It’s amazing what we have in our city. Right here, in the City of Burnaby are commercial market gardens selling what they grow from their farms out back. Not green houses with temperature and water controlled beds at waist level, but farms with dirt rows and people bent over, picking. Like going to Richmond or Pitt Meadows, only closer.
My favourite is Hop On Farms. The Chan’s and Hong’s have owned Hop On for 45 or so years. It’s on the old Marine Drive, one of the few remaining commercial market gardens on the Burnaby flats, an area known as Big Bend. The City of Burnaby has approximately 620 acres of land in the Agricultural Land Reserve, some 160 of them are in agricultural production. Little by little, or maybe a lot by a lot, light industrial development and big box stores have moved in. We’re crazy to build on rich farm delta then import produce from California. Truly crazy.
At the start of the season Hop On has those tiny spring onions, the ones with a scent of an onion flavour, delicate and gentle. I believe they’re the ones that have been thinned because not very long after the bunches are slightly bigger and with a more robust flavour. At this same time you can buy young carrots, the ones you rub clean but never peel. This growing period reminds me of my father’s garden where my sisters and I thinned rows of onions and carrots. That garden is a story all by itself.
Hop On and their farming neighbours also supply those same vegetables to some local produce stores – lettuces that actually go bad, bright red radishes, herbs, bok choy, gai lan, watercress, beets with firm tops, new potatoes and so on. When I serve this food, people want to know who grew it, not where I bought it. Think about that.
Hop On got a Facebook page a couple of years ago. Nothing fancy with links to the latest produce eating craze, just notifications of what’s fresh from their fields and other BC produce they carry. It’s one of the few places I know in town (that isn’t a farmer’s market) where I can get three or four different varieties of Okanagan melons. You have to be quick on this because BC melons are a small crop with a short season. Hop On also sells canning quantities and quality of peaches, apricots, cukes, beets, etc.
When I’m in the check out line I feel lucky if the person in front of me is a women over 70. That’s who to talk to about to cooking and canning. They were homemakers, one of those dying or dead jobs. They have deep skills, a lifetime of kitchen experience, which they regard as essential as language.
Last week I saw one of those women there and I knew that I knew her from somewhere. A bosomy woman, about 70 or 75, wearing a skirt (which I’m sure she always does) and a bouclé knit short sleeved top. She was focused on her shopping. I could tell she was thinking about cooking. Then I remembered, she was (and probably still is) a regular at the Gourmet Warehouse, somebody I served when I worked there. I remember her as being an interested and curious cook, a woman who truly knew food. I already knew Hop On was good, but now I have no doubt.
Hop On Farms: 5624 Marine Dr. (east of Mandeville Gardens & close to Byrne Rd.) Burnaby. 604-433-9850. Open March to October (phone first)
When I first started the Food Words blog in 2010, Hop On was one of my first posts. They got a new sign a couple of years ago so I thought it was time to update my post. It is then and it is now my most searched for story.