Langley Circle Farm Tour
Posted by Degan on July 5th, 2012
I grew up in Langley, on a farm – and some day I’ll write about that here. It was a small farm but we had a big fruit and vegetable garden out back and a couple of acres of cows; our neighbours had chickens and pigs. So it may seem surprising that I leapt at the chance to check out the Langley Circle Farm Tour but at the end of the day I’m glad to have a connection to where my food comes from, however small, and I want to support those farmers – especially the family run businesses – who are working hard to provide food for us every day. Also, it’s been 20 or so years since I was hanging around out there and I wanted to see what had changed.
We started our day at Historic Fort Langley, which you would think wouldn’t have changed much as they’re trying pretty hard to keep it as it was back in the 1800’s, but like the Kilby Historic site that I wrote about on the Harrison-Agassiz Circle Farm Tour, they now have a great café that serves scones and muffins with homemade preserves (and of course coffee) that can be eaten in or taken home with you.
They’ve also gone to great lengths to put in an heirloom vegetable garden that has the exact varietals that they would have had when the Fort was in use. I thought that must have been an incredible research project but in another building we were shown a ledger where they recorded the weather every day so the details don’t seem to be lacking.
Lots of great events happening here over the summer (and not just food!) so check back, especially if you have kids.
Aldor Acres Dairy Farm
Speaking of kids, our next stop was Aldor Acres Dairy Farm, a place every child (and adult) should go once. This is not a working farm but an educational dairy farm run by Brian and Erin Anderson. They have several types of cows as well as a “show” milking room where they explain the milking process. They started with the robotic milking process, where each cow has had her teat mapped by the machine and then wears a chip in her collar to be identified when she comes in for milking. The arm on the milking machine is pretty high-tech – it was designed by the same people who designed the Canada Arm!
Cows come in voluntarily to be milked, whether it’s by machine or hand. Next we learned the hand-milking process – hands on! To milk a cow, you gently make a ring with your thumb and index finger around the top of the teat and then close the rest of your hand around it. Since we were just practicing there was no bucket, just a very knowing cat underfoot to lap up the milk. Rita, our volunteer cow, was such a sweetheart and stood all the novices patiently. Apparently our group was small potatoes for her, though, as there had been a group of 160 children the day before! What a day. We raised Herefords on our farm (beef cattle) so this was a first for me, and well worth the trip to Langley for that alone.
Afterwards we went out to the stables to see the rest of the cows, including some calves, and learned more about the farm. Brian mentioned that out of a group of 80 visitors recently only four had some kind of (in some cases remote) connection to a farm! Phil from Edible Vancouver piped up that only 2% of the population produces food now (for all the rest of us!) and the U.S. Census has even removed it as an occupation from the forms. It really drove home how important it is to get out to farms and farmers’ markets and get to know these people!
The Fort Wine Company
The Circle Farm Tours (there is one for Langley, Abbotsford, Chilliwack, Agassiz-Harrison Mills and Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows) are all self-guided, so just pick up a map from any one of the stops and create your own route. Be careful though, not all stops are open on the same schedule – they’re all posted on the website.
For us, the next stop was the Fort Wine Co., a fruit winery whose specialty is cranberry wine. They do a red and white cranberry wine as well as a dessert wine from the huge cranberry bog behind the winery that they flood and harvest every Thanksgiving weekend. Other wines are made from BC-bought fruit – blackberries, blueberries, apples, and strawberries – and they also make and sell jams and vinegars in the shop.
Milner Valley Cheese was one of my favourite stops, and I’ll definitely be making a point of coming back here. They have been six generations of Smiths on this farm and in it’s latest incarnation it is a goat farm where they make farmstead cheese. To be farmstead means that you have to milk your own and they do – twice a day at 5:30 AM and again in the evening. Currently have about 70 goats.
Goats are the cutest, aren’t they? As if that guy isn’t adorable all by himself, the herd is protected from coyotes from an attack llama who hangs out in the background and chases them if they come too close! He couldn’t help with the rain though, and it seems as though the goats hate it – as soon as it started sprinkling they all started running for the barn.
Milner Cheese makes the usual selection of chèvre (in several flavours) but they also do some incredible cheese curds – juicy and squeaky, I couldn’t stop eating them! – as well as a beautiful Jack, Colby and aged – almost like Parmesan. They’ve only been open two years, so this is impressive stuff. I wish this place had been there when I lived down the street!
Before lunch we stopped in at a the Cedar Rim Nursery, a gardening institution in Langley for thirty years. The owners are lovely and very knowledgeable about all the aspects of their business – commercial, education, food-growing and landscaping.
Vista D’oro, Domaine de Chaberton and JD’s Specialty Turkey
For lunch we were at Vista D’oro Farm and Winery where we were joined by Domaine de Chaberton wines, JD Farms Specialty Turkey and Langley Farmers Market. JD Farms produces antibiotic-free turkeys and turkey products including sausages and pepperoni (which we tried). At their farm they also have a bistro where they do daily specials, turkey sandwiches and soups.
As for the wine, Domaine de Chaberton was the first winery in the valley and they now have two lines, the Chaberton wines and the Canoe Cove line. Only the Chaberton line was at lunch so I’ll have to stop in and try the others on-site, but I tried a Siegerrebe wine for the first time, which I quite liked. It’s a hardy German white (like almost all the whites in Langley), but the floral and fruity notes shone through even in the rain. I also really liked the Gamay.
I’ve never been to the Vista D’oro premises before but I’m a big fan of both their fortified walnut wine and their Pinot Noir, not to mention almost all of their preserves – the Turkish fig and walnut wine is amazing with some of the Farmstead cheeses that they sell on-site. The 2007 D’oro walnut wine is made from the many green walnut trees on the farm, as well as North Okanagan Marechal Foch, Central Okanagan Merlot & Cabernet Franc, and Okanagan Brandy and it’s just exquisite. I picked up one of each of my favourites from the store but I’m now regretting not also getting their 2010 Marechal Foch red, a deep rich wine whose vines we could see just in front of us.
Kensington Prairie Farm, Erikson’s Daylily Garden, and Thunderbird Showpark
After lunch we had stops in at Kensington Prairie Farms (an alpaca farm), Erikson’s Daylily Gardens, the Thunderbird Showpark and Driediger Berry Farms but the rain was so bad we didn’t see as much as we would have on a summer’s day and actually only got off the bus at a few stops. Kensington Prairie Farms raise a herd of 50 alpacas for their wool, but they do also eat some of the low-grade textile animals and owner Catherine Simpson compared the meat to venison since it’s so lean. We didn’t try any on this tour but they do sell it (along with beef from their cattle) in the shop.
Erikson’s daylily’s are also not normally meant to be eaten but they are apparently completely edible; leaves and buds are great in salads, the roots are like radishes, and you can make a tranquilizing tea from the flowers! OK, you can also go and check out the beautiful gardens, but pick a nicer day than we did.
I used to ride at the previous incarnation of Thunderbird Showpark but it’s way too polished for my style now. World-class hunting and jumping competitions are held here during the summertime and are open to the public.
Driediger Berry Farms
Driediger farms was another stop that I was familiar with, and even though owner Rhonda Driediger commented on the changes that they’d made to the shop, its familiar red outbuildings and giant scale felt just like they did when I was young and went to pick berries with my grandmother. They have strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, blackberries and red and black currants (depending on the season) available as U-pick or for sale in the shop. I basically started eating my strawberries as soon as I picked the basket up so I’m surprised they made it all the way back into town with me! I’ll have to go back soon.
More photos here.