Vancouver’s 100-mile food trail
Vancouver’s Granville Island Public Market is an excellent place to find local produce and tasty treats. (Martin Child/Getty)
Covered against the rain, Vancouver’s Granville Island Public Market is always a chatty crush of locals and visitors foraging for tasty treats. From cheese-filled bagels to sugar-frosted cakes, from exotic fruit pastries to mountainous meat pies, there is no shortage of temptation for those who like to pretend they have not eaten for days.
But while small-batch, artisan-produced grub is the flavour of the moment across North America, Vancouver is going further than most – or more accurately, not going far at all.
When Vancouver authors Alisa Smith and James Mackinnon published their book 100-Mile Diet: A Year of Local Eating in 2007, they inspired those concerned about the carbon footprint that ingredients generate when they travel thousands of miles before being consumed. The pair spent a year eating food that was not just made on their doorstep but was also created from ingredients grown or raised within 100 miles (160km).
Fast-forward to today and Vancouver-area food and drink providers have since dedicated themselves to this local ingredient movement, offering visitors and residents a full menu of true West Coast flavours – as long as they know where to look.
From market to market
Granville Island Public Market is a good starting point. Alongside its globally imported fruits and jars of European preserves, some vendors work hard to keep the local foodie flag flying.
Benton Brothers Fine Cheese stocks pungent offerings from across Canada and around the world. But they also include a strong selection of irresistible British Columbia products for dairy-loving locavores, many of which are located just a few kilometres away. Ask for recommendations, and they will help you create a cheese plate from little British Columbia suppliers, such as Agassiz’s Farm House Natural Cheese – try the rich Country Blue Stilton – and Salt Spring Island’s Moonstruck Organic Cheese, with its creamy Ash-Ripened Camembert.
Hungry shoppers should also hit Vancouver’s roster of local farmers’ markets. There are several sun-dappled options to choose from between May and October, while November to April sees a bustling Winter Farmers Market at the Nat Bailey Stadium in the city’s Riley Park-Little Mountain neighbourhood. Seasonal produce from the lush Fraser Valley farming region, which starts 60km east of the city, is a highlight of the market, from crisp autumnal apples to orange-hued winter squash.
But it is not only about fruit and vegetables. Among the 100-mile producers regularly appearing at these markets, Langley-based Chef's Natural Sausage sources its meat from small Fraser Valley farms – the sun dried tomato and turkey variety is recommended. And while the Flour Peddler can often be seen cycling a pedal-operated flour mill at the markets, most of his products are milled at the company’s Roberts Creek base, from grains grown in either the Fraser Valley or British Columbia’s further afield Okanagan region – including organic oats that are popular with locals who like a hearty breakfast.
However, you do not have to brave potential rainfalls at outdoor markets to eat local in Vancouver.
Fraser Valley hazelnuts and berries are part of the mix at decadent chocolatier Thomas Haas, which has two sweet-toothed stores in the Vancouver area. And the 100-mile diet is reduced to just a few steps at downtown’s Fairmont Waterfront Hotel, where honey served to guests is harvested from hives – and 500,000 industrious bees – on the roof.
Back on Granville Island in the heart of Vancouver, Edible Canada is a restaurant and retail combination that does double duty in the local food stakes. Its store showcases artisanal goodies from around the region – from sea salts to vegetable preserves – while its cosy bistro is largely based on seasonal local ingredients. If available, direct your taste buds to the Fraser Valley duck or Chilliwack goat cheese often found on the menu.
And if you are still hungry, downtown’s new Forage restaurant, which opened in December 2012, is also dedicated to the 100-mile method. Here, lip-smacking ingredients often include Gelderman Farms pork from Abbotsford in Fraser Valley, wild watercress from Hannah Brook Farm near suburban Maple Ridge and free-range eggs (go for breakfast and have the mushroom and goat cheese omelette) from Rabbit River Farm, just south of Vancouver in the city of Richmond.