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Potato harvest, Across the Creek Organic Farms, Pemberton


New harvester, Across the Creek Organic Farms


Araxi executive chef, James Walt, at North Arm Farm, Pemberton

Spud Valley

“Are you sure you want to do this?” That’s Araxi Executive Chef, James Walt, looking across the muddy field where Bruce Miller, owner of Across the Creek Organic farm, is harvesting potatoes. It had been raining hard the previous two days and during a break in the weather, James and I drove to Pemberton Valley 25 miles north of Whistler to check out Miller’s new German Grimme potato harvester and to place an order for fresh organic produce at nearby North Arm Farms.

Miller is on his tractor guiding the shiny new harvester. It wasn’t that far, maybe a half mile down a gravel lane and then across a dozen or so furrows, so sure, I’m game.

The gravel lane has a few mud puddles that soon become more pond than puddle. We skirt around them into swampy tall grass, and finally reach the field. We clomp our way across the muddy furrows and Miller spots us. He stops his forward progress and takes a break to visit with James. His two his farm hands — a man and wife — try to clean the clumps of mud from the shiny new machine. Their five-year old daughter and Miller’s dog play.

Granite coastal mountains jut abruptly from the valley floor, surrounding the valley. Protected from harsh weather, its climate is warm and dry in the summer and wet and mild in the winter, ideal for a long and abundant growing season. Pemberton is referred to as “spud valley” for its world-renowned organic virus-free seed potato industry, which began in 1967. The isolation of the valley makes it possible, through vigilant monitoring, testing and regulating, to control any viruses, fungi and bacteria, including the insects that spread them.

James, along with other savvy chefs in Whistler, depends on Pemberton Valley for fresh greens, vegetables, fruit and, of course, potatoes. Miller is James’ supplier dedicating 55 acres of his nearly 500-acre family farm to eight varieties of organic potatoes, including Sieglindes, blues, purples, Desirees, Yukon golds and fingerlings.

James reaches down and retrieves a fingerling, brushing off dirt and rolling it in his palm. “Just about perfect,” he says. Miller grins, nodding in agreement.

“I couldn’t harvest on a day like today with the old machine,” says Miller, remarking that the new Grimme is picking up 98% of the crop even in the sodden ground.

It’s time for us to head to North Arm Farms a few miles down the road, so we leave Miller to his harvesting and make our way back across the furrows. We decide to bypass the swamped lane, broach a barbed-wire fence and walk through a pasture kept tidy by cows that stare at us.

As we approach North Arm, dogs greet us and people wave. We browse through the garden as though we’re in a huge outdoor supermarket, checking on progress, munching crisp green beans and sampling lettuces, lavender and mint. The organic farm is open to the public with u-pick fields, animals for kids to pet, a bakery and shelves full of homemade preserves, jams, jellies and pies. In August, North Arm participates in Pemberton’s gastronomic extravaganza, Feast of Fields, celebrating “buy local, in season” sustainability and connectivity between farmer, chef and consumer. The following day the culinary festivities continue with Slow Food Cycle Sunday, a free, open-to-the-public cycle 50 kilometers through Pemberton’s bountiful farmland sampling and supping.

James has placed his produce order and I’ve wandered the farm on my own, but before we go, he stops me. “Can’t leave without one of these,” he says, handing me a mini pecan pie. We sit outside at a picnic table, licking our fingers from the sticky pies, the gardens spreading before us, surrounding mountains including snow-capped 8,000 foot Mt. Currie soaring above. “Good, huh?” he says. Oh, yeah.

Adapted from my NW Palate Magazine article 2008
www.feastoffields.com Sea to Sky and www.slowfoodcyclesunday.com for information.

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