As a clinical nutritionist, registered dietician and cooking instructor, Gerri French knows a few things about food. And as host of the Santa Barbara Food and Farm Adventures Meetup Group, which meets every two weeks at various locations throughout the county, she also knows something about farms.
But it wasn’t until recently, when she found herself on a bicycle after many years of lapsed riding, that something clicked.
“I participated in a bike tour in Sebastopol where we cycled through the countryside, stopping for breaks at the farms,” she says. “But we didn’t talk with the farmers or taste any food or talk about how it was grown. We just hung out in the farm parking lots, eating power bars and pasta.” She knew then that she wanted to put together opportunities that inspire a fuller range of healthy living—connecting people with the source of their food and inspiring them to take advantage of Santa Barbara’s year-round bicycling weather.
This spring, French partners with Santa Barbara Bicycle Coalition (SBBIKE) and Community Environmental Council (CEC) to offer a series of rides that progress through different levels of agriculture—the first month visiting impressive backyard and neighborhood gardens, the next month exploring community gardens with rentable plots, and the final month touring a small organic farm.
The series also progresses from an easier ride in March to one that includes more hills and traffic in April to a longer, more challenging ride in May, says Christine Bourgeois, Education Director for SBBIKE.
“This is very inclusive, appropriate for anyone over 12 years old, at any level. We focus on fun and safety,” Bourgeois says, noting that before the ride starts, the SBBIKE team will check bikes and review basic rules of the road. As a no-drop ride, volunteers are positioned in the front, middle and end of the pack, so that no rider is left behind.
“People are often worried about getting a flat tire or navigating traffic or having to choose a route. What’s nice about these rides is you have support all around you,” Bourgeois says. “In fact, we will use some routes that many people don’t even know exist, like the pedestrian bridge from La Cumbre Junior High over Highway 101 to Oak Park. This is a hidden gem that helps riders avoid Las Positas, which can feel dangerous and busy.”
Last fall Bourgeois worked with French to coordinate a one-day Tour de Farms, in which “we had people at all levels of fitness, including a couple of mothers who hadn’t ridden a bike in 20 years. A week or so later, one of them came back to Bici Centro — the Bicycle Coalition’s DIY bike shop at 434 Olive St. because she knew she wanted to do more riding and needed a bike that fits her properly.”
French tells similar stories of inspiring people to want to take better care of themselves. “Most of the people who come to me through Sansum Clinic have medical conditions such as diabetes or heart disease,” she says. “I try to increase their awareness about where food comes from, about the difference between processed food at the supermarket and food that has been grown by yourself or someone you know, in good soil. I’ve seen some people become real converts after talking with a farmer—eating more seasonally and emphasizing fresh food with higher levels of nutrition. I’m a big advocate for knowing your farmer the way you know your doctor. I call it culinary medicine.”
The bicycle Tour de Farms “is what we need more of: a prescription to get outside,” French says.
While each tour includes sampling fruits and vegetables from the farms, riders are encouraged to bring plenty of water and snacks. Proceeds from these events are donated to Bici Centro, as well as to the farms and gardens being toured.
Saturday, April 25, 10 a.m. – 1 p.m.
Start/end location: Pilgrim Terrace Community Garden, located at Pilgrim Terrace Drive and Modoc Road
Terrain: road, some hills, steep bridge
Kid friendly: need experience riding hills and in traffic
Distance: 9 miles roundtrip
Elevation gain: 450 ft.
Google map: http://tinyurl.com/mvjsd36
Co-sponsors: CEC, SBBIKE
At the start of the ride, visitors meet with longtime garden advocate Cerena Childress, author of the Green Bean Connection blog.
From here the tour travels along Modoc, taking the pedestrian bridge from La Cumbre Junior High over Highway 101 to Oak Park. The route avoids traveling on State Street, following instead along the Foothill Bike Route to Trinity Gardens at La Cumbre and Foothill Road. Visitors tour the orchards and gardens of Trinity Gardens, which includes individual plots for rent, as well as communal plots for growing food for donation. Before returning to Pilgrim Terrace, the group stops somewhere along the route for a snack.
Trinity Gardens, which includes individual plots for rent, as well as communal plots for growing food for donation. Before returning to Pilgrim Terrace, the group stops somewhere along the route for a snack.
Ellwood Canyon Farms
Saturday, May 16, 10 a.m. – 1 p.m.
Start/end location: Goleta Beach Park, 5986 Sandspit Rd.; meet near the picnic tables at the west side of the parking lot (away from the beach)
Terrain: road, Class I bike path
Kid friendly: need experience riding hills and longer distance
Distance: 16 miles roundtrip
Elevation gain: 450 ft.
Difficulty: moderate–difficult if not fit
Google map: http://tinyurl.com/o3b2ckz
Co-sponsors: CEC, SBBIKE
This ride takes the bike path through the UCSB campus, then travels through neighborhoods to avoid busy streets and crosses over Highway 101 at the bridge at Winchester Canyon. From here the route continues down to Ellwood Canyon Farms, where visitors tour the small organic farm and have an opportunity to shop at the farm stand. On the return trip, the tour stops at Isla Vista Food Co-op.
All rides are $12/person or $15/family. For more information or to register: meetup.com/Santa-Barbara-Food-and-Farm-Adventures/