For centuries, the Sacramento Delta region has been an important agriculture center, thanks to its year-round, Mediterranean growing climate.
So, it’s not really surprising that Mayor Kevin Johnson declared in 2012 that the region was America’s Farm-to-Fork Capital. It’s a natural.
“Sacramento sits among 1.5 million acres of farms and ranches that grow more than 120 crops for markets here and abroad,” explains the Farm-to-Fork website, managed by the Sacramento Convention & Visitors Bureau. “The region is also home to more than 40 regional farmers markets—including the largest California Certified Farmers’ Market in the state.”
To learn more, I recently attended the International Food Bloggers Conference in Sacramento. For several days, food bloggers from across the United States and Canada learned about the regional food initiative, and saw and tasted local food. There were several opportunities to speak with farmers, ranchers and food providers. A highlight was a delicious farm-to-fork dinner under the trees on the event’s last night.
Reconnecting Farmers to Public
Sacramento’s Farm-to-Fork Program provides a year-round platform to spotlight farms, restaurants, organizations and others contributing to the local culinary and agricultural industries, according to Nicole Rogers, director of the Farm-to-Fork program.
“This region is centrally located among a wide variety of farms and ranches, which puts us in a unique position to celebrate locally grown ingredients and seasonal menus,” explains Rogers. “The Farm-to-Fork program also elevates the importance of agriculture and ranching to the local community.”
That’s important, explains Mary Kimball, executive director of Center for Land-Based Learning.
“Up until about 5 years ago, agriculture – although very important to the regional economy – was not a source of pride,” says Kimball. “This was sad to me, because I grew up on a farm in Yolo County. Fortunately, the Sacramento Farm-to-Fork program has changed our conversation about food.”
Chefs are now working more closely with local food providers. Residents are finding new foods at farmers’ markets, and more local ingredients are sold at restaurants and grocery stores. But that’s not all.
“We’re also growing future farmers, who were not on the agenda five years ago,” she adds. “That matters, because the average age of our farmers is 58 years old and less than 2 percent of the public is involved in agriculture.”
Editor’s Note: Learn more about Kimball’s work in this UC Food Observer interview. The Center for Land-Based Learning runs the California Farm Academy, which is the only beginning farmer training and incubator program of its kind in Northern California.
Over the weekend, I saw food bloggers engaged by the city’s focus on local, fresh ingredients. They appreciated the chance to interact directly with food producers, and ask questions. They could taste the difference of fresh ingredients grown just miles down the road.
Perhaps the biggest compliment for Sacramento’s recent progress came on the last night, however. That’s when the organizers Foodista.com and Zephyr Adventures announced they planned to host the next International Food Bloggers Conference one more year in America’s Farm-to-Fork Capital. Typically, they move on to another city.
But there were too many food stories left to tell.
Activities throughout September
Now in its fourth year, an entire month of Farm-to-Fork activities is planned in September 2016:
Farm-Fresh Food Drive (Sept. 7) – Kicking off the 2016 celebration is another fresh produce food drive with Sacramento Food Bank & Family Services. Last year, organizers worked with area farms, grocery chains and community members to donate enough fruits and vegetables to generate 142,000 meals that fed 16,000 people for three days.
Farm-to-Fork Restaurant Weeks (Sept. 8-Sept. 25) – Across the region, eateries will again offer seasonal Farm-to-Fork menus. The event, produced by California Restaurant Association, is donating a portion of the proceeds to Food Literacy Center.
Farm-to-Fork Legends of Wine (Sept. 16) – The region’s premier wine tasting evening returns to the State Capitol, with national wine experts Darrell Corti and David Berkley. Tickets at www.farmtofork.com/events/legends-of-wine.
Farm Tank (Sept. 22-23) – The non-profit Food Tank launches a West Coast version of its popular East Coast conference series – “Farm Tank.” The new event features more than 70 food and agriculture experts, speakers’ panels and hands-on excursions to regional farms, distribution centers, restaurants and other sites. Tickets at Eventbrite.
Farm-to-Fork Festival (Sept. 24) – Last year, more than 50,000 people attended this popular street festival. This year, the event was expanded by two more city blocks. Expect to find more than a mile of booths from area farms, ranches, restaurants and more, along with beer and wine gardens, larger chef demo stages and more. The event remains admission free, with proceeds from Tower Bridge ticket sales funding the Festival.
Farm-to-Fork Gala (Sept. 25) – Concluding the month-long celebration is a gala on Sacramento’s iconic Tower Bridge. Close to 800 diners will enjoy a meal created by the region’s top farmers and chefs. Details can be found at farmtofork.com.
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Look for more food stories from the International Food Bloggers Conference in upcoming issues of UC Food Observer.
Meet Chris Massa – a recent UC 30 Under 30 winner. He was inspired by historic wartime gardens to establish a school farm in Ventura, which he hopes becomes a national model.