Growing up in Juneau, Alaska meant very little locally produced food. We have the proteins mostly covered – my family hunted moose and caribou in Alaska’s interior – dad’s idea of a vacation – and we hunt deer in the fall and do some occasional grouse hunting. Then too there is the incredible bounty from the sea – all varieties of salmon, halibut, cod, clams, crab and shrimp – for which we are eternally grateful.
But when all is said and done, there’s not a lot of land available between the mountains and the sea for farming.There was a dairy in town long before I was born but the land became the town’s first shopping mall accompanied by a variety of businesses stretching south along…you can guess this…Old Dairy Road. I was in my 20s before I saw an apple hanging on a tree, a sight that thrills me to this day. (See my prior post on apple orchards.)
Cabana Boy loves radishes (!) and laments that we can’t buy anything but plain red radishes that are usually on the old side. A local produce manager tells us radishes, in particular their leaves, don’t keep very well as they are shipped north in a refrigerated van so they don’t even try. Back in the day, we ate “boat eggs”, shipped in by barge and weeks old.
Things have become much better recently for finding locally made foods. We live near the Alaskan Brewery which has grown their distribution throughout the western states but still retains the craft brewery vibe and awesome seasonal brews. We can smell Heritage coffee roasting their beans when the wind is right.The Wild Oven and Silverbow Bakery provide fresh baked breads to local restaurants and there are some artisan foods available at markets held periodically. But fresh produce is limited to what we grow in our backyard, including a huge quantity of rhubarb, and what can be purchased at the end of the short growing season from the folks who have overflow from their plots in the community garden or greenhouses scattered here and there in Juneau and neighboring (and by that I mean a 4 hour ferry ride away) towns.
So when we travel, we love to visit farmers markets, local seafood producers, cheese shops, dairies and of course, wineries. Our first search in a new area is to find places where we can buy locally produced food and our recent foray to Vancouver Island was no exception. The homeowner left us Creekmore Coffee, roasted just up the road from her home. From there, we checked out every supermarket, natural food market, little food shops we saw on our drives, and the Qualicum Farmer’s Market which was the only one open in the winter.
The farmer’s market produced some green onions, squash, and carrots, a loaf of bread, and some whiskey bacon. Also available was locally roasted coffee, some meats, and various jams and jellies. We branched out into other food emporiums and this is what we found.
Island Farms – Dairy products of all varieties, including the critical half and half for my morning coffee. This is a corporate dairy but they do make their Island sold products in Victoria from local dairy milk and are readily available in most markets.
Avalon Dairy – Not actually on the Island but rather in Burnaby in the Fraser Valley, I found their half and half in Naked Naturals, a natural foods store. They had me at certified organic and of course the cute signature glass bottle didn’t hurt.
Fanny Bay Oysters – Lovely little briny oysters harvested from right off the beach near their processing facility. Nuff said!
French Creek Seafoods – down in the French Creek Marina, these guys have lots of different fish and shellfish, including lots of local stuff but it wasn’t fishing season so most things were frozen. On the list for a return visit.
MooBerry Winery – located on a farm between Parksville and Qualicum, they produce some wonderful fruit wines including apple, blueberry and my favorite, raspberry. Drink it as a after dinner sip or mix a little with champagne for a delightful treat.
Little Qualicum Cheeseworks – in the MooBerry tasting room, you can also watch them make cheese and sample some until you find your favorite. I love them all but their brie is especially yummy and I discovered spiced cheese, a lovely white cheese speckled with cumin, which I believe is related to dutch Leyden cheese.
Hillier’s Gourmet Foods – a lovely discovery on our very first day during a drive to Port Alberni, thanks to their sign which was visible from the road. We knew we’d hit the jackpot when a local lady insisted this was the “best bacon on the island”. So we bought a half dozen slices, along with some sausages, and were delighted by the different seasonings, Ukrainian inspired perhaps. We ended up going back for more and a nice steak for dinner one Saturday night.
Island SodaWorks – naturally fermented probiotic low sugar sodas made in Errington. Yes…soda. I rarely drink soda as I don’t like sweet drinks but these are light, not too sweet and so refreshing. We found them at Unicorn Farm and bought all the flavors but my favorite is the Ginger Salal. I hear the Skookum Tonic is wonderful if you are a gin and tonic fan. And did I mention the weekend tacos?
Tree Island – the piece de resistance in my mind, I found their yogurt in Naked Naturals and realized my search for locally made yogurt may be over, at least on the island. I have raved about some local yogurt Mom and I had in Scotland and have been searching for a similar experience ever since. These folks came very close. We were delighted by the vanilla bean specks in the Cream Top Vanilla, their lightly flavored Lemon, and the unique Chai spiced. Even Cabana Boy, never a yogurt lover, succumbed to their charms.
There were so many other food experiences and I’m sure a summer visit will produce many more local fruits and veggies but I felt we made a successful start. Now if we could convince their liquor stores to carry a better selection of Okanagan wine!