Delighted she could start a long bike ride from her front door, new Black Mountain resident Jennifer Billstrom three years ago thought her friends also might enjoy a long ride past farms in the area.
Planning that long ride, it became clear to her that others might be interested as well. And so she created Cycle to Farm, a sell-out cycling event held July 18 this year that attracts riders from all over the country. About 300 riders are expected.
Tickets remain for the Black Mountain-based ride. The event has filled up the past couple of years. Cycle to Farm is a challenging metric century ride (100 kilometers, or about 62 miles) that includes ascents and long coasts along country roads in Black Mountain, Broad River and Fairview.
Every 10-15 miles or so, riders stop at farms along the way to sample treats made from products the farm sells. Products that the riders make are carpooled by to the starting area for pickup when the riders return for the big “after party” with food, drink and music this year by Laura Blackley. Ingles Markets is the event’s presenting sponsor this year.
“Several of the farms that have participated in Cycle to Farm are already partners with Ingles, and we hope this opens the door to even more opportunities,” Billstrom said.
The ride takes four to seven hours and passes through beautiful rural countryside. For many, it is their first experience riding the route and discovering the area.
Once back at the Start/Finish, cyclists enjoy a delicious farm-to-table meal at the Fabulous After Party, sourced from the farmers they visited during their ride.
The farmers and the many volunteers who work the event also join in the meal, along with wine and local musicians providing entertainment.
“We really enjoy connecting cyclists, who are often foodies, with the community of farmers, sponsors and volunteers that make all of this possible, and breaking bread together is a great way to do it,” Billstrom said.
Jennifer Perkins, who owns Looking Glass Creamery with husband Andy Perkins, is one of the farm stops on the fourth annual Cycle to Farm Tour.
“It was kind of a gamble the first year because you never know. It was a totally different concept,” Perkins said. “Our facility is very small, and we can’t accommodate many cars. But we can have as many bicycles as they want. People always have good intentions, but you never know how it will turn out.”
Perkins was so impressed with the turnout, the meticulous organization, not to mention the boost in farm product sales, that she has been back as a stop on the tour every year since.
“People also came to the stops who weren’t bike riding but were supporting riders. It’s better than a day at the tailgate market and definitely better than a typical day at the shop,” Perkins said. “Jen is an organizational whirlwind and made sure everything worked.”
Cycle to Farm works starts at Recreation Park in Black Mountain and take a 100-kilometer tour of the east and south Buncombe County countryside, stopping for rest and refreshments at local farms.
At each stop, cyclists will get to sample the homegrown goodies, such as cucumber slices with chevre cheese or goat cheese on strawberries at Looking Glass Creamery, blueberry smoothies at Cloud 9 Farm, fresh ice cream or cured meats at Hickory Nut Gap Farm, or lamb sausage balls at Highlander Farm.
“I think it’s an absolutely wonderful event,” said Ann Sitler, sales and relations manager for Hickory Nut Gap Farm in Fairview. “A lot of people will take a beef stick with them, because it gives them a punch of protein.”
The farm in Fairview, open seven days a week year-round, also sells fresh beef and pork in Ingles, Whole Foods, Earth Far, and the French Broad Food Co-op. But Cycle to Farm is a nice, one-day shot in the arm, Sitler said.
“It definitely increases sales,” she said. “It gives us a nice little boost. We do get riders every spring, summer and fall visiting Asheville, and this is one of the things they want to see. With the expansion of greenways, I think it’s really going to take off here.”
Janet Peterson, owner of Cloud 9 Farm, will be participating on Cycle to Farm for the fourth year in a row. Her small farm in Fletcher offers beef, chickens, eggs, honey and beeswax products such as lotions and balms, but has become famous for its blueberry smoothies and blueberry granola the cyclists get to sample. She also rents vacation cabins and hosts weddings.
“I think it’s a great way for the neighborhood to be seen,” she said. “The bicyclists aren’t all necessarily from this area. They see this place on Cycle to Farm and then want to come back to rent a cabin or have a rural wedding.”
Want to ride or volunteer?
For more and to sign up as either a volunteer or rider, visit CycleToFarm.org.