Dear readers: these are strange times. There’s no point in pretending that there’s been any kind of normalcy in the last few months, or that there will be in the near future. Our lives have fractured, normal routines dissolved, and we’ve had new safety procedures put in place. The experience has been different for everyone, but there is one thing in common that we share. We all need to eat.
Luckily for Salt Spring locals, the island is full of incredible working farms that offer their products for sale in the form of farm stands. It’s an ideal way to shop as the majority of these are open air, with no-touch payment options in the form of e-transfer. Clear visibility offers the shopper a chance to see exactly how many people are at the stand, so that social distancing measures can be honored.
Practicality aside, it’s a truly lovely way to stock your pandemic pantry. Shopping becomes a treasure hunt: plot your course, and connect the dots with a drive in your car along quiet country roads. Most of these spots have a gentle soundtrack of barnyard animals rather than the usual soft rock muzak in grocery stores. It’s a small victory to celebrate.
With that in mind, here’s a small sample of some of the most reliable farm stands on the island for you to explore:
North End Farm
2521 N End Rd
Highlights: Sausages, Brats, ground meat, rabbit, chicken, vegetables, bread, eggs. Also stocks Mt. Maxwell Coffee, Salt Spring Pie Co., Salt Spring Island Vinegar, and other local products.
Laughing Apple Farm
900 Beddis Rd
Highlights: House-made apple juice and frozen tomato sauce, eggs, fruit, vegetables, and plant starts.
Mt. Maxwell Coffee
595 Cranberry Rd
Highlights: Coffee, coffee, and more coffee. The farmstand provides a variety of their in-house roasted coffee beans in regular and bulk bags.
Salt Spring Island Cheese Co.
285 Reynolds Rd
Highlights: This working farm has a little cheese shop (and cheese tasting room during normal times) where you can stock up on their many delectable goat milk based rounds. They also carry other cheese accoutrements like crackers, jam, smoked salmon, vinegar, honey, and so on.
Plus, they have a bonus farmstand, with a fridge full of lamb and goat meats from Weston Creek Farm.
You can pay inside the Cheese Shop for those items as well.
230 Furness Road
Highlights: Affectionately dubbed, “The Meat Locker”, this stand has two fridges full of things like ground beef, sausages, and other cuts.
Stowel Lake Farm
190 Reynolds Rd
Highlights: Fresh herbs, vegetables, baked goods, plant starts
At the time of writing, there were many other wonderful stands not yet open. Please also keep an eye on:
Bullock Lake Farm
360 Upper Ganges Rd
*currently has an online flower shop
181 Furness Rd
Golden Tree Farm
Farmstand is at intersection of Suffolk Rd and North End Rd
~Words & Pictures by Stephania Jean
Bullock Lake Farm + Kitchen + Farmstand
360 Upper Ganges Road
Salt Spring Island, BC V8K 1R7
Hours: Friday + Saturday: 10am - 8pm
(Brunch+Sandwiches until 3; wood-fired pizza starting at 4:30)
Sunday: 10am - 3pm (Brunch+Sandwiches all day)
Is there a better comfort food than pizza? I think many of us will agree that there’s nothing quite as satisfying than a hot pie fresh out of the oven to kick off your weekend. Bullock Lake Farm really ups the concept with a gorgeous outdoor wood oven and dining al fresco at rustic picnic tables.
If you weren’t already lured in by the delectable pizzas, the idyllic surroundings should do the trick. Bullock Lake Farm is a pastoral paradise for not just adults, but for dogs and kids, too. You can choose your picnic spot accordingly, whether it’s a quiet pond view, a table by the bocce ball pitch, or even a sheltered spot in the barn.
The “Kitchen” part is located in a converted shipping container, with the pizza oven sitting adjacent to it. The menu is ever-changing, and written on a roll of butcher block paper hanging on the wall. After contemplating the daily specials, you can order your meal at there.
And the pizzas? They are things of beauty- both crispy and chewy, dressed up perfectly with toppings plucked from the gardens on the farm. There’s usually some kind of salad and appetizer as well. During the hot summer months, I recommend trying one of their refreshing fruit “shrubs” to cool down with. And happily the Bullock Lake Farm team has also started offering a brunch menu for the early hours of the day.
If you’d like to take home some of the awesome snacks harvested on the farm, there’s a little farmstand corner dedicated to fruits, veggies, and the like.
