By Brian Lawrence
Thanks to a warm climate and long growing season, starting well before and ending long after nearby communities, the Creston Valley is the agricultural heart of the Kootenays. With tasty fruits and veggies just waiting to be sampled (you can even pick some of them yourself!), and with wine and spirits incorporating the flavours of the region, it’s practically a mini version of the Okanagan region to the west!
Arriving in May, one of the earliest crops is asparagus from Sutcliffe Farms, the province’s largest asparagus farm at about 100 acres. Strawberries follow about a month later, with cherries — perhaps the best-known Creston Valley crop — ready to eat in July. Vegetables from carrots to peppers to corn span the summer, with apples, squash and pumpkins arriving in the fall.
Of course, it’s hard to keep up once everything starts to ripen, so many people plan ahead to preserve them though canning or freezing, making jam or salsa — the list could be pretty much endless. But it does make it possible to enjoy the Creston Valley’s bounty all year long!
There is so much to agriculture here that it’s hard to capture it all, but read on for some of our suggestions on the best ways to enjoy the bounty of Creston's locally grown food and farms!
1. Do It Yourself with a U-Pick!
It’s easy to simply pick up your favourite produce at a farm stand, but why not try picking fruit yourself? Not only does it add an extra bit of satisfaction to actually eating the fruit, it can also be a fun family outing!
In midsummer, Blue Canoe Orchard in Erickson offers U-pick cherries by appointment — and if you find you really love it, their rent-a-tree program allows you to have your own cherry tree to harvest every year! The nearby Flamenco Farms offers U-pick cherries (and raspberries!), plus veggies, eggs and fresh fruit, including peaches and strawberries, in their store. A visit to Lloyd’s Backyard is a must for U-pick raspberries, blackberries and blueberries, and you’ll find it hard to resist the colourful garden accessories! For something out of the ordinary, Duck Lake Saskatoon Berry Farm offers U-pick Saskatoons, which I also think are far tastier than their wild counterparts!
Keep in mind that not all small farms widely advertise their U-pick options, so the list provided here isn't exhaustive. If you happen to be in the area during cherry season its often worth a visit to some of the smaller orchards off Highway 3 in Erickson, as they may also offer U-pick opportunities for a limited time.
2. Take a Farm Tour & Meet the Makers
It’s no surprise that farmers are busy people, so it’s equally unsurprising that there’s very little to say about farm tours, but the one we know of is a great one! At the family-run Kootenay Meadows Organic Dairy visitors are always welcome to meet the cows, witness the milking process, or simply take a leisurely stroll through the picturesque pasture. The dairy also has a must-visit farm store where you can pickup some of their tasty organic milk (including chocolate!), exquisite cheeses, and freshly-made ice cream afterwards. And if you happen to visit Creston in early May you might be lucky enough to attend their very popular annual "Spring Turn Out", where you can come watch the dairy cows and their adorable new calves being let out to pasture after wintering in the barns. Needless to say, it's an huge hit with the whole community!
3. Savour A Sip At one of our Wineries
I mentioned the mini-Okanagan vibe, and that holds true for wine enthusiasts: The Creston Valley has emerged as its own wine destination, with four wineries serving up some of the tastiest sips you’ll find from late spring to early fall.
At next-door neighbours Skimmerhorn Winery and Vineyard and Baillie-Grohman Estate Winery, visitors can enjoy charcuterie boards and sweets, along with different but equally stunning views of Creston Valley scenery!
The nearby Red Bird Estate Winery, which opened its tasting room this summer, and Wynnwood Cellars Estate Winery, near Wynndel, are also popular. Again, with great wine and great views, what’s not to love? While you’re in Wynndel, be sure to visit the Wynndel Craft Distilleries (conveniently located with the Duck Lake Saskatoon Berry Farm), which offers brandy, gin, vodka and other spirits, infused with fruit, including apples and pears, from the Creston Valley.
If the wine and spirits aren’t enough, downtown Creston boasts a microbrewery, Wild North Brewing Co., the maker of six core beers (I’m a huge fan of the porter) and a few seasonal ones that incorporate local fruits. Their taproom has a family atmosphere, complete with a stack of board games, and often features live music and visiting food trucks. And you’re welcome to bring your own food to enjoy with a drink!
4. Visit Quaint Farm Shops & Cafés
Want to experience the relaxing vibes of the farm in a more leisurely manner? Don't worry; there are plenty of charming farm shops, stores, and rural cafés worth exploring too!
