Riding for local farms (and the delicious food they produce)
“I can’t wait for the fondue,” gasps my mom as she pedals up a steep country road. We’re scoping out the course for the Farm to Fork Fondo, a bike ride that crisscrosses the quaint villages and picturesque farmland of Vermont’s Green Mountains. I try not to laugh when I realize she has mistaken the cycling term “fondo,” an Italian word that loosely translates to “big ride,” for a bubbly pot of melted cheese. Neither my mom, nor myself, are cyclists (hence her confusion), but we were motivated to train last summer after we learned about a bike ride that benefited local farms and awarded riders with craft beer at the finish. Each rest stop will showcase the bounty of Vermont’s local farms, so there is still hope my mom will get her cheese fix.
Farmers and cyclists may seem like an unlikely match, but former pro cyclist Tyler Wren says the two have a symbiotic relationship. “Cyclists cherish rural landscapes and quiet country roads,” he says. “Farmers preserve that endangered open space and use it to grow food that makes us healthier athletes.” To raise awareness of the plight of local farmers, Wren launched the Farm to Fork Fondo, a series of rides that celebrate food, farms, and fitness. He started last year with events in the Hudson Valley and Pittsfield, Vt., and this year has expanded to Freeport, Maine, and Lancaster, Pa.
The Vermont ride takes place in Pittsfield, a classic New England town of barely 600 people that lies along scenic Route 100. Riverside Farm, our race headquarters for the weekend, looks straight out of a Norman Rockwell painting, complete with an old covered bridge and not one but six restored barns spread across its 700-acre grounds. After our warm-up, my mom, Christine, and I arrive at the Red Barn to pick up our race packs. Former pro cyclists, like Ted King, are hosting skill clinics, but we’re lured away by the smell of doughy goodness wafting from Zaza’s Perfect Pie, a local mobile cooking school. Mini corn and Cabot white cheddar pizzas have just been pulled from the wood-burning oven, and we each snag one to snack on during the Rutland Area Farm and Food Link’s presentation on the future of Vermont agriculture.
Most athletes would stick to a pasta and carb diet the night before a big ride, but my mom and I have bought tickets for the pre-race Farm to Fork Feast. Wren partners with a local chef to cater each fondo, and we’re lucky enough to have chef Kevin Lasko and his wife, Katie Stiles, of Vermont Farms Catering and Pittsfield’s Backroom restaurant feeding us. The grass-fed steak is so good that my mom, a pescatarian, turns into a carnivore for the night. I worry that this could have repercussions on tomorrow’s ride.
The next morning, a sea of 500 spandex-clad cyclists gather at the farm. I have ambitiously signed up for the 103-mile Gran Fondo, which includes 7,650 feet of climbing. My mom is tackling the 40-mile Piccolo Fondo. A horn blows and we pedal across the covered bridge and turn onto Route 100. The first aid station is just up the road at Sweet Georgia P’s, a family-owned farm known for its goats and organic produce. Baskets of blueberries and strawberries complement the usual offering of energy bars and Gatorade. At mile 15, maple candies from Mom & Pop’s World’s Best Maple Syrup give me a much-needed sugar rush. It’s hot and humid, and despite my thirst for a cold craft beer, I decide to skip the aid station at Foley Brothers Brewery. There will be plenty of time to indulge at the finish.
By mile 46, we’ve reached Ripton Country Store. A few exhausted cyclists hop into the sag wagon for a ride back to Riverside Farm. I’m tempted to do the same, knowing a post-ride barbecue and live music await, but I’m halfway to the end and the thought of scones from Sandy’s Books & Bakery, my next aid station, keeps me going. The pack has thinned out and I’m cranking hard up a gravelly hill enjoying the silence and endless landscapes.
My mom is waiting, camera in hand, as I pedal across the finish line. I’m awarded a cold Long Trail IPA, and a wooden spoon is placed around my neck as a medal. Cyclists are jumping into the creek to numb their achy muscles in the cold water. I head straight to the food and fill a plate with heirloom squash salad with Maplebrook feta and mint, potato salad spiked with North Country bacon, and goat tacos featuring the meat from our very first stop, Sweet Georgia P’s. To say I’ve earned my meal is an understatement. Every inch of my body hurts, but my mom and I are already talking about signing up for both the Vermont and Maine rides next year. “I think I’d be willing to ride 74 miles if there was lobster at the finish,” she jokes.
For more information, go to www.farmtoforkfondo.com.