The local food movement in Asheville and surrounding counties is strong. So is the local cycling community. For Jennifer Bilstrom, founder of cycle tour company Velo Girl Rides, there is a synergy between the two. She recognized that many of the most beautiful bike rides in the area pass through acres of rolling pastures set against the backdrop of picturesque mountains. She also recognized that many cyclists believe in healthy living and eating, so why not combine these passions? Instead of simply passing by these scenic farmlands, why not stop, get to know the farmers, learn about what they grow, and indulge in some of their freshest local produce?
The first Cycle to Farm event was held in Black Mountain in 2012, and was successful enough to result in another one added in the Sandy Mush area northwest of Asheville in 2013. This year, there are as many as four Cycle to Farm events, two in the Asheville area, one in Chapel Hill, and one in Greenville, South Carolina.
The scenery alone is enough to draw many of the riders. Along these half-century (50-miles) and metric century (62-miles) routes, riders will enjoy pedaling through lightly trafficked roads with farm stops spaced out every 10-15 miles. They'll witness landscapes that are as culturally appealing as they are naturally beautiful, with features including dilapidated tobacco barns, cows and sheep grazing lazily in the surrounding hillsides, and rural farmers either tilling their fields or observing the world from trusty porch swings and rocking chairs. The only sounds are the whirring of bike wheels and perhaps a lawnmower off in the distance.
But possibly the best part of the experience is the food. There are typical ride snacks at designated rest stops along the way, but at the farms themselves, riders are treated to an assortment of local produce and products, including fresh-picked blackberries, artisanal cheeses, and much more. They have the option to buy farm produce and it’s delivered to them at the finish by the support team.
For most, the ride lasts between four and seven hours. Terri Wells, a farmer along the Sandy Mush route, says the route is hilly but the slopes are gentle, providing riders of all experience levels a challenging, yet manageable ride.
At the last farm stop, riders get to enjoy a really amazing after party, featuring live music, local masseuses, and an elaborate meal made with products from the farm stops along the way and accompanied with local beer and wine, of course. The ride’s sponsors also provide lots of goodies for the swag bags and prizes.
Billstrom has capped the rides at 300 riders or less to discourage crowding and to allow for true connections to form between the riders and the farmers. The small size also makes the after-party meal feel like a community gathering rather than a mob scene.
In addition to promoting farm products, each ride benefits a charity, making it a truly complete community event. Whether you're a local or an out-of-towner, participating in a cycle-to-farm tour can be a really memorable experience, and what better way to get a taste of Carolina than to bike through its landscape and sample its freshest farm foods?
Cycle To Farm Events, 2014:
Chapel Hill -- May 3
Greenville, SC -- June 14
Black Mountain -- July 19
Sandy Mush (just outside Asheville) -- October 11
For more information, and to sign up as either a volunteer or rider, see Cycletofarm.org