Guest post: Slow Food Cycle’s retiring co-founder Anna Helmer gets excited about actually riding this year

She doesn’t have a column in the Question anymore, but Anna Helmer keeps getting voted one of Pemberton’s favourite writers, so I offered her some space on the Wellness Almanac. Knowing that so many people appreciate her witty wordcraft, I’m stoked that 1. she agreed, 2. she whipped off this piece on the forthcoming Slow Food Cycle, and 3. has agreed to make it a regular thing! Watch for her monthly on the Wellness Almanac.

I am the co-founder, an ex-organizer and lifelong fan of Pemberton’s irresistible Slow Food Cycle Sunday and if you require proof of that, witness my closet, where reside over 20 historic event T-shirts. I am wearing one right now: it’s red, there’s tractor grease on it and it’s baggy because I weigh 30 lbs less now than when I snagged it off the top of the volunteer T-shirt box.

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I lost the weight 2 summers ago by cutting out junk food completely and eating potatoes plus 1700 other carefully counted calories per day. I rode my bike to and from my job; worked out with Lindsay May three times per week and for good measure carried a prodigious load of stress. For the first month nothing really happened and I despaired, thinking that these were the lengths to which I would have to go to merely maintain my weight. Things got rocky but I somehow, for some reason, dug very deep and carried on.  Then I started to shed pounds. They just flowed off. I’ll never forget it.

Now most of the T-shirts are too big but I wear them anyways. I love the event. I am proud of it. I’ll wear the shirts till…well…I don’t know. I am prepared to be quite lenient.

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I digress, but since this is a wellness column I thought I would add my two cents.  Junk food: bad. Potatoes: good.

In the spirit of digression, let’s go back to the beginning.

My friend Lisa and I started Slow Food Cycle Sunday 10 years ago on a kitchen table on a farm up the valley. We wanted people to get on their bikes and get a look at this place. We wanted them to wish that their food came from here; we wanted them to understand why we needed their help to protect this land from development.

It did not occur to us that we were providing access to a place that has a very deep appeal.  Ask a wedding planner, ask a tourist, ask a local: there is something about Pemberton. Now go get on your comfortable bike, breathe the grateful cold air as the road winds near the rivers, get out of cell range, poke about a farmyard… eat a Linda Welsh cinnamon bun and suck down a Pemberton Distillery gin-cicle (neither of which I classify as junk food, by the way, just to be clear). Oh yes. You are coming back for more. And you’re bringing friends.

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The “Pemberton factor” guaranteed growth which absolved us from coming up with new programming every year. However, it also required increasingly extensive permitting from government agencies and from the organizer’s point of view, it soon lost its grassroots, quirky feel. Instead of inspiring a revolution and uncovering the future of food, I was designing parking and sanitation programs.

Originally, it was possible to say that we organized the event in conjunction with the valley farms. They didn’t mind having a few hundred people wander down the driveway fascinated with all they could see, and full of questions. I for one, felt somewhat honoured that these people went to such an effort to get to our farm. The interaction added considerable substance to the consumer-producer relationship.

But it’s not a match made in heaven.

Pemberton’s primary producers churn out millions of pounds of seed potatoes, hay bales and vegetables: necessarily raw, in most cases unwashed, and in August. That is to say: a tourism event on the third Sunday in August comes at a bad time for the farm business. The novelty of the situation (have you ever had 3,000 people turn up at your doorstep looking expectantly about for yummy food and scenes of idyllic farm life?) wore off.

The farmers that kept their farms open hosted farmer’s markets. The others joined the bike ride, left for the weekend, or doggedly carried on with farm work. New places opened that were not primarily production farms and they gave the event welcome life.

Our big year as an open farm was in 2013. For the first time, we made more money on the farm than we would have at our Sunday Vancouver market. For the record, over 10,000 people shop at our Vancouver markets every weekend. Those markets are paying the bills and we missed a lot of them in order to be open for Slow Food Cycle Sunday.

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That year too was my last year of organizing and co-incidentally the summer I shed the pounds- thanks to the Traffic Management Plan for providing the stress ingredient. Even as literally hundreds of people thanked me for doing it, I knew it was my last year in charge.

Enter Tourism Pemberton and a new era of Slow Food Cycle Sunday has come.

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This year, I am going to ride my bike instead of opening the farm. Maybe I am going to ride with Lisa, event co-founder. Our friendship is frankly limited by the undeniable fact that we very easily come up with ideas like Slow Food Cycle Sunday that take lots of energy, organization, and computer time to activate. I think it will be fun to ride together and the kids and partners in tow will help our big ideas remain firmly theoretical.

My mom, who can make a very solid claim to providing the inspiration for Slow Food Cycle Sunday in the first place, will be riding for the very first time this year as well. She is in for such a treat.

Happy Slow Food Cycle Sunday. Make sure you appreciate the opportunity- it is brought to you by hard work.

~ Anna Helmer

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