Finally, there’s usually floral arrangements for purchase that will make any fan of flowers swoon. I also recommend making a trip to their U-Pick sunflower field that’s in bloom around the end of September/early October.
The Lowdown: Wood oven pizza, salads, apps, baked goods, farmstand, and florals in a
unique farm setting.
~Words & Pictures by Stephania Jean
735 Vesuvius Bay Rd
Hours: Monday - Sunday
8am - 5pm
Just a few minutes from the Vesuvius ferry terminal, the quaint Vesuvius Cafe stands in a yellow and blue house just next to the road. Sure to pique your interest by its sheer adorability, it’s a great destination for an easy bike ride or the perfect spot for midday snack if you’re spending the day at Vesuvius Bay Beach.
Bonus: if you’re leaving the island via Crofton, plan to park your car in the ferry line early so you can enjoy this charming little eatery while you wait.
Offering homemade baked goods with a variety of gluten-free options, the cafe also has a good selection of homestyle soups and sandwiches as well as its newest summer addition - smoothies! But what tops the charts is its frittata, a heaping portion of crustless quiche with mouthwatering homemade tzatziki sauce.You’ll have to go earlier in the day to get this before it’s gone!
Pro tip: the $12.95 lunch special, a grilled panini of your choice with a bowl of soup, is big enough for two! Best to enjoy it on the cute little patio while watching the motley passers-by.
Don’t overlook its hot drink menu, either. Natsuko, the Cafe’s owner, makes perfect lattes and cappuccinos. But it’s her homemade Chai Latte with honey that really takes the cake as the best comfort drink around - the sweetness coupled with the ginger’s kick will warm you through and through. Bring your own mug to get 5% off!
With hearty portions and authentic homemade meals and baked treats, Vesuvius Cafe’s relaxed and quirky atmosphere is classic Salt Spring.
~Photos and words by Jamie Sterling
Salt Spring Wild Cider
151 Sharp Rd
Everyone needs a good go-to place, even (or especially) island folks. You probably know what I mean: that special spot where you can show off some of the local artisan whatnot to impress guests, or just go share a drink outside at a picnic table with friends on a sunny day. Salt Spring Wild definitely hits all the marks with a constantly evolving cider and tapas menu. And perhaps the biggest bonus of all is that pups and kids are welcome.
But first, a little history. The cidery is housed in an old barn from 1935. When I first started visiting just after they opened in 2015, it was only the original structure with the tasting room housed in an old mule stall. Happily, the owners recently built an addition so even more folks can enjoy an afternoon there.
The ciders themselves are from a variety of local apples collected on Salt Spring. The flavors are lush and imaginative, with offerings that go beyond the usual apple. Personal favorites include the Bitter Orange Rosemary, Ginger, Hopped Apricot and the seasonal Plum.
And one of the most exciting developments is that of a weekend tapas menu, thanks to the talents of a new chef (formerly of the renowned restaurant “Le Crocodile” in Vancouver, BC, no less.) Small plates like Poached Fig Summer Squash Skewers that are stuffed with Cambozola and Blue cheese comes out looking like art, and have a fantastic riot of flavors to match. Plus, there’s gluten-free and vegan options for those of you that need it.
Happily, if you’re smitten with any of the ciders you’ve tasted in your flight there are full bottles for sale in the tasting room that can be taken home. Vancouver residents can find them in certain shops as well.
So pick a warm afternoon and grab a table outside looking at the apple trees and the rolling hills below. You might even catch a glimpse of quail or deer wandering around. It’s that kind of place.
The Lowdown: Cider tasting room with tapas
Photos & words by Stephania Jean
125 Churchill Road
Hours: Friday through Monday, 9am-3pm
+Farmer's Market on Tuesday during season, from 2pm-6pm
If you are searching for reliable beauty, Francis Bread has it. Each organic loaf, baguette, and pastry that leaves their wood-fired oven always comes out as a mini-masterpiece: airy, chewy, and with a satisfying crunch.
That alone would be something, but this little bakery nestled within The Duthie Gallery near Ganges was a constant during the wild weather that battered our island this winter. Even when the power went out, the bakers still worked by candlelight and provided a delicious port in a storm for weary locals and travelers alike.
And it’s still a happy haven for good eats with a caffeine fix, since Francis bread stocks the local Mt. Maxwell Coffee. (If you’re visiting, make sure you give them a try before your ship sails. Because where else but Salt Spring can you find coffee roasted to music in a yurt?)
