Cycle. Eat. Repeat.
Supporting local food has soared to exciting new heights in Southern Appalachia, thanks in part to a relatively young event organized by Velo Girl Rides founder Jennifer Billstrom.
Her brainchild, Cycle To Farm, is a series of metric centuries (that’s 100 kilometers, or 62 miles) that take cyclists down the scenic backcountry roads of western North Carolina and South Carolina to local farms in the area.
Billstrom began organizing these events just three years ago. “I realized my riding routes were taking me past all of the farms I bought from at tailgate markets,” Billstrom said. “I wanted to create a ride that would allow friends to experience not just the cycling here but also the local farms.”
After establishing a partnership with the local nonprofit Black Mountain Greenways, Billstrom successfully hosted her first Cycle To Farm event in Black Mountain, N.C., in 2012. Since then, she’s established relationships with three other nonprofits to host Cycle To Farm rides: Buncombe County’s Farmland Preservation in Sandy Mush, N.C.; Farmer Food Share in Chapel Hill, N.C.; and Live Well in Greenville, S.C. Both Chapel Hill and Greenville will hold their inaugural Farm To Cycle events this year, and Billstrom anticipates that the 300-rider cap will be met long before the events’ starting dates.
Riders buy products from the farms along the way and the company transports their purchases back to the finish party for them.
With 2,700 to 5,200 feet of elevation gain and farm stops every 10-15 miles, this farmers’ market trip might very well be the hardest shopping experience of your life. Those extra calories spent will be well rewarded at the fabulous after-party. After the ride, all riders receive a free locally sourced farm-to-table meal, free local coffee, free swag from sponsors, live local music, and the option to partake in some regional brews or $1-per-minute massages.
“I feel strongly about putting my money where my mouth is, literally,” Billstrom says. “The Cycle To Farm events create quite an economic impact not just on the community but on these farms. Our overall goal is to raise awareness and funds for these nonprofits, but also to convert our tour riders into farm customers.”