People travel the world for amazing food experiences, but Vancouverites only have to go as far as the Fraser Valley to sample some of the exceptional bounty of food that is growing just a short drive away in the province’s largest agricultural region.
“In British Columbia, we are blessed with some very fertile valleys,” said Janice Fraser, the managing editor at Destination British Columbia. “One of those is the Fraser Valley and it has a number of farms and farm gate producers that visitors and locals alike can visit. They can stop by, get a dozen eggs, pick blueberries or strawberries or buy a piece of pie. It’s a great way to get out of their normal routine and meet some locals and get a sense of the local products available.”
“Given its size, it’s still an up-and-coming region, which is really exciting,” added Heather McGillivray, Destination British Columbia’s representative for the region. “It really is anchored by three communities, moving from west to east out of Vancouver: Langley, Abbotsford and Chilliwack.”
“There’s a cool factor, a hip factor, to all these communities,” she said. “They all have the hip bakery and the super cool coffee shops, places you would expect to find in Vancouver, such as Duft & Co Bakehouse in Abbotsford, and Harvest Store & Cafe in Chilliwack.”
First-time visitors to the Fraser Valley looking to sample its many options are sometimes overwhelmed by the vast number of choices available. To make it easier, communities in the region banded together to create The Circle Farm Tour – five self-guided circuits that highlight some of the best agricultural experiences they have to offer.
“A Circle Farm Tour is just a starting place for visitors,” said Fraser. “Each community has identified about a dozen stops for their area and produced excellent maps and guides. It’s intended to be a self-guided tour and resource for visitors so if people don’t know where to go or where to start, this is their introduction. It’s not necessary to hit every stop on the tour, but it’s a really nice menu to sample from.”
“Because it’s convenient to Vancouver, most of these things are within an hour or two from the city so it’s pretty easy to take one’s own car or rent a car from the city and head out there,” said Fraser.
McGillivray is familiar with many of the food producers and artisans who are part of the Circle Food Tour and rattled off a few suggestions.
“In Langley, I really like Milner Valley Cheese. Mann Farms in Chilliwack is a great experience, too,” she said. “The Fraser Valley Cider Company is one of my favourites and it just opened last summer, it’s the first cidery in the valley. The first distillery opened just last month called Roots and Wings. There’s a real range on the tour, which is why I like it, because there’s a little something for everyone. There are places that are more family-focused if you have young kids or it might be on the more historical side of things, right through to the wineries and the breweries in the region as well.”
For people who want to sample Fraser Valley restaurants that serve up food made from local ingredients, both McGillivray and Fraser suggested Lelem’ Arts and Cultural Café, a First Nations operated café in Fort Langley as well as Bacchus Bistro at Chaberton Estate Winery in Langley and Restaurant 62 in Abbotsford.
The largest number of visitors to the Fraser Valley come during the summer months as food production ramps up during the warm weather, but there are amazing experiences to be had in any season.
“When you’re talking about growing produce, obviously that brings a fresh perspective and fresh product for every season so where the spring might be focused around tulips and the summer is focused around berries, the fall is going to be focused around apples and corn,” said McGillivray. “It’s quite literally natural that the experience is going to change with the seasons.”
“If you want to avoid the crowds, then the spring and fall are great times to visit, particularly in the fall as harvest comes into season,” added Fraser. “There are special events like long-table dinners and food and wine tasting events. You should also check when your favourite fruits and vegetables are in season because visiting the valley then will be a special time to get them fresh from the farm.”
Fraser believes that local flavours and dishes provide insight into what makes a place unique and says that visitors to the Fraser Valley discover that as they taste their way across the region.
“One of the things that people seek out is incorporating unique food and wine experiences into their travels,” said Fraser. “Visitors are very much looking for experiences that help connect them with locals and help give them a sense of what a place is really about and a lot of that comes through food.”