Ask any chefs who tout the word local on the menu, and they’ll likely mention the Fraser Valley. The fertile region is home to scores farmers and growers who produce all kinds of food, from berries to buffalo meat. And yet some people would say that despite all of its crops, fields, and bounty, the area is lacking a strong or defined local food culture, one to call its own.
A beermaker and a chef have launched an effort to change that, with the newly formed Valley Food and Farm Collective (VFC). And the new non-profit is kicking things into a gear on Thursday (August 9) with a new farmers market. The Rail District Community Market runs every week until October 4.
Spearheading the push to carve out a culinary identity for the Fraser Valley are Josh Vanderheide, founder of Field House Brewing, and Bonnie Friesen, the brewery’s executive chef and food-services director. Field House has a tasting room, a fully licensed beer lawn, and the “Fox Club Fort” for kids who might be tagging along with their folks who are stopping in for a sip of Medusa Dry-Hopped Lime Sour or Chamomile Belgian Blanche.
Friesen, who studied cooking at the Pacific Institute of Culinary Arts, was doing pop-up dinners and catering before she joined Vanderheide at Field House. They both wanted to serve good food that would compliment the craft beer, food that was sourced locally as much as possible.
It was during menu development that they noticed a disconnect. While other places—whether it’s Italy or China—are known for their food, the Fraser Valley doesn’t have the same kind of recognition or status, Friesen says. It’s also a place where producers tend to be scattered.
“People might know that the Fraser Valley has cows, corn, and blueberries, but that's about it,” Friesen says.
“We would often end up driving around for sometimes up to three hours a day going to all these small producers or farmers to source ingredients, or cheesemakers would have to drive to us," she adds. "The food scene just isn’t centralized. We want to make the Fraser Valley into a food destination.”
And so the collective was born. But the VFC isn’t just an entity on paper; it also has a new home at 2518 West Railway Street in downtown Abbotsford’s historic Rail District.
The 9,000-square-foot building, which was once home to a Buckerfields Country Store, had been sitting empty for three years. Eventually, the group would like to set up a commissary kitchen, perhaps a café and a retail section.
In the meantime, the space will host the weekly Rail District Community Market on Thursdays from 4 to 8 p.m.
Besides food trucks and live music, there will be around 20 to 30 vendors, at least to start.
Abbotsford’s Taves Family Farms is one. Owner Loren Taves, who’s a common presence in Vancouver’s farmers markets and who’s a board advisor for the VFF grows no-spray seasonal produce such as heirloom tomatoes, mini cukes, eggplant, cherries, and squash. (The farm, which has U-pick apples and makes apple cider, will open its Applebarn on August 17, with corn maze, hay rides, pumpkin patch, petting zoo, and more.)
Central Park Farms is another one. It’s a small, family-owned farm in Langley headed by Kendall Ballantine that specializes in non-GMO free-range chicken, pasture-raised pork, grass-feed beef, and farm-fresh eggs from pasture-raised hens.
The Local Harvest Market prides itself on sustainable gardening. Located in Chilliwack, it offers farm-guided tours and teaches people about food security, gardening, and homesteading skills, including cheesemaking. Its products range from artisan lettuces to free-range eggs.
Mt. Lehman Cheese Co. will also be at the market. Based in Abbotsford and known for its goat cheese, it makes wine- and beer-washed cheddar as well. Plus, it recently started making cheese from the milk of water buffalo. The company sources that milk from Brad and Christy Bennik, who are the proud owners of a small herd of water buffalo in Langley.
Other vendors include Wawa’s Jams/Jellies, Trading Post Brewing, Magpies Bakery, Whispering Horse Winery, Banter Ice Cream, Occasionally Honey, Marks Bread. Plus, of course, there will be all sorts of farm-fresh fruits and veggies, straight from the folks who call the Fraser Valley home.