I’m tucked low over my handlebars, riding the slipstream of the cyclist in front of me and trying to regulate my breathing when I fly past Liberty Hill Farm. The farm itself — white clapboard farmhouse with a beautifully rustic red-painted barn — is similar to many others around this part of central Vermont. But today, it’s playing host to 600 cyclists on course for the Vermont Farm to Fork Fondo — and I’ve just realized I’ve missed out on slabs of gorgeous Cheddar cheese made from the farm’s Robeth Holsteins, as well as a freshly baked heirloom-apple pie from the orchard one town over. A definite fail.
With one last, regretful look over my shoulder at the 240-acre dairy farm, I keep pedaling, consoling myself with the fact that I’m only at mile 9.5, and I’ve 53 miles to go. And that I haven’t put any of the promised 4,780 feet of elevation behind me yet. So maybe it’s fine that I’ve missed the first stop of the day…or at least, so I tell myself.
Riding a “Foodie Fondo”: Farm-Fresh Food for Pedaling
It’s a cool, crisp morning for July, but the sun peeking over the hill to my right hints at clear skies and rising temperatures ahead. I’ve signed up for the Medio Fondo, which, at 63-miles, seems a perfect middle ground between the 113-mile Gran Fondo and the 35-mile Piccolo Fondo (there’s also a family-friendly 11-mile Ramble Ride). Because let’s be honest: I love riding my bike, but I’m actually here for the views — and the food.
I’ve signed up for the right race. The Vermont Farm to Fork Fondo is one of six “foodie fondos” in a series of rides that take place across Vermont, New York, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, and Maine. Run by former pro road racer Tyler Wren, the rides (they’re not really races) cover some of the prettiest back roads in the northeastern U.S., but the real highlights are found at the rest stops scattered liberally along the route. Well-fortified races are hardly a new concept in Europe, where gran fondos often feature fresh meats, cheeses, bread, and waffles — but here in the States, you’re far more likely to encounter bananas and granola bars on a century ride. You can’t blame the race organizers; after all, granola bars provide quick sugar, lasting energy, and can be eaten one-handed. But that’s not the goal here in Pittsfield, Vermont. Today, it’s all about real food, typically homemade, and almost always featuring ingredients harvested from the farms and orchards we’re riding through. Oh, and often as not, the farmer who grew the product is the one serving it.
Fresh Berries, Honey, and Slowing Down for Epic Views
So there’s no way I’m missing the next stop on the route, marked on my cue sheet with a cheery-looking chicken graphic and “Sunshine Berry Farm: mile 13.7.” I bump down a long gravel drive flanked by berry bushes to find a pop-up marquee filled with volunteers — and fresh, homemade raspberry tarts. As I guiltily pause my Garmin (Strava can wait), I spread a tart with the organic farm’s basswood honey and chat with several volunteers. And while I know the next stop is just five miles down the road, I also pocket a granola bar (old habits die hard). Plus I’m not sure I really want raspberry crumble dripping down my back as the day warms up.
Sure enough, there are mini empanadas made with the farm’s grass-fed beef and local apples waiting for me just a few miles down the road at North Hollow Farm — but what I hadn’t factored in was the steep climb to get there, at times ratcheting up to a 13%-plus grade. With an empanada in one hand and a maple syrup shot from the farm’s trees in the other, though, the climb was easily forgotten. Particularly with the view of farmland, red barns, and the surrounding mountains for additional inspiration.
More Food Than You Can Possibly Eat
And so it goes for the remainder of the 40-plus miles: steep climbs up dirt and paved roads; gorgeous views; amazing food. When I get to Kiss the Cow farm, I am nearly ready to give one of their grass-fed Jerseys a smooch, thanks to their part in producing the oversized scoop of mint-chip ice cream I inhale. By the time I hit Heritage Farm, with its mobile wood-fired pizza oven popping out slices of pie topped with local corn, maple syrup, Cabot Cheese, Vermont Smoke & Cure pepperoni, and vegetables from Sweet Georgia P’s farm, I am quite literally full to bursting. Fortunately, the last few miles to the finish are mostly flat.
As I cruise across the finish line, picnic tables, kegs of Vermont beers and yet more food usher me home. Appropriately, the finishers medal is a cow bell; today, I’ve earned it. And so have the farmers who made my deliciously gluttonous ride around Vermont possible. Overstuffed? Yes. But the hills and valleys that produced today’s harvest also exact a toll on your legs — so I’m just hoping this locally sourced pulled-pork sandwich is as effective a recovery food as it is delicious.
Ride Your Own Foodie Fondo
Most rides range from easy 10-mile rambles, to 100-mile epics — but all include a hearty selection of farm-fresh food (and some even have gourmet chefs whipping up your mid-ride eats).
Farm to Fork Fondo series: A farm-centric tour of scenic areas in the Northeast featuring homemade treats harvested from the surrounding countryside.
Hudson Valley Farm to Fork Fondo, New York: 11 June 2017
Finger Lakes Farm to Fork Fondo, New York: 25 June 2017
Pittsfield Farm to Fork Fondo, Vermont: 16 July 2017
Lancaster Farm to Fork Fondo, Pennsylvania: 29 July 2017
Freeport Farm to Fork Fondo, Maine: 27 August 2017
Pittsfield Farm to Fork Fondo, Massachusetts: 24 September 2017