Randall Benton / rbenton@sacbee.com

Mayor Kevin Johnson, center, joined by restaurateurs and farmers, proclaimed Sacramento as the "Farm to Fork Capital of America" at a ceremony last month. The Sacramento Valley has been a breadbasket since its settlement.

Editorial: 'Farm-to-Fork' needs meat on bone

Published: Sunday, Nov. 25, 2012 - 12:00 am | Page 6E

Mayor Kevin Johnson last month proclaimed Sacramento "America's Farm-to-Fork Capital" during the weekly farmers market at Cesar Chavez Plaza, a fitting place named after a champion for farmworkers.

The designation is a natural, the culmination of the Sacramento Valley's role in agriculture since John Sutter planted 2,000 fruit trees in 1847. A Sacramento Valley Land Development Association pamphlet in 1911 touted the Valley as "one of the great valleys of the world, with a vast and fertile soil area." It concluded that agriculture in the Sacramento Valley was "much more diversified than is found anywhere else on the face of the earth."

The mayor agrees. No other major U.S. city, he observed, is surrounded by such a diverse range of high-quality farms, ranches and vineyards. This is not something that has to be invented, but merely tapped in a more organized way. It is, Johnson said, "part of who we are and this is our opportunity to embrace that identity, celebrate it locally and champion it to the rest of the world."

In 2006, The Bee's editorial board lamented that "there hasn't been much of a regional effort to showcase this area's amazing variety of agricultural products and put us on the same map as Napa, Sonoma and other food-famous regions."

The new marketing slogan and an annual culinary festival starting in fall 2013 will provide a beginning, but it should be so much more.

This effort shouldn't focus merely on marketing local food served at restaurants, but also should connect government, school, hospital and home kitchens with the farmers, fishermen and ranchers who produce local bounty.

It should involve promoting healthy food and ecologically sustainable farming practices.

Some of this already is happening and can be expanded – and highlighted publicly. Davis, for example, has been a pioneer in the farm-to-school movement. Sacramento City Unified, too. Schools are serving fresh produce from local farmers. They're teaching students about food through school gardens, kitchen classrooms and student-run cafeterias.

The region has more than 50 farmers markets, including the largest certified market in California.

Above all, why not establish a permanent pavilion dedicated to local agriculture – perhaps in the downtown railyard or on K Street?

That could include a tourist destination for sampling local food and drink – fresh food to take home to cook, prepared foods from cafes to eat on the spot, as well as local beers, wines and juices.

Such a pavilion could be a place to promote agri-tourism, offering maps to farms, ranches and vineyards to visit in the region, including field tours and field demonstrations at the UC Davis Russell Ranch.

It could include an art poster of the map presented by Randall Selland – owner of The Kitchen, Ella and Selland's Market – showing farms and ranches producing agricultural bounty within a 50-mile radius of Sacramento.

It might also include a poster showing where Sacramento Valley- grown food goes around the nation and the world, as suggested by Patrick Mulvaney, of Mulvaney's Building & Loan Restaurant.

A pavilion also could be a clearinghouse for educational opportunities in the region – whether a course in winemaking, the California Farm Academy producing the next generation of farmers at the Center for Land-Based Learning in Winters, community college courses or UC Davis agriculture programs.

It could be a place to celebrate the UC Davis role in agriculture research and innovation.

The editorial board's November 2006 editorial concluded, "It's about time the Big Tomato showed some pride in its heritage."

Mayor Johnson has made a promising start with the "America's Farm-to-Fork Capital" designation. But it's got to be more than a slogan, a marketing brand and an annual festival. A true "farm-to-fork" effort has to connect the dots to show the world what is unique about the Sacramento Valley's food bounty.

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