Pick up preserves, blueberry pie or lavender at Lister's Blueberry Patch, or honey and candles at Swan Valley Honey? How about trying a delicious sandwich or famous donut at the Mountain Barn bakery and market, or ice cream or homemade chili (and ribs on weekends!) at Two Scoop Steve & Yahk Mountain Café? Or there’s the ultimate twofer: Brittany’s Flower Farm and Good Company Coffee — they're in the same location, and the owners are an amazing team of sisters!
5. Dine Out At A Local Restaurant
Even when you’re not visiting a farm, local food plays a big part in the menu of many of Creston's finest restaurants, cafés and pubs.
For any foodie I'd recommend the Real Food Cafe, whose menu features seasonal local ingredients and wines! The charming French-stye Retro Café also uses a variety of local goodies for their delicious crepes, sandwiches and soups! For coffee connoisseurs how about Buffalo Trails Coffee House, where specialty drinks are made with Kootenay Meadows milk? Over at Jimmy's Pub and Grill, I'd also highly recommend trying one of their delicious burgers, which are made from locally raised beef! Feeling hungry yet?
6. Buy Field Fresh From a Fruit Stand
For decades, Creston has been famous for its seasonal fruit stands dotted along Highway 3 East of Creston in Erickson, a popular pit stop for generations of travellers to the area!
For example Creston Fruit Market (formerly Truscott's) has been around about 60 years and is probably the largest fruit stand in the area. Meanwhile just down the road Barb and Frank Wloka have been farming in the Creston Valley for about 40 years, and while their Wloka Farms Fruit Stand is a great stop for fresh apples and veggies, it’s pretty much the squash destination each fall — you can’t miss that orange splash when pumpkins are available! Finally while not as steeped in history, newer fruit stands like Faraman Farm and Cider Press, Marar Orchards, and J&B Smagh Fruit Stands also offer a impressive variety of fresh local fruits, bulk grains and veggies as well as fresh-pressed apple and cherry juice throughout the summer and fall!
For those seeking the rustic fruit stand experience I'd again suggest exploring along Erickson Road just south of the Highway 3, which is home to many smaller orchards and seasonal farm stands — they may not be as visible as the larger ones, but their fruit and veggies will be just as tasty!
7. Wander Around Our Bustling Farmers' market!
If it’s Saturday in Creston, that means the award-winning Creston Valley Farmers’ Market will be in full swing, with an average of nearly 50 vendors offering some of the region’s best produce, meats, eggs and honey, along with works by artisans that includes pottery, soaps, jewelry, textiles, paintings and more.
For the summer of 2023, it’s held beside Millennium Park, but will move to a purpose-built “market park” behind the Visitor Centre in 2024. From Thanksgiving to Christmas, it’s held weekly at the Creston and District Community Complex, followed by monthly markets from January to April.
8. Celebrate the Harvest with us at The Fall Fair
Finally, as the summer growing season comes to a close and the harvest comes in we like to take stock of our success! For an all-out celebration of local food and food producers, the Creston Valley Fall Fair takes over the community complex for the first weekend of every September, showcasing livestock, home-baked goods and preserves, plus artwork and crafts. With awards and exhibits, a Fall Fair Feast, the farmers’ market, family games and activities and live music, this is a truly unique way to immerse yourself in some homegrown, authentic Creston Valley culture!
Aprés Farm - More to Explore in Creston
I've merely scratched the surface of the abundant farms, fruit stands, markets, and shops awaiting your discovery in Creston. If your interest is sufficiently piqued and you're considering planning your own "farm tour" then be sure to download or pick up a copy of our Farm & Food Map, which lists many of the businesses mentioned above, plus a number of others to explore!
While you no doubt could spend your entire visit to Creston eating fresh fruit and exploring farms and wineries you'll probably want to do some other things too! Maybe a paddle through the wetlands in the Creston Valley Wildlife Management Area, a visit to the local museum to learn about the area's interesting history or catching a concert or film? For additional ideas on things to do while visiting the Creston Valley, check out our Play, Shop & Events section. Otherwise read about even more activity suggestions and must-visit attractions in our Get Inspired blog section!
With these recommendations, I hope you've been inspired to visit us here in the Creston Valley this Summer & Fall to enjoy all the flavours of the Kootenays' breadbasket! See you soon!
Freelance writer Brian Lawrence is a former editor and publisher of the Creston Valley Advance. In his spare time, he enjoys hiking and trail running, and acting in and directing productions with Creston's Footlighters Theatre Society.