The day begins wet and chilly at the aptly named Race Farm in Blairstown, the host venue for Tour de Farm Warren County. It’s one of two annual September events that combine cycling and farm-fresh food at an array of northern New Jersey farms. (The other tour runs through Sussex County.)
Each event offers three routes to choose from: the Weekend Warrior (less than 20 miles), Extreme Tour (roughly 65 miles), and the Not-So-Extreme (somewhere in between). I only ride occasionally but fancy myself reasonably athletic, so, seeking a challenge, my companions and I pick the Not-So-Extreme tour at 43.7 miles.
We check in and are instructed on the color-coded routes. For our ride, we will be following green arrows spray-painted on the pavement.
As we wheel our bikes toward the breakfast area, I’m embarrassed to discover that my back tire is completely flat and ripped at the rim. Luckily, a mechanic from Marty’s Reliable Cycle is on hand to sell me a replacement tire. (He just happened to have the necessary tire; the pre-ride instructions suggest bringing your own spare tubes and tires.) I admit to the mechanic I haven’t ridden this bike—or any bike—in more than a year. This induces wide-eyed glances from nearby riders. Their reactions plainly say, “Good luck.”
There’s coffee to warm us, and we fill our plates from the locally sourced buffet: fluffy egg frittata loaded with bits of bacon and cheese, vegan zucchini bread spread with grass-fed butter, and thick yogurt with homemade granola. Tour de Farm founder Mitch Morrison, sporting a cowboy hat, weaves among the picnic tables, promising that the weather will turn soon. It stopped drizzling an hour ago, but the benches are wet and the sky remains overcast.
We depart promptly at 9 am, heading an easy two miles up the road to scenic Little Big Farm, where the primary activity is growing pesticide-free flowers. We purchase fresh-cut bouquets, which, like all farm purchases on the tour, are name tagged and driven back to Race Farm for us to collect at the end of the day. We take goofy photos with flower wreaths, pet the affectionate orange-and-white farm cat, and hop back on our bikes, mindful not to linger too long at the first stop.
A five-mile haul up a gradual incline takes us to Genesis Farm Community Garden, home of the state’s first Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program. We arrive later than the bulk of the group, our legs aching. Here, we are treated to tasty, bite-size samples of grilled butternut squash and colorful heirloom tomatoes (with names like Cherokee and Hawaiian Pineapple) doused in olive oil, salt and pepper. We refill our water bottles and hit the road.
We cross into Green Township and pull over to photograph some sheep, stuffing our rain jackets into our fanny packs as the sun breaks through. We cycle for an hour on winding roads until our next stop, Circle Brook Farm in Andover. The farm—roughly at the 20-mile halfway point—is a massive, certified-organic operation with more than 800 CSA members. There are vegetables for purchase, but no free samples. A Tour de Farm volunteer hands out free water and bananas, which we gratefully enjoy while resting on a shady patch of grass.
A few miles into our next segment, my companion shifts gears on an uphill climb and manages to wrap her chain around her right pedal. We call the provided number for the support vehicle (known as a SAG wagon, for Support and Gear) that follows the cyclists. They are 20 minutes away, helping another stranded rider. No problem. Fellow riders stop to help; one of them, a guy from the Freewheelers cycling club, has the appropriate tool for our dilemma.
A few sunny and mostly flat miles later we reach the Tranquility Store, a quaint shop in an old red house dating to 1844. They’ve got free samples of pumpkin muffins topped with homemade Dutch apple cream cheese, but I’m so hungry I order a breakfast sandwich, and we take time to eat and rest our weary legs at the picnic tables.
We ride on, passing fields of corn. Feeling fatigued, we walk our bikes the last uphill stretch to the adorable Allamuchy General Store Café, where Growing Dirt Farm offers beef jerky samples. We share a bowl of chili and a roast beef sandwich and make note of the sign in the garden out back: “Trespassers Will Be Composted.”
Thanks to our leisurely pace and the chain incident, we miss the open hours at the last two farms on the route: Long Meadow Farm in Hope and Bear’s Den Alpacas. We finally return to Race Farm after 4 pm, more than an hour past the projected finish time. We locate our purchases—the last boxes that had not been picked up. Still hungry, we feast on apple cider and cider donuts. Sated, we head, bow-legged and sunburnt, back to the car, vowing to do the Weekend Warrior route next time.
This year’s Tour de Farm Sussex County is planned for Sunday, September 3; Tour de Farm Warren County is Saturday, September 23. For prices and schedule information, visit the event website.Click here to leave a comment