Wednesday, 19 June 2013

Love Your Farmer : Alderlea Farm

Katy and John
People often ask what food means to me, in other words, why am I so passionate about it?  My answer is always connection. When we cook and eat together, it is an opportunity to slow down, create something good, with love, and share the experience together along with honest conversation or blissful peace.  This experience can come from a long Sunday Lunch or even just a sandwich on the back porch.  The food itself need not be elaborate or stressful, it just needs to be made with care, love and awareness.  When this happens, we connect to our food, ourselves and to each other.

Lower field that is growing all manner of good vegetables.
John and Katy Ehrlich of Alderlea Farm are in their 10th year of growing beautiful, organic, biodynamic food here in the Cowichan Valley.  Last week I had the privilege of sitting at Katy's counter while she made the daily bread to talk to her all about what they do at their farm.  We are in our second year as shareholders in their CSA program and I love what they have created together.  Not only do they grow amazing fruits and vegetables, they also run a cafe three days a week, where they cook up good, homemade food sourced from their farm.  I think that the combination of the farm and cafe is one of the things that make Alderlea so unique.

Katy and John have a vision to grow the best possible vegetables using organic and biodynamic principals, seeing the farm as a living entity.  Everything that grows on their farm is connected with one another.  The hay they grow feeds the animals they raise which produces the manure they need to provide healthy soil for the fruits and vegetables they grow. There is a tangible cycle of life happening on their land along with a distinctive sense of peace.  This is a very special place where time seems to slow down and the love and passion that goes into all that Katy and John do is palpable.  They have dreams that goes beyond producing food: creating a legacy, inspiring children to see farming as a viable career and connecting people to the land, the food and to each other.

The daily bread
As I sat in the cafe and talked with Katy, I had a clear understanding of what she brings to her work: love. One of my most favourite movies of all time is Fried Green Tomatoes.  I love the story of these two best friends that open the Whistle Stop Cafe in depression-era Alabama.  The cafe was more than a place to get a good meal, it was a place to belong.  People came into that cafe everyday to eat, share and connect with each other. It was the heart of that little town and when I go to the cafe at Alderlea it feels much like I imagined that little Alabama cafe to feel.  This is a place where people come to pick up their vegetables while children are encouraged to explore the farm and play. It is also a place where you are likely to run into someone you know, Katy joked that it should be called the "Serendipity Cafe"  Katy and John have created a community gathering place and greet everyone as though they are family.  The food that comes out of the kitchen is home-cooked love, like your mother or grandmother might have made.  There is a sense of belonging here, as though you are a part of something much greater than a bowl of soup.  You are a part of a desire to create a community based on healthy food, healthy land and healthy people.

Best rhubarb crisp ever. 
As a home cook, Alderlea is a haven for me.  It is a place for me to go once a week, pick up my vegetables, see the fields where they came from, talk to the people who grew my food and pause for a bowl of soup or a good salad.  My children are learning where their food comes from, who is responsible for growing it and how it came to their plate.  This is an invaluable life lesson for them and they love it too!  There is a lot of talk about supporting the local economy, food security and eating locally.  As a CSA member, you are supporting all of these things and eating healthier for it. Alderlea offers three options for their members, depending on their needs.  There is an individual ($350.00), small family ($450.00) and large family share ($550.00) for 24 weeks of delicious, organically grown food.  We are a family of 4 and have a small family share which works out to $18.75 a week.  If you are interested in becoming a shareholder, you can learn more about it here.

Katy's famous pumpkin pie
The cafe is a beautiful space to eat, inside and out

Home cooking is all about connecting with the people that we feed on a daily basis.  For some it might be a large family and for others it might just be a solo supper.  Whatever the case, having a relationship to the people who grow your food not only makes you feel good about what you eat but it also gives us a greater appreciation for the value of our food as nourishment for the body and the soul.  If you haven't been up to Alderlea before, I highly recommend it.  You don't need to be a shareholder to eat at the cafe and it is a great way to experience true farm-to-table eating.  If you have children, bring them.  We need to educate our children not just on how to prepare a meal, but also how to eat. Learning to appreciate food and the process of turning it into a meal is one of the greatest gifts we can give to our children and to our families.

Beautiful potatoes

I love how vibrant this field is.
Delicious salad mix waiting to make it to my kitchen

Everything is brought home on an honour system based on the share that you hold.   

Simple Vinaigrette

Many people think that making a good salad dressing is complicated so they spend loads of money on store bought dressings.  Those dressings are never great and the ingredients are less than inspiring.  This one is so simple and yet so, so good. It is a wonderful accompaniment to fresh greens from the farm.

3 parts good Extra Virgin Olive oil (this is the time to use the good fruity one)

1 part vinegar (balsamic, lemon juice, red or white wine)

Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Assemble all ingredients in a jar and shake.  I know this seems stupidly simple but you wouldn't believe the amount of people who ask me what kind of dressing is on my salads. This is it.  If you want to make it a bit more fancy, add some Dijon mustard or fresh herbs such as dill or tarragon.  Even a sprinkling of Herbes de Provence are lovely.  I guarantee this will taste better than anything you buy out of a bottle. 


  1. Hello Catherine. Your piece on Alderlea Farm peaked my interest in the farm and your recipes. For your Simple Dressing -- you mention 1 part vinegar, then in ( ) balsmic, lemon juice, red or white wine -- are these all added together, or used instead of vinegar individually?

  2. You can either use the acids individually or if you are making a larger amount of dressing, you can combine them. I have made a lovely dressing with lemon juice and red wine vinegar combined with the olive oil and a crushed garlic clove. Thanks for your interest!