For me, the best thing about Cycle to Farm this year was the clean up after the Fabulous After Party.
When I shared this with a few close friends, they expressed surprise. At least one may have questioned my sanity, or seriousness. Apparently I have a reputation for teasing, and I can understand if my comment wasn’t taken seriously. But I was serious.
Now don’t get me wrong: I’m grateful that we were blessed with a day of good weather, fine riding, and most importantly, no injuries. I, and the other first responders, marshals and bike ambassadors mostly had a boring day filled with no drama and little to do. So that was another great thing about this year’s event.
But as we put this 8th Cycle to Farm to bed, it was the clean up that got to me. And then I was a bit teary-eyed.
You see, I’ve been here since the beginning. When Jen uttered the phrase I hear so often — “I think I’ve got a good idea. This may be one of my best yet…” (this happens once or twice a week, and yes they almost always are good ideas).
Six years ago, we were on top of some long climb, in McDowell County I recall, where Jen had been patiently waiting for me to catch up with her (I can only pass her on descents). She described Cycle to Farm using almost exactly the description that is still used today, by participants, by sponsors, by Farmers, and by journalists:
“It will be a metric century, but instead of rest stops, we’ll stop at farms. We can call them Farm Stops. Just back there, that farm property we just passed, I realize that I’ve seen them at our tailgate market.”
“So we’ll bring customers to them, they can buy stuff, and then we’ll use vehicles to get their purchases back to the Finish by the time they’re done. And the riders, they’ll love finding out that they’ve been riding right past their tailgate market farmers all along. They’ll learn where they are. And it’s such a beautiful area. The route will show them that.”
“And we’ll be connecting people in our community to each other. We can have a big party, and have really good food, better than the usual group ride. In fact, we can have a farm to table meal at the Finish. With local musicians, wouldn’t that be cool? It will be good for the town, it will bring riders here and introduce them to how fabulous it is. We’ll get sponsors because they’ll sell more to riders.”
“We should keep it small, so it always feel like a community, and we don’t overwhelm the farmers.”
I swear. This idea burst from Jen’s creative mind fully formed, and although we didn’t know it at the time, it was unique. At first, we couldn’t believe it hadn’t been done before. Within a year and a half, the first Cycle to Farm was held, almost exactly as she envisioned it.
The next year we did two, one in the summer and the other in the fall. The third year we ventured to Greenville and Chapel Hill, and did a total of four. And so as we did this year’s sole Cycle to Farm event, #8, I expected it to be just like the others. And for the most part, it was.
Volunteers and sponsors and cops and firefighters have returned in the same role, so many times. Which means that it runs much more smoothly than that first time. Farmers keep upping their game, with better samples, more products for sale, and creative farmstops that soothe and support the riders. Blueberry smoothies? Fresh spring water? Goat cheese? On a bike ride… My.
But one thing was different, and it hit me in the chest during clean up. In the heart, really.
As you can see by the gallery of photos here, there are all kinds of people here working together to gather up the equipment, organize it, and load it into the trailer.
A few have lived here all their lives, some arrived a couple of months ago. Some retired, some just starting their first job. Now working together, after just eating together (and maybe a few sips of beer together). Pitching in.
And here’s the rub: many of these people didn’t know each other when Cycle to Farm started, eight events ago. And now they do. Now they work together.
Sure, there are a number of folks in this community who knew each other before Cycle to Farm – in fact, word of mouth is the predominant way that people learn about the event. So one friend invites another to help volunteer. Or sponsor, or ride. But for the most part, each participant didn’t know most of the others.
After eight events, the roughly 100 individuals who show up as volunteers, first responders and sponsors… have become a community.
Business partnerships have come from within this community. Open jobs matched with potential candidates. Recent arrivals to the area have been welcomed and included. Two Cycle to Farm families have purchased homes in this area. Friendships have blossomed, and sponsors both new and established have pitched in. Farmers know more about those people in spandex, and what they like to buy and eat. Cops and firefighters and paramedics have gotten to know cyclists by first name. And cyclists have met and worked alongside the first responders in their community. It is definitely not Us and Them. It is We.
Jen grew up on a farm, and has always held the farmer in high regard. She loves cycling, and cyclists of all kinds. She loves her town and region. She cares about first responders, and wants her vendors to succeed and thrive. I’ve heard her say that she wants them all to see each other as people, not labels.
An outsider might have seen people folding chairs and picking up trash. I saw all of these different individuals working together, cohesively, on a shared task: community.
We are so blessed. Thank you.
About this blog entry: David Billstrom is the Safety Director of Cycle to Farm®. He is also married to Jen Billstrom, the creator of this unique metric century (62 mile) group ride that uses local farms as rest stops. Farmers offer their product for sale, and Cycle to Farm volunteers transport purchases by the cyclists back to the Finish, where the community joins in a farm to table meal at the Fabulous After Party. The event promotes local farms and benefits the development of Greenways. This year the event was on Saturday, July 18 in Black Mountain. For more information, see CycleToFarm.org.