The idea of eating more locally-produced ingredients is slowly getting into our food culture but we are a long way from growing our raising most of our food in this region. But I take great delight in discovering farms that are doing their best to feed their neighbours. Last Friday night my weekend kicked off with part of the Salt Spring Sip and Savour Festival, a Farm to Table Wine Pairing dinner at Stowel Lake Farm with Road 13 Vineyards from Oliver. (shout out to Chris Smith at WayWestWines!) And I can safely say it was only the wine that came from as far away as the Okanagan. Everything else came from extremely close by, including the wild salmon on the menu.
Stowel Lake Farm is on the south part of Salt Spring, right next to David Wood’s Salt Spring Island Cheese and the farm also counts Moonstruck Cheese as a neighbour. The farm itself is a collection of families with lots of kids. 12 adults, 10 kids. Some of the adults work on the farm and others have full-time jobs off the farm. The farm itself is multipurpose. It produces lots of fruits and vegetables as well as seeds from many of the vegetables that are then sold through Dan Jason’s Salt Spring Seeds company. There is also accommodation ranging from private or shared rooms and even yurts, and meeting space, so the farm is used for retreats and conferences. It’s come a long way from when the land was purchased decades ago by Lisa Lloyd. Lisa is still on the farm growing amazing organic strawberries and her daughter Jennifer, who grew up on the farm, is now back as one of the farmers. Jennifer told me the farm has changed a lot since her mother moved the family there when she was five years old: “We moved from the city, she moved us, the three children, it was just a huge piece of land, in disarray, I would say, and she just started off with some sheep, and away she went. It was a lot of work. Now we have one of the largest market gardens on Salt Spring, a large flock of chickens, a couple of cows…and a llama.”
I didn’t get to meet the llama, which is a pet, but I did see the chickens and the dogs and the kids, all running around in the late summer sun, and Jennifer gave the dinner guests a tour through the market garden where we were invited to pick whatever we wanted to nibble on as we walked around. In the meantime, Haidee Hart was toiling away in the kitchen. Her husband Josh plays a large role in the farm operations, while she has grown into her cooking role, as the chef who caters to all the events and retreats at the farm. Earlier in the summer they decided to do a farm to table dinner, it was a great success so they decided to do another one for the fall harvest. It all added up to a fantastic meal.
Even the salt for the dishes was produced on the island, yet another sea salt producer has sprung up in this region, I think that makes it four now. I didn’t try to recreate any of Haidee’s dishes for guest host Khalil Aktar today, but I did bring him a fresh red pepper to taste that went into the opening canape, a sweet red Jimmy Nardello pepper, beautiful colour, flavour and aroma, looks like it should be hot because it’s long and thin. Haidee told me it almost didn’t make it into the meal: “All of a sudden I realized I hadn’t put the peppers on the list for our farmers to pick, so I sent one of the farmers literally running out to the greenhouse, and within a few minutes she had picked a whole bin and I put them on the barbecue and you could see the condensation on these peppers from the humidity of the greenhouse and the heat of the barbecue and just a few minutes later they were in the canapés, it was just beautiful.”
There’s no mistaking Haidee’s enthusiasm about what she does, and it’s the kind of enthusiasm we need in this region if we hope to regain some of our food security and grow more food right here. It’s the same kind of enthusiasm I saw a couple of weeks ago at Saanichton Farm where the Rashliegh family has thrown itself into a new interest in locally grown grains and pulses, and Jennifer Lloyd says it’s the enthusiasm at Stowel Lake Farm that makes it all worth the effort.
The food festival season continues this weekend, and I hope to see some folks at the Savour Cowichan opening events this weekend on the barge at Mill Bay, there are only 100 tickets left for Barge On In on Friday night, and I just found out the Sip, Savour and Support event on Saturday night is sold out, so you’re lucky if you got your hands on tickets for that.