new year. Usually kids are going back to school, vacations have been taken and enjoyed, and it’s a chance to get back into the regular rhythm of life. Unless you’re a big food and wine fan. This week on my Food Matters column on CBC Radio’s All Points West, I provided an overview of some of the celebrations happening up and down the island this month.

chefsurviveI’m still trying to figure out a way to clone myself for a couple of the upcoming weekends, because I really would like to be in two or three places at the same time. I’ve always known September is really the silly season for food and wine festivals but this year I literally have my calendar by my side at all times to figure it all out. It pretty much gets under way starting this weekend. There’s the Chef’s Survival Challenge at Madrona Farm happening on Sunday. The Great Canadian Beer Festival starts here in Victoria tomorrow afternoon and continues on Saturday. Next weekend the fun continues with the Vancouver Island edition of Feast of Fields at Kildara Farms in Sidney, and the following weekend is even busier.

sipnsavourss I’m going to be giving talks or emceeing or attending no fewer than three festivals over the 19th, 20th and 21st in three different locations. Sip and Savour Salt Spring kicks off on Friday night with a series of harvest dinners, I’m attending the one at Stowell Lake Farm featuring the creations of Chef Haidee Hart. On Saturday there is the Salt Spring Saturday Market followed by the Grazing Experience at the Salt Spring Farmers Institute. But I have to miss that in time to get to Nanaimo, where the Old City Quarter Harvest Festival is taking place, lots of food and music there, I’ll be at the Speaker’s Tent at 3:00, and there is also a Seafood Chowder Competition in Nanaimo that afternoon. Sunday I’ll be at the sold-out Flavour, North Island’s Gourmet Picnic at the Coastal Black Estate Winery north of Courtenay and Comox. Also that Sunday there’s another sold-out event, Brewery and The Beast in the Phillip’s Brewery ‘Backyard’…beer and meat is the best way to describe that event.

ApplefestAnd that only takes us up to the third weekend in September….The final weekend starts early on Thursday, for the Vikings ParTEA at the Royal BC Museum. Then there’s the Victoria Wine Festival on Friday the 26th, the Salt Spring Apple Festival on the 28th, which I’ve been to before and really enjoyed. That weekend also kicks off Savour Cowichan. This is a much-expanded version of the Cowichan Wine Festival. This year they are putting a barge off the dock at Mill Bay for a big tasting event on the Friday night. On the 27th there is a big fundraiser barbecue on the barge featuring music from Hayley McLeand and Wide Mouth Mason, and then various events at Cowichan wineries and restaurants continue over the next week.

SipSavourSuppologo300I know, I know, how are you supposed to choose? There are a few determining factors here. Popularity, type, cost, location, and purpose. Popularity: If you want to go to some of the more popular events, you need to get tickets early, not at the last minute. So the Flavour Picnic in the Comox Valley sold out weeks ago, and the Brewery and the Beast event in Victoria is sold out as well. Type: Grazing, or sit-down dinner? Can you take the kids? Cost: Some are free admission, such as the Harvest Festival in Nanaimo, but they can go up to $75 for the Sip, Savour and Support event in Mill Bay, or $95 for the Feast of Fields at Kildara Farm. But also look at what you get for your money. Most of those events that are higher in price are all-inclusive. You don’t have to pay more once you get in for food or beverages and there is usually some form of entertainment as well. The same is usually true of dinners sponsored by winemakers and most wine events. But at the Beer Fest, for example, you’re paying to get in, and then you are buying tokens for your beers and extra for food as well. Location: If you’re going out of town, you might have to arrange for accommodation as well, which may be a little bit easier this time of year, and you don’t want to drink and drive, so you need to plan for public transit, or a taxi, car pooling with a designated driver, or check and see if the event has some sort of shuttle or bus service, like they do with Feast of Fields and Savour Cowichan.

Feast of FieldsPurpose: Are you supporting a charity with your entrance fee? And which one? Again, the higher cost tickets usually do have some sort of charitable component. Feast of Fields is the big fundraiser of the year for FarmFolk/CityFolk, while the Sip, Savour and Support is in aid of the Vancouver Canucks Autism Network. So if that matters to you, have a look at the supporting websites for these events to check out who you are helping…and maybe in the future, you might like to get involved as a volunteer for some of these great events.

Did I miss anything? I’m sure I did. Feel free to post an event in the Comments section below.

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