Creston Valley agriculture gets a province-wide audience on Saturday evening when Flavours of the West Coast airs an episode filmed here last summer on CHEK TV.
The weekly television series, now in its fourth season, focuses primarily on “local, sustainable, and organic cuisine, and travel around the most beautiful province in Canada”, according to producer Karen Davies, whose Cedarwood Productions makes the series.
The show’s host, Steve Walker-Duncan, was clearly smitten by what he discovered in Creston.
“Its wide, fertile floor and gentle climate make it ideal for growing a wide variety of produce, and farming is certainly an important part of the local economy,” says Walker-Duncan in his introduction to the Creston segments. “The town of Creston has a population of just over 5,000, and a comfortable, old fashioned feel.”
Walker-Duncan is a chef that lived for years in Europe and now heads up the culinary arts program at Victoria’s Camosun College. He also makes time to travel and conduct on-location interviews and give cooking demonstrations for Flavours of the West Coast.
He spoke to the Advance by telephone from his home on Saturday, shortly after bringing his son home from hockey.
“That was our first time in Creston,” he said. “The Creston Valley is spectacular and we fell in love with it. Actually, we fell in love with Grand Forks, Nelson and Creston, and my wife and I talked about how great it would be to live here.”
“We are culinary explorers,” is the way Walker-Duncan describes the TV series.
His favourite memories of the Creston visit, he said, include a tour of the Baillie-Grohman vineyards, which “reminded me of Tuscany”, and the co-operation at Harris Farms and Kootenay Alpine Cheese Co., where he had been scheduled to interview Wayne Harris.
“But Wayne got bitten by a wasp that morning and his face was all swollen and he couldn’t do the interview. So then Denise stepped in to replace him and she rolled her ankle when she came out to greet us. They were such lovely people.”
In the film footage shot on the farm Denise can be seen gamely hobbling along.
With Davies directing, and two camera operators working, Walker-Duncan conducted four interviews in August. The crew visited the Erickson farm where Dave Mutch and Amy White grow produce and make a variety of juices, ciders, vinegars and other products under the William Tell Orchards and Cidery banner. A segment features an interview with Jeff Nimmo, who was then coordinating the Dan McMurray Seed Bank for Fields Forward. A tour of Baillie-Grohmann Estate Winery included a chat with owner Bob Johnston, who described the emergence of Creston’s fledgling wine industry.
Mutch took the opportunity to chat about Fields Forward, the agricultural organization he works closely with as a volunteer.
“The purpose of this is to bring attention to agriculture and horticulture in the Creston Valley,” he said. “The idea is to bring attention to the different sectors, but then to broaden it out as a whole. There are lots of young people who want to become farmers but how do you buy someone’s farm without capital?”
A Fields Forward working group has been tasked to find people who want to farm and match them up with existing farmers.
“Try to get them to work together, maybe to apprentice or do a shadow program to make sure that it (farming) does continue.”
He also described his own business.
“We produce apples, pears, peaches, plums, apricots and cherries, and we produce wine grapes as well, on just under eight acres. If we’re processing the fruit it doesn’t have to look perfect. We don’t have to use as much spray or chemicals. This give us the opportunity to take fruit that might not sell in the store and do something with it. And now we don’t have to necessarily sell a bunch of fresh apples, because there is so much fruit in the area.”
“So ugly fruit becomes viable, then?” Duncan-Smith observed.
In another segment, the chef bites into a juicy red tomato and a smile spreads across his face.
“There are good reasons to keep those varieties going—they taste like tomatoes!”
These tomatoes are one of the 1,500 varieties being kept alive by the Dan McMurray Seed Bank, a Fields Forward initiative, said Nimmo.
“The goal is to have a sustainable collection of seeds. A lot of the time a seed bank is pictured as sort of a bunker where you save seeds so that in the event of an apocalypse we have a reserve, where for us here, it means having a collection of different varieties you wouldn’t normally have access to.”
“One of the roles that the seed bank plays is that we provide seeds that people can then save (from the fruit or vegetables they grow.)” That can’t be done that with hybrid seeds sold commercially.
As he spoke with Denise Harris in the fromagerie, the chef’s love of cheese spilled out.
“Fortunately for us, some of the best products have made it out of the Valley, including one of my personal favourites, Kootenay Alpine Cheese.”
“Oh, now we’re talking,” he said as they entered the storage room. “The smell of the cheese in the area is so wonderful! I love cheese. It is one of my weaknesses when it comes to food.”
Later, in the cheese shop, he tasted a selection of products. He bit into a sample of Nostrala.
“I see a soufflé in this!” True to his word, in a later segment Walker-Duncan demonstrates how to make a soufflé with that same cheese.
The Mountain Grana was one of his favourites.
“There’s no parmesan made in Canada, but that’s getting pretty darn close.”
“What makes the Creston Valley a good area for growing grapes?” he asked Johnston.
The Baillie-Grohmann owner spoke of the Creston Valley microclimates, which allow grapes to grow in some areas, but not in others.
“This is a fantastic cool climate grape growing area, similar to Burgundy and Alsace.”
Johnston smiled as he spoke of his first experience of seeing a flock of crows descending onto the vineyard, and his relief in learning they were after insects, and not the grapes.
“We don’t spray any pesticides at all,” he said. “We just let the bugs fight it out among themselves.”
Walker-Duncan said he retains fond memories of his crew’s visit to the Creston Valley.
“Creston felt welcoming and hospitable,” he said. “We got a sense of what people in agriculture are doing there, and of the hard work and commitment they bring to what they do.”
The program will be telecast on CHEK Saturday, February 4 at 7:30 pm. It can also be viewed by going to http://cedarwoodproductions.net/home/flavours-of-the-west-coast/ and clicking on Episode 5.