‘Farm to Fork’. It’s a catchy phrase we’re hearing a lot this days when it comes to talking about a sustainable agriculture system. Some farmers and restaurants are trying to make it work in the Kamloops area. I got to sample the concept first-hand over the long weekend and talked about it with Daybreak Kelowna host Chris Walker this morning.
I had a great time visiting some North Thompson area farms and ranches, a relatively new winery and even tasting salmon from a new First Nations fishing and processing operation. That was the ‘farm’ part of things, and then the ‘fork’ took place at a couple of restaurants at Sun Peaks Resort with some pretty delicious results.
The first visit was to a ranch, the Mitchell Cattle Company in Barriere, owned by Ian and Anja Mitchell. They run about 300 head of cattle, and this ranch goes back in Ian’s family to 1933. One notable change over those years is that the Mitchells no longer drive their cattle down the main streets of Barriere when they are being moved from their summer to winter pastures. But much of the beef they produce is grass-fed in the alpine pastures about 2200 metres above sea level, no antibiotics or hormones used in the production of this beef. Ian told me they are trying to encourage more direct sales, not only to the general public but to area restaurants.
Part of the hard part of doing this is getting chefs used to using all of the animal, not just the prime cuts like steaks, and not just the less expensive products like ground beef. When it comes to people cooking at home, Ian says we’re less likely to buy quarters or a side of beef these days and we don’t know how to deal with meat from the freezer, even though buying a side of beef can be much more economical and much more interesting because there are all those different cuts to work with. They are doing some value-added products like jerky though, which we tasted at the ranch, and I had to pull myself away from the teriyaki, black pepper and sweet and spicy varieties…
The vegetable side of things came along with a visit to Thistle Farms in Kamloops, a certified organic farm owned by Deb and Deiter Kellogg. Deiter told me the name came from the huge number of thistles growing on the farmland when he bought the land back in the late 1990’s. When I arrived, they were busy getting ready for the weekly farmers markets they attend, helping people with their farm to fork planning. I saw the Thistle Farm folks at both the Kamloops Farmers Market Saturday morning and again at the Sun Peaks Farmers Market on Sunday morning, so they are really trying to get their product out there and they were busy at both markets. Right now they have some incredible summer and winter squashes for sale and Dieter tells me the eggplant did very well this year, and on Sunday I bought this tiny, perfect honeydew melon there that perfumed the car with its sweet aroma until I got it home to devour later that day.
At Harper’s Trail I met vineyard manager John Dranchuk, who described the ups and downs he’s had managing the grapevines at what is being billed as BC’s most northern vineyard. But after four years the vines have managed to provide the raw material for a decent white blend, a very good rose and an excellent Riesling. The 2011 rose was a blend of 3 red varieties of grape grown at Harper’s Trail, including Merlot, but you won’t see the merlot in the blend next year, that was one of the varieties that just wasn’t cutting it on the 18 acres of vineyard, so it was pulled out and replaced with varietals like Gamay Noir, which are thriving.
The salmon is from a BC rarity, an inland commercial salmon fishery on Kamloops Lake, operated by a fisheries commission operating within the Shuswap Nation Tribal Council. Murray Ross, the director of the fisheries commission, explained part of the marketing effort is convincing people that salmon caught inland is still very tasty to eat, despite the traditional impression people have that salmon is of a lower quality once it makes it way that far from the ocean.
But if you saw how quickly a whole platter of smoked salmon disappeared into the mouths of the group I was traveling with you wouldn’t have any questions about the quality. Along with the smoked salmon you can also purchase RiverFresh Chinook or sockeye fillets or even kebabs for your barbecue. All the products are certified OceanWise by the program run by the Vancouver Aquarium so they meet a high standard of sustainability as well.
I had a chance to eat at a couple of restaurants in Sun Peaks where local ingredients are used, including Mantles at the Delta Hotel. Executive Chef Steve Buzack put together a great tasting menu which included this great little sliders made with Mitchell Ranch ground beef and this amazing slow cooked lamb confit with lamb from Dominion Creek Ranch, which is literally just down the road from the Sun Peaks resort. At the Black Garlic Bistro chef-owner Kristin Passmore puts a rotating selection of local and seasonal vegetables on the menu with her Asian-influenced cuisine and hopes to soon start making her own fermented black garlic from the abundant locally-grown garlic.
I have to say I also really enjoyed my dinner on Saturday night…because I cooked it! Our suite at Sun Peaks included a kitchen, so after a visit to the Kamloops Farmers Market on Saturday my wife and I enjoyed corn on the cob, a broiled steak from Dandy Meats with a basil tomato sauce and an eggplant, zucchini, pepper and tomato ratatouille. It’s pretty easy to do the farm to fork thing when you’re cooking for just you and your family. For restaurants it’s a bit more of a stretch, especially if you are a large restaurant like Mantles at the Delta. It’s still difficult for many restaurants to not only find enough local produce in a dependable supply, but at a price that makes sense from a business standpoint. There are some restaurants that do it, but what I think you’ll find in the immediate future is that more and more restaurants will feature certain products as they are in season on their menus, and at least try to make you more aware of where those local meats and fruits and veggies are coming from so that you can help support those local producers and keep them farming.