Weeks before the event itself, it was clear that the inaugural Bike the Barns ride on Saturday was getting a helluva response. When conceptualizing this Tour de CSA -- an afternoon 60-mile bicycle circuit around western Dane County to support the Partner Shares Program -- organizers originally though maybe 50 or 60 people would be interested. After the Madison Area Community Supported Agriculture Coalition (MACSAC) got involved, they figured it might be a couple hundred. Not even close.
Registration for the Sept. 29 ride closed a dozen days in advance, with some 350 people signing up for the local food tour, and scores more turned away after the rolls were filled. "It was a lot bigger than we originally planned on," says Kevin Walsh, one of the organizers. "There's a huge level of interest in this kind of event."
Both he and Jonathan Hunter, who organized the tour in collaboration with MACSAC, agree that the tour easily exceeded their expectations. "It was much more successful than we expected," says Hunter, a principal in the Underground Food Collective who was responsible for organizing breakfast, lunch, and a snack during the ride. "We got really lucky on the weather, and everyone I talked to had a great time. One of the things that made me happy was that it was an incredibly diverse group of people on the ride, not just bikers or food people, but folks from all walks of life."
Walsh, who was responsible for handling the two-wheeled portion of the organizing and accompanied the tour in a support car, concurs. He similarly notes the spectrum of participants, as well as the outcome of this inaugural ride, which was organized to raise money for a program that delivers financial assistance for fresh, organic CSA produce to low-income families in south central Wisconsin. "I think one of the cool things about it was that there were many people who don't go on rides this long, and a diversity of rider skills and experience," he says. "You got the sense that the riders were happy."
This was the basic sense expressed by a few participants who shared their experiences on the ride via photos and online reports.
- Charissa Christner published a ride report and photo essay that details the tour's geographic and gastronomical progress over the course of Saturday. "Basically, we rode bikes around the area, visiting four different community-supported agriculture farms and eating amazing food at each one," she writes, starting with the ride's start at Troy Community Gardens on the north side of Madison. From there, the tour stopped at Dreamfarm in Cross Plains for some goat cheese and a visit with live goats, before moving on to the Vermont Valley Community Farm south of Mazomanie for lunch, followed by an afternoon stop for lemonade and Gail Ambrosius chocolates at Primrose Community Farm in Middleton.
- A similar report was shared by Nilsa Shepsle, who was visiting from Chicago. She writes:
The idea is simple. Gather 300 cyclists on a beautiful late September day. Ask a few farmers to turn their front yards into bicycle parking lots, turn on their spigots to refill water bottles, allow local food organizations to serve snacks and lunch to riders and open their farms to tours and general meandering. Local farmers get exposure to the community, and cyclists have a great day of biking, eating and learning.She also shot a photo gallery of the tour.
- "It was delicious, but it only got better from there," writes a triathlete in training about the first stop of the ride.
- Not everybody participating in the tour was a rider. Help was necessary at each of the farms along the way. "I volunteered to wash dishes at the Vermont Valley farm, the lunch stop on this year's Bike the Barns bicycle benefit," writes volunteer Dave Okonski, lent a hand as the 300 plus riders arrived at the northwestern Dane County farm. "It's been a long, long time since I've washed that many dishes."
- Finally, photo galleries and videos from each leg of the ride were published by Mark Dohm, a local food activist who sits on the board of directors for the REAP Food Group in Madison.
"People were really ecstatic about the ride," confirms Hunter. "It was really beautiful, and people really enjoyed being able to stop every 15 miles or so."
Along with providing a fun, filling and educational ride for its participants, the primary objective of Bike the Barns was to support MACSAC's Partner Shares Program. Organizers estimate that they raised around $12,000 in pledges in this first year of the tour. They hope to improve significantly upon it in the future.
"We want to expand it. We turned away hundreds of people this year," says Hunter.
One thing they plan to improve upon is the number of portable restrooms at the pit stops, which they found was the biggest issue they had to face, aside from some heavy traffic in and out of Madison. As for some riders' requests for GU and Gatorade, they're not so sure, aiming to keep their focus on locally grown foodstuffs.
"There are a dozen or so farms now in MACSAC, so it would be nice to spread the attention around," says Walsh about options for next year, which could feature a different route, or event multiple rides of that differ in length and difficulty. "I'm sure we could make it as big as we wanted to within the needs of safety and logistics," he says.
"This is definitely going to be an annual thing, and we're going to start the process of planning by the beginning of next year," says Hunter. "I'm really looking forward to doing it again."