Story by Tricia Edgar
Vacay.ca Outdoors Columnist
COURTENAY, BRITISH COLUMBIA — It’s fall, and Vancouver Island is awash in food. From farmers’ markets to restaurants featuring local produce, the island’s Comox Valley is a hub of local food culture. After all, its name, taken from the K’ómoks First Nation, means the Land of Plenty.
The Comox Valley sits in central Vancouver Island, above urban Nanaimo and Victoria and across the island from windswept Tofino and Ucluelet. The valley is a haven for those who are looking for adventure and wonderful food. Arzeena Hamir of Amara Farm says that the long-standing and abundant farming culture is one of the things that attracted her to the valley. “When you come to the area, you trip all over all of the farms,” she says.
The valley is home to multigenerational farming families and hosts some of the largest dairy farms on Vancouver Island. Hamir came to the region last year to settle on 25 acres of forest and farmland. She now grows garlic, winter vegetables, and niche crops like popcorn and squash blossoms. This summer’s farm bike tour found her stirring up a soda with the wild thimbleberries from the farm.
After the summer beach season and before the winter ski season begins, the Comox Valley is ideal for a fall farm tour. With Thanksgiving Day weekend approaching, you could certainly add to the festive atmosphere by soaking up the autumn sun and the fall foodie delights.
Top Vancouver Island Restaurants
In Courtenay’s compact town centre, you’ll find restaurants from casual to more upscale, all featuring goodies from local farms. Choose from the casual dining at the Atlas Café or the fun and funky atmosphere of the Avenue Bistro, or head out for a date night at Courtenay’s Locals Restaurant. Locals features a menu jam packed with the latest delights. The food guide in the menu tells you exactly where all of your food has come from. Hint: try the fabulously floral lavender ice cream.
Comox Valley Farmers’ Markets
While the market season in the Comox Valley spans the summer months, it also extends into the October harvest season. The market at the Comox Valley Exhibition Grounds runs from 9 am to 12 pm each Saturday until October 20. This is the perfect place to check out the local wares, pick up goodies for a beach picnic, and decide what farms you’d like to get to know a little more.
BC Farms to Visit
If you’re particularly keen to explore the valley’s farms, a farm tour, dinner, or farm stay is ripe for the picking. Many of the area’s farms have small stores and value-added tours and dining opportunities for food-loving souls.
Seaview Game Farm
Seaview Game Farm’s little store features fresh produce during the harvest season and venison products all year. Extend your stay on the farm in a little yurt by a sandy beach. In the summer, Seaview features petting farm tours for the kids.
Fall means harvest time, and harvest equals squash, particularly those of the large orange variety. Shamrock Farm is the valley’s largest pumpkin producer, and it’s a perennial hit with the kids. Visit the pumpkin patch to choose a pumpkin, hang out in the spooky barn, and check out the farm animals as well. For the adults, look for distilled lavender products and lovely preserves and soaps.
Blue Moon Winery
Those who are looking for a grown-ups’ farm tour can head for the wineries. The Blue Moon Winery crafts wine from blueberries, blackberries, pears, apples, cherries and raspberries, all of the organic variety. The winery is nestled on Nature’s Way farm, a little organic blueberry farm just outside of Courtenay. The farm also specializes in lovely dinners featuring local food: check the website for details of its fall and winter events — and hurry, they sell out fast.
Looking for food lore? Innisfree Farm offers workshops for food lovers. It’s a one-stop farm for foodies, growing vegetables, berries, herbs, flowers, mushrooms and medicinal plants. If you’re feeling like you’d like some contemplative time after a day of farm touring, you can also walk the labyrinth.
This family-run, multi-generational farm in Courtenay grows gorgeous organic produce. If you’re looking for one of the West Coast’s specialties, look no further than Freedom Farm’s homemade kale chips. Yes, that’s right: delicious, crispy kale. The farm also features preserves such as jams, pickles and sauerkraut. The farm doesn’t have a website. It’s located at 2099 Coleman Road (telephone: 250-898-8413).
Whether you’re looking for fresh food to grace your picnic blanket or a food-focused West Coast vacation, you’ll find it all in Vancouver Island’s Comox Valley. Visit a farm or one of the area’s inspired restaurants for a bountiful fall harvest to enjoy.