If tea is more your jam, they carry Namasthé, along with unusual vegan latte mixes from Blume, like the golden mylk turmeric version among others.
Looking for more substantial nosh? On any given day there’s delectable tartines, like pumpkin, kale, and carrots with goat cheese. The produce is sourced locally from places like Bullock Lake Farm, in case you were wondering. And there’s a good amount of chairs and tables inside to roost on, as well as benches outside to soak up our island sunshine.
It's also easy to pick up local herbs, flowers, and produce from Bullock Lake Farm here.
The Lowdown: Bread and baked goods from a wood fired oven. Tea, Mt. Maxwell Coffee, Tartines, Soup, and a comfortable space to sit for a spell.
Words & photos by Stephania Jean
Baker Ridge Trail to Quarry Drive Hike
Park on Quarry drive, and follow trail down to Baker Road near House #431
Trail Length: 450 metres
Approx time: 45 minutes
Wander in Beauty. The CRD has no official slogan for this trail, but that would be my vote if there was such a thing. It begins at the end of Quarry Drive, which is a mostly quiet country road. On some days, you may be serenaded by a symphony of sheep and goats performing the from neighboring farms. Park on the side of the road, and you’ll find the entrance.
The trailhead and sign look like this:
It’s an immediate dive into the tall green pines, alder, and arbutus. The trails starts off easily, with a gentle meandering path towards Baker. But once you get close towards the end and Baker Drive, it gets a little steep with a stair-like climb up to the top. The view is a lovely one, though.
There’s an equally steep descent to the stairs that leave you on Baker. Cross the road (carefully, friends!) and take a right, heading towards the dirt “parking lot” and the stairs down to the shore. Beaches on Salt Spring each have their own unique character, and this is no exception. On good days, Baker is a safari of sorts. Careful hunters will spot purple starfish when the tide is out, seals bobbing up and down, and crabs scuttling in a sort of crustacean rush hour. As Baker turns into Quarry Drive Beach, you might spot the resident Bald Eagle family that lives in the trees that border it. But mostly it’s a solitary walk, punctuated by some happy off-leash pups with their owners.
Once you’ve reached the stairs on Quarry Drive beach, it’s time to go up and complete the loop. If you get weary, there are a few benches off of the trails to rest, or take in the magnificent views.
Notes: There are no trash cans, so please pack out your garbage responsibly. Dogs are allowed off leash if they are under control and do not disturb the wildlife, other hikers, or neighboring livestock. For more information, head over to the CRD’s website.
The Lowdown: An idyllic and easy hike along the sea in Vesuvius.
Photos & Words by Stephania Jean
The Sauna at the Salty Pear
279 Rainbow Road
Monday-Thursday, 9:30 am-7:00pm
Friday-Sunday, 12:00 pm-3:30 pm
Have you stumbled across the “Hygge” trend yet on the internets? For the uninitiated, it’s a Danish term that roughly translates to “a feeling of cozy contentment and well-being through the enjoyment of simple pleasures.”
I can think of no better way to describe a visit to The Sauna at the Salty Pear. We’re all about life in the slow lane here on Salt Spring Island, so this spot is totally in line with that. And our moody seasons that cycle through damp, freezing, and rainy weather provide ample opportunities to explore these kind of activities. Grey skies getting you down? A session in their warm sauna might be the remedy.
Salty Pear describes itself as a “DIY” sauna, which means that you must build your own fire. On our visits, they’d left lighters and newspapers to facilitate that process. (Note to City Folk: you might want to read up on fire-building technique as prep, perhaps). Drinking water is not provided, so be sure to bring your own. Ditto for towels and other necessities. But they do have a garden hose and a tiny patio to sit on and unwind pre- or post session.
Once inside, the little barrel holds 4 people comfortably. The main attraction is the stunning bubble window with its own little floating seat. The sound of rain hitting it with the green foliage swimming outdoors is a quiet treat. You’ll have an hour to soak it all in, plus 15 minutes before and after the session for prep and clean-up.
Want to have a swim afterwards? The Rainbow Road Community Pool is just across the street. They offer a large pool, jacuzzi, bathrooms and showers.
The lowdown: DIY Sauna at The Salty Pear, $20 a session
Photos & words by Stephania Jean