Farm to Fork Fondo is an amazing series of bike rides that include cycling events throughout the warmer months. Bike rides are offered in places like Maine, Vermont, Pennsylvania, the Berkshires and the beautiful ride we did in New York’s Hudson Valley.
We pulled into Pennings Farm, the host site for the ride where we were greeted by flaggers wearing some sort of Tinkerbell looking outfits. It bespoke the enthusiasm we would enjoy from staff and volunteers throughout the day. Their bright orange flags and smiling faces directed us to the parking area in a newly mowed farm field. You would never know we were only 58 miles from New York City.
In fact, throughout the duration of the 50 mile medio fondo course, you would have thought the ride was in the middle of an agricultural mecca. Which as it turns out, it was.
The Farm to Fork Fondo Starts Behind a Tractor of Course!
According to official ride information, there were about 600 cyclists lined up to begin what would be a hot day of riding. Like running events, riders were asked to seed themselves next to banners that indicated their expected average speed. My wife Mary and I set up next to the 15 MPH average speed banner, and that proved to be about right.
After well done remarks from organizers and local dignitaries and a fantastic rendition of the national anthem, we proceeded down a steepish, hard-packed dirt driveway behind an older model International tractor. The vehicle pulled off shortly afterward and we were cycling.
The course was rolling for almost the entire 50 miles. There were no major climbs, but some of the hills certainly got our attention. The official guide said there was 2600 feet of elevation gain. But my Garmin 810 registered 2,772 and Strava gave it just over 3,000.
The ups and downs were fine and gave me an excuse to get out of the saddle fairly often, which fits my cycling style. We rode through some beautiful scenery, with expensive homes, and beautiful, shaded back roads. New York’s wildflowers were in full bloom. I noticed wild bee balm, honeysuckle and huge stands of daisies There were many others as well.
Cycling The Black Dirt Region
When we rode past the first farm, I couldn’t help but notice the rich black dirt. It looked like the potting soil you buy in bags, except there were acres and acres of it. I wondered what the farmer was doing to enrich his soil. But the more we rode, the more black dirt we saw, with produce seemingly jumping out of it.
Then it clicked at a rest stop when a van showed the local distillery was named after the rich soil. As it turns out, along with maybe a long history dating back to before the American Revolution, it is the characteristic that defines the region surrounding Warwick, NY.
The dirt, called “muck” for years by local farmers comes from an ancient glacial lake bottom and years of flooding by the Wallkill River. According to Wikipedia, it’s the largest concentration of such soil outside the Everglades.
The area’s proximity to markets in New York City made it a bit of a breadbasket for the region. For years the area was famous for the quality of the onions it produced. Today, onions are still a staple, but farmers have diversified their crops to meet the current demands of the the American market.
Agricultural Rest Stops Really Show the Farm to Fork Thing
The truly green DNA for the event is noted in its name: Farm to Fork. The concept follows the current trend of eating local foods. It supports farmers in your community. The food is fresher. It hasn’t been driven across the country in a truck, so there is no carbon footprint. The benefits go on and on. — to the point where organizer and former professional cyclist Tyler Wren, owner of Wrenegade Sports, has built a small empire around the concept.
Penning’s Farm itself is an example of the growing, engaging and just plain fun demeanor of the stops we would experience every ten miles or so. Penning’s website describes the property as offering, “a farm-to-table style Cafe, Pub, Beer Garden, Ice Cream Stand and Garden Center.” It also includes, “the NEW Pennings Hard Cidery tap room and production facility…” The ride begins and ends at this eclectic place that has even been written about in the New York Times.
It should have been no surprise then, when we rolled into the first rest stop at Westtown Brew Works that the volunteer pointed to options that included beer and pizza. Remember, it’s only about 10 o’clock in the morning! I passed on the pizza, in favor of the more traditional GU gel. But Mary liked the pizza, and we both enjoyed a sample of beer in a beautiful tasting room. I would like to go back during regular hours — when is wasn’t in my cycling gear.
Alas, we departed and went back out to bike the rollers. After about 10 miles we rolled into Soons Orchards, where we once again found food that was better than one expects on a bike ride — namely fresh apple turnovers. The volunteers were dressed in pink, wearing leis, and cutting the turnovers into quarters. A perfect guilt-free portion.
And so it went. At the third stop, the Five Spoke Creamery, the heat of the 90-degree day was coming on strong. Volunteers stood beside the road, with spray bottles, so they could “mist” the riders. They also offered something called a cheese pie, which didn’t sound very appealing in the heat, but turned out to be one of the best things I’ve ever eaten. The creamery has earned kudos from around the world for its products and the fact that it has gone 100-percent solar.
Are you noticing a trend here? Each of the farms in this fondo has more going on than cows in a field. In fact, I’m not sure we saw a single cow. These places are the modern iteration of agriculture. There’s heavy emphasis on agritourism, and the products are not just vegetables, but things like cheese, beer or wine — which was the focus of the next stop — Warwick Valley Winery.
Once again a beautiful venue, that included a distillery as well. By this point, all I wanted, however, was water as the temperature was at or near 90 degrees. That’s not terrible in mid-summer, but it was the hottest ride of the year for Mary and me, and we were feeling it.
The final stop for us before the kick to the end was just what we needed. Heaven Hill Farm offered a wide variety of local fair but it was the ice cream that spoke the loudest. Mary and I shared a dish, though I could have easily consumed a whole portion. I’m pretty sure by this time that even though I had burned more than 3,000 calories on the ride, that I would end the day calorie positive.
When finally we rounded the turn for the finish, I was more than ready to get off the bike. If there was any doubt that the day would be calorie positive, it was vanquished when we saw the spread that Wrenegade Sports had provided for the cyclists, not to mention the complimentary beer at Pennings, which is after all a full service produce farm market, orchard, garden center, cidery, brew pub and grill – and ice cream stand.
The finish line was well done. An announcer called my name as I crossed the line, while volunteers presented us with finisher’s “medals” that were actually cookie cutters in the shape of a chicken. A nice touch. A moment later another volunteer offered us cold, wet, hand towels emblazoned with the Farm to Fork logo to drape around our necks and cool us down. Perfect.
We walked our bikes through the finish area, where raffle winners were listed, (We didn’t win. Two of the prizes were new Bianchi bikes — a staple at all the FTF events. Would have been nice.)
We walked our bikes the two tenths of a mile from the start/finish area back to the car, changed clothes and returned for a huge lunch which was served under a tent, with plenty of seating, while a nearby band played rock ‘n’ roll standards.
After lunch, we perused the vendor tents. I purchased a Farm to Fork kit, which I am anxious to wear. The offerings from Silca were gorgeous, if pricey. A pump cost $500. But I had to purchase a $50 saddle bag with a new design that doesn’t attach to the seat post. My current bag ruined several pairs of bike shorts where the velcro at the seat post picked the fabric apart. Can’t wait to try it.
We enjoyed a complimentary beer in the tasting room at Pennings Farm and would have stayed for more if not for the hour drive back to Mary’s parent’s home in Fishkill.
All in all, this was a great day of cycling. The caliber of the Farm to Fork experience takes the organized bike ride up a notch compared to many we have done. Wrenegade sports has created a unique niche with the concept and the execution of the experience, with serious kudos to the rest stops. This was a destination ride for us, having driven about eight hours from Roanoke, Virginia. We are hoping to take on the Finger Lakes ride next year.