Rural Roads and World Class Food: Farm to Fork Fondo
By: Sarah Galbraith
A bike ride is a great way to work up an appetite. Fortunately for cyclists participating in the Champlain Islands Farm to Fork Fondo, delicious local food is part of the experience. Imagine pit stops overflowing with golden local honey and fresh sweet raspberries, quiches adorned with gigantic slices of sun-ripened tomatoes, and estate wines paired with local cheeses and cured meats. Says the event website: “It’s like your favorite Sunday drive, now on two wheels. We’ve packed the picnic.”
“I actually think we gain weight on this ride,” laughs Peter Borden, of Pittsfield, who has participated in this event for several years in a row with his wife, Verna. He recalls a slice of pizza he ate at mile 85 on last year’s ride that he says he would kill for. “It’s incredible food, absolutely amazing.”
The Champlain Islands ride is part of the Farm to Fork Fondo series, a lineup of non-competitive cycling events in traditional farmland regions throughout Northeastern, mid-Atlantic, and Southern states. Wrenegade Sports, founded by former professional cyclist Tyler Wren, produces the series to educate and motivate the cycling community to support the farming community. The mission is to whip up perfect combinations of health, social good, community, and fun into unique and awesome events.
Based in Burlington, Vermont, Wrenegade Sports was founded in 2013 after Tyler retired from a 13-year career in professional cycling. The company started with a cycling festival in New York, which was held in 2014 only. In 2015, the Farm to Fork Fondo series began with rides in Hudson Valley, New York, Champlain Islands, Vermont, and Pennsylvania Dutch Country. Those events were hugely successful, says Tyler, which led him to expand the series in 2018 to more farmland locations, such as Louisville, Kentucky and Asheville, North Carolina.
Says Tyler, "Cycling has taken me to spectacular locations around the country and the world that I otherwise never would have seen. With Wrenegade Sports, I am working to share that same sense of discovery from the seat of a bicycle by creating exciting events in beautiful, secluded areas."
Definition of Gran Fondo: A type of long-distance road cycling ride originating in Italy in 1970 and roughly translates in English to “big ride.” (Source is Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gran_Fondo)
The 2019 Champlain Islands Ride takes place on Sunday, July 21st.
The Champlain Islands ride starts and ends at Snow Farm Winery in South Hero, a retired dairy farm that became Vermont’s first winery. From here, riders can embark on adventures ranging from a gentle seven-mile ramble with one farm stop to a 93-mile full-on Gran Fondo with 6 farm stops. Mid-range rides include 29- and 55-mile options. On-farm aid stations offer participants a chance to sample chef-prepared treats made from each farm’s ingredients. Participating farms include Snow Farm Winery; Hall Home Place, an orchard and cidery in Isle La Motte; Pomykala Farm, a family-run fruit and vegetable farm in Grand Isle; Hackett’s Orchard; Breakaway Farm; and Sunset Lake Farm. The event launches with a gourmet Meet the Farmers dinner on July 20th that includes Snow Farm wine pairings. The ride takes place on July 21st, and the weekend is rounded out with a post-ride farm-to-fork barbeque with pints from Zero Gravity Brewing. Tyler expects 1,000 riders to join the Champlain Islands event, and not one of them will go home hungry.
The Bordens agree that the event is a unique opportunity to sample the local flavors, and also to meet the people behind them. “No matter what distance you ride,” said Verna, “you get to stop at a farm, and the people are so gracious.” Because each farm is different, Verna has learned something new about farming at each aid station.
“As a cyclist riding in Vermont, you ride by farms every day,” says Peter. “This ride gives you the ability to go and meet the farmers. It’s a chance to learn more about farming, whether it’s grassfed beef or diversified veggies, and the farmers, and their whole families, are so passionate.”
The farms along the route represent more than just gorgeous scenery. Connected to every iconic red barn or rolling grassy hillside are families doing work that is vital to our way of life in Vermont. Ride director Tyler is hopeful that cyclists will be inspired to connect with and support the farms they experience during their ride.
“Cyclists love to seek out rural country roads to ride,” explains Tyler, “and because of that, I think they have a responsibility to support those open spaces.” In all of the regions that host his ride series, his aim is to encourage more cyclist-farmer social connections and motivate more cyclists to support their local farmers wherever they call home.
It’s a benefit that Snow Farm Winery co-owner Julie Lane sees on her own farm, where the vineyard and winery play host to the ride as the start and finish point, as well as being the location for the barbeque and farmers dinner.
“For us, making people aware that grapes can be grown in the area is a real benefit,” says Julie. Her winery includes a tasting room where education is an important piece of the experience. She uses the space and the opportunity to share her wines as a way to inform customers about the cold climate grapes that grow here in Vermont and the wines we produce.
The tasting room at Snow Farm lends easily to hosting events like the Farm to Fork Fondo. It’s also the site of an annual running event in the fall that is organized by Run Vermont, and they host music concerts throughout the summer and (at a smaller scale) winter as well. At other farms that aren’t set up to have groups visit throughout the year, hosting events can be trickier. That was the concern initially when Tyler developed this event for Vermont, and there was some reluctance among Champlain Islands farmers when they first heard the idea, mostly due to not having space or time to devote to an on-farm sporting event.
Tyler wants the event to be a benefit for farmers, not an added stress, and so he works to make the event as easy as possible. “We just ask for space to set up and to buy their product,” he says, and then his group takes care of the rest.
Planning and logistics are taken care of during the off-season to ease any burden on the host farms. Once Tyler established a track record, he overcame farmers’ initial reluctance — by building trust within the farming community, other farms were willing to say yes to hosting the event, too. In addition to purchasing farm products and providing marketing, Wrenegade Sports also pays a site fee to use Snow Farm Winery’s event space, plus the company makes donations to farm-related nonprofits through Tyler’s sister endeavor, Wrenegade Foundation.
In addition to the Champlain Islands ride, the 2019 farm-to-table bicycle event series will include tours in New York’s Hudson Valley at Warwick Valley Winery on June 9; Asheville, North Carolina at Hickory Nut Gap Farm on June 30, New York’s Finger Lakes region at Atwater Estate Vineyards on August 10, Pennsylvania Dutch Amish Country at Cherry Crest Farm in Lancaster on August 24, Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley at Belle Grove Plantation on September 15, the Berkshires of western Massachusetts at Hancock Shaker Village on September 29, and Louisville, Kentucky at Hermitage Farm on October 20. Every Farm to Fork Fondo includes distance options for all abilities, gourmet aid stations at local farms, elegant farm dinners, activities for the whole family, and more. This year, Wrenegade Sports expects 5,000 participants in total from more than 40 different states and international locations.
Wrenegade not only uses cycling to introduce people to farms, but in turn also draws new riders to the sport through the appeal of food. Whether you’re an avid cyclist looking to eat well on your next ride, or a foodie looking to have some fun on two wheels, this bike-based farm tour serves up the perfect pairing: good food and a scenic ride.
Plus, adds Verna, “It’s important for our community to support farming. All of these events provide important connections, for each other and with farmers, in so many parts of the country.”
About the Author: Sarah Galbraith writes, gardens, and adventures from her home base in Marshfield, Vermont.
Farm to Fork Fondo Series 2019 Calendar
June 9: Hudson Valley, NY
June 30: Asheville, NC
July 21: Champlain Islands, VT
August 10: Finger Lakes, NY
August 24: Pennsylvania Dutch, PA
September 15: Shenandoah, VA
September 29: Berkshires, MA
October 20: Louisville, KY