Cowichan Bay Slow Food Region
Cowichan Bay is a tiny town on the eastern coast of Vancouver Island. With only about 3,000 residents, it would be surprising that anyone who isn’t from the area should know its name; but they do. Foodies from not just Vancouver Island, but internationally have heard of, and flock to, Cowichan Bay. Why? In 2009, it was labeled as Canada and North America’s first Cittaslow town. Originating in Italy, the slow food movement branched out to take over the world and now rates towns on points spanning from friendliness to produce production. They’re dedicated to a movement that promotes living slower in such a fast paced world, alongside using healthy practices when it comes to producing food locally.They also seek to improve the quality of life in small towns (only areas smaller than 50,000 can qualify for Cittaslow recognition).
Fitting in its description, “Cowichan” comes from a local aboriginal word meaning “the warm land.” The area’s temperate climate is exactly what makes the mass amounts of artisan products and amazing foods possible. 10 years before its induction into Cittaslow, the movement began with the opening of the tiny town’s True Grain Bread bakery. The delectable scents that took over Cowichan Bay each morning were dedicated to the benefits of heritage and ancient grains. Soon after, the town became a treasure trove of handmade ice creams, artisan cheese boutiques, fresh seafood suppliers and plenty of other tasty finds.
Although Cowichan Bay remains to be the only true Cittaslow town in British Columbia, all of Cowichan Valley (Chemainus through to Mill Bay) followed suit. Now, the entire area is a hotspot for foodies of all kinds. Duncan features what has been dubbed the best Farmer’s Market in British Columbia, which, if you’re short on time, provides the perfect window into the richness the Valley has to offer.Spread throughout the Valley are numerous wineries, with more than a few relying on 100-percent estate-grown grapes. That’s a lot of homegrown grapes! Find yourself on a seat in any of the tasting rooms and you’ll be sipping your way to discovering why the area has been nicknamed “Canada’s Provence.” Bison farms, tea farms, homemade honey, artisan cheese, balsamics, distilleries, a cidery, a couple breweries and even home harvested and infused sea salt… The opportunity for discovery is endless. There are even places that are kicking back to the hunter-gatherer days and are rediscovering the art of foraging – a skill they’re often willing to share.
Far from just being about the food, however, the slow food movement also embraces and recognizes crucial aspects of a place that make a fantastic quality of life attainable: Culture, history, heritage and, of course, the land. Taking it slow gives visitors the opportunity to learn about what lead to the creation of the products, to get to know the faces and stories behind them and to really take the time to appreciate the little things.