You’re joining me in-progress on the Circle Farm Tour, a self-guided agricultural odyssey in BC’s Fraser Valley. You can backtrack to read about the first part of my day here and the second part here.
Stepping into the sweet little Rustic Soap Co. shop in Greendale, the first thing I notice is the wonderful smell. Scents of fresh lavender, citrus, and spice mingle pleasantly in the air. Proprietor Tawnya Walsh’s wares are creatively displayed among vintage crates, baskets and buckets….functional country art. Living up to its name, the space is undeniably rustic-cute, and it seems to double as an aromatherapy den. I find I’m breathing deeply and smiling a lot.
Tawnya mixes a batch of ginger lime soap and chats with us about the inspiration for her business. Her young son had suffered from eczema and she’d been struggling to find a soap that didn’t irritate his skin. She learned to make her own, using strictly natural products (often edible), because as she puts it, “your skin ingests what you put you on it.” Tawnya took courses in herbalism and aromatherapy to further enhance the healing properties of her soaps, and word caught on – people with skin issues continue to be frequent clients. There is no lye or fragrance oils in any of her finished products.
She’s been making handmade natural soap for 12 years now, but in recent years has branched out into other products as well. A line of baby products includes diaper balm and bath mix for the sensitive skin of little ones. A rich lavender lotion I took home, full of healing goodies such as jojoba oil, shea butter and cocoa butter, has found a permanent place next to my keyboard to soothe tired hands. A spice-scented candle simmers nearby, and I rejoiced when I found her hemp-based lip balm. In the shower, I’m enjoying a natural soap called “Mr. Vetiver”, an exotic blend named in honor of a friend who moved to Indonesia. I daydream of travel to faraway places whenever I use it.
If I’m trying to reproduce the aroma-therapeutic sanctuary of the Rustic Soap Co. in my own home, then I’m also hoping to channel some of Tawnya’s peaceful creative energy. She pours the mixed soap into a wood-framed box, explaining that she’ll let it set for 24 hours and then cut into bars that cure for about a month before they go out on the shelves. She makes it look so easy that I think for a moment that I’ll go home and try to whip up a batch of sweet-smelling soap in my basement. But when I learn that I can order her products directly through her website, I ditch that notion. I’d rather have a box of country magic delivered fresh from the Fraser Valley.
It’s just a short jaunt down the road to Greendale Pottery & Country Guest House, where the smells on the air shift to sweet hay and the faint musk of cows grazing nearby. But Holly McKeen knows where we’ve been. “You’ve just come from Tawnya’s, haven’t you?” She smiles, “You smell lovely.”
Holly tells us she and her husband Ken bought this farm 14 years ago and moved their kids out of the city. “But I didn’t know this was in me,” she says, gesturing to her handiwork, the sparkling pottery filling her showroom. Holly’s specialty is crystalline, a type of pottery that to me brings to mind an ephemeral undersea garden. She mixes her own chemicals in her studio and often has the kiln fired up on Saturdays so that Circle Farm Tour visitors who are taken with her beautiful work can bring home a “newborn” piece, freshly fired.
The kids have grown up, but Holly and Ken are now raising a different brood – the happy cows that are grazing outside. The organic, naturally-raised and grass-fed beef is sold in portable freezer packs for visiting day-trippers, but Holly says they often make a special trip back to stock up their freezers once they’ve tasted this high-quality meat. The McKeens work with a local butcher and carefully oversee the process from start to finish.
Just when I’m thinking I could stay on this peaceful farm forever, Holly shows me the upstairs guest quarters, which can accommodate 2 – 4 people. The suite features a full kitchen and a Jacuzzi tub with a killer view of the sunrise over the mountain. Hawks, herons and barn owls are frequent sightings from the deck, but otherwise it’s peace and privacy for guests. I’m not surprised when Holly tells me that 50% of the guest house renters are folks returning after a Circle Farm visit. I may well be one them someday!
Heading back to Vancouver, there’s one more stop to be made – dinner at Abbotsford’s restaurant 62. Inspired by the bounty of local ingredients, chef Jeff Massey brings the whole Fraser Valley into one harmonious and sublime meal. Jeff’s seasonal menu highlights the simple goodness growing down the road – fresh produce plays off locally-caught seafood and farm-raised meats. Local wine pairings add to the alchemy, and elevate the meal. After a day of tasting the valley with all my senses, dinner at restaurant 62 was the perfect punctuation point, a sweet closer to bring the whole day together in a bite.
But for me, after a marathon day out in the valley, there is still a lot of unfinished business. I love that fact that there is such a wealth of options to choose from – 5 regions and over 60 businesses are more than anyone can see in one day. I look forward to return not only to cover some of the areas that I didn’t yet explore, but also to re-visit some favorites at different seasons and have an ever-evolving experience of life in the valley.
With everything hand-crafted I’ve seen on the Circle Farm Tour, quality rules over quantity, and small-scale hand-crafting allows for more natural, sustainable products with a personal touch. And indeed it is the people – the artisans and farmers – who add the heart and depth to Circle Farm. To me, this is the best kind of sustainability – inviting me to form a lasting relationship with this place, its people and ultimately its culture.