Farm to Table Gets a New Spin
Jun 02, 2017 12:11PM
Ted Marks looks out over the pastoral view from the deck of Atwater Estate Vineyards, a view that leads the eye past new plantings and burgeoning vines down to the waters of Seneca Lake and beyond. In his eighteen years as proprietor of Atwater, he’s come to embrace both the solace of the winter months and the summer swell of tourists looking to capture the essence of the Finger Lakes. This season, he and his staff are also anticipating their roles as host to the first Finger Lakes Farm to Fork Fondo on June 24 and 25.
What’s that, you say, Farm to Fork Fondo? Scheduled from early June to late September, these one-day farm-to-table events, inclusive of all riding abilities, occur in six different rural farming communities in the northeast, from Maine to Pennsylvania. Rides are designed to immerse participants in all that these regions have to offer, from unique cuisine and libations to spectacular scenery and remarkable residents. Each event kicks off with a Farmer’s Dinner the night before at hosting partners’ venues like Atwater Estate Vineyards. The following morning, riders hit the saddle and head out.
The Farm to Fork Fondo concept is the brainchild of former professional cyclist Tyler Wren. He competed for thirteen years in some of the most grueling cycling tours at home and abroad; participating in Italy’s Gran Fondo—loosely translated as “big ride”—was the impetus. Tyler started his new venture in 2015 as founder and principal of Wrenegade Sports, and event director of the Farm to Fork Fondo.
“I wanted to stay in the industry and build something of my own,” he explains. “It was a natural transition for me from racing to creating events. I feel inspired to help others, and the Fondo connects people, strengthens the link, and improves the health and wellness of both the rider and the farming community. Participants experience firsthand where food is grown in a fun and healthy way.”
It’s also about keeping the wheels of the local farm economies moving forward. Tyler’s awareness of the life of a farmer and the challenges he or she faces comes from his deep appreciation and understanding the cycle of food and healthy eating.
“Every region has unique and compelling stories of the people who live and work there,” says Tyler. “The Finger Lakes has a deep farming and wine making history, beautiful scenery, rich soil, and equally rich stories. I was scouting out the area and met Ted Marks at Atwater Estates and it clicked.”
Ted, for his part, couldn’t be more honored to be hosting the inaugural Finger Lakes Farm to Fork Fondo. Atwater is nestled on the southeastern shore of Seneca Lake, one of the largest of the eleven Finger Lakes, and the enchanting beauty of Burdett, a tiny village of about 300, plays the backdrop for the winery. “We are one community and this is just the type of event we want—it’s a great opportunity to showcase the beauty of the region with its unique wine and farming industry,” says Ted. “It aligns with our values at the winery and among other growers and farmers. Our vineyard philosophy is committed to providing sustainable viticulture practices that enhance the quality of the fruit and the earth it stems from.”
If this is your first foray into the world of fondos and you’re feeling a bit wobbly when it comes to your finesse on two wheels, don’t despair. These events are pretty customizable—you can select the distance and route you want to ride from four options. The longest route, the Gran Fondo, averages eighty-five to ninety-five miles. Or, take the Rambler Route, a ten- to twelve-mile cruise. Included along the well-marked routes are deluxe aid stations hosted by local farms where bikers can rest and enjoy small bites prepared by local chefs.
If you’re not a cycling enthusiast, you can volunteer instead—corporate as well as friends and family teams are encouraged and welcomed. Worth noting is the spin Tyler takes on enriching the host communities through making donations to land trusts, farming education centers, libraries, and individual farm projects. Volunteer teams are an important spoke in the proverbial wheel, as riders vote on the most welcoming, supportive, and encouraging volunteer teams. Volunteer teams submit their favorite local organization and work hard to win dollars earmarked for donation. Last year’s donation was $15,000; this year Tyler’s on track to distribute close to $20,000.
In just three years, Tyler’s six events have captured the hearts of avid cyclists—Fondo Followers, if you will. Numbers have grown from 810 three years ago to an anticipated 3,600 this year. Registration fills up fast. For a complete list of Farm to Fork Fondo doings—event dates and locations, registration information, recipes, training plans, and cycling tips—visit www. FarmForkFondo.com. Participants hail from twenty-five different states across the country to join in the fun, some taking in all six events in a year. Others who have heard the calling include foodies, farmers, and supporters—all serving in such capacities as volunteers, team organizers, and sponsors.
“We focus our events on connecting directly to the food growers and producers, telling their stories and honoring the work they do,” says Tyler. “Our team delivers one of the best cycling events in the country in some of the most beautiful rural locations, taking every detail into consideration, from well-marked routes to medical and safety concerns to sourcing the best food created by each region’s top chefs.”
At the end of the day it’s about the experience Tyler is trying to capture and provide for others. From serious cyclists to those reacquainting themselves with the seat of a bicycle, his events are about sharing the beauty of the back roads and connecting with the farms and families dotting the countryside along the way. Through this, he remains committed to helping preserve the rural landscape, doing his part to ensure that the land remains open to future generations. One more thing is certain: he’s encouraging everyone to keep riding.