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Cattle drive to kick off Sacramento’s Farm-to-Fork Week

Published: Tuesday, Sep. 17, 2013 - 12:00 am
Last Modified: Tuesday, Sep. 24, 2013 - 12:40 pm

An epithet once used to dismiss the city as sleepy and unsophisticated is about to help kick off Sacramento’s upcoming Farm-to-Fork Week celebration.

Say it loud and proud: Sacramento is definitely a cowtown.

On Monday, roughly 50 longhorn steers are scheduled to run (or perhaps saunter) across the Tower Bridge toward the Capitol, an event designed to show that the once-pejorative nickname has since been appropriated to illustrate the region’s deep agricultural roots and current culinary dedication to local and sustainable eating.

“A lot of people, when you say ‘farm to fork,’ they automatically think of produce, and we want to make sure that the proteins aren’t lost in that conversation because the Farm-to-Fork movement is also about cattle and land,” said Mike Testa, senior vice president of sales and business for the Sacramento Convention & Visitors Bureau. “We thought a great way to illustrate that was to have a cattle drive in downtown Sacramento.”

The cattle drive is just one of dozens events set for “Farm-to-Fork Week,” which runs Saturday through Sept. 29. The weeklong celebration includes a Sept. 28 family-friendly festival at Capitol Mall as well as events at local farms, restaurants wineries and breweries.

Around 10 a.m. Monday, cattle drivers will unload trailers filled with longhorn steers at a parking lot near the Tower Bridge entrance in West Sacramento. Cowboys and cowgirls on horseback will then lead the cattle across the bridge and down Capitol Mall. The parade will culminate at Ninth Street, where the cattle will be loaded back into the trailers.

Spectators are invited to the event. People can also bring their own horses and participate in the cattle drive, organizers said.

When developing the idea to stage the city’s first downtown cattle drive — part of a larger campaign to promote the region’s growing identity as the Farm-to-Fork Capital of America — Sacramento Convention & Visitors Bureau officials reached out to Cotton Rosser, a cattle boss who owns a ranch and rodeo production company in Marysville, Testa said.

Rosser, who Testa joked “has the exact name that you think a guy doing a cattle drive would have,” leads around 10 cattle drives a year throughout the state. He’s the man normally in charge of the annual cattle drive that opens July’s Folsom Pro Rodeo, which was canceled this summer due to the heat.

Rosser said crowds come out to his cattle drives because of the novelty. After all, it isn’t everyday that one sees cattle against a familiar city landscape.

“People want to see cattle run loose down the street,” Rosser said. “They’ve never seen that. They’ve never heard that. It’s very, very rare.”

Rosser then corrected himself, adding that the cattle aren’t actually running loose — it’s a much more choreographed event. Organizers and volunteers plan to carefully guide the longhorn steers each step of the way.

“I’m focused on keeping the cattle together, not losing them,” Rosser said.

Rosser added that the drive is safe for all spectators: The cattle have participated in so many similar events that there is little chance that they will become startled by people, cars or other elements in the urban environment.

“Now, you wouldn’t just want to take wild cattle to a cattle drive,” Rosser said.

Rosser has been leading cattle drives for the past 30 years and rodeo productions for nearly 60 years. He said the idea to lead cattle drives came when he first started to notice the crowds that would convene at railroad yards when circus and rodeo production companies would arrive to town by train.

He cited Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus as an example, as well a memory of a rodeo production company arriving at a Bay Area railroad yard around 60 years ago. Spectators watched as handlers led elephants, caged animals and livestock up a hill to the Cow Palace in Daly City.

“That’s kind of how we got it started,” Rosser said.

According to Rosser, his production company, Flying U Rodeos, usually conducts the cattle drives at county fairs or rodeos. The company charges around $7,500 to $10,000 depending on the location of the event, Rosser said.

Rosser said he hopes that local cowboys and cowgirls will join Monday’s fun.

“The more, the merrier,” he said.

Call The Bee’s Kurt Chirbas, (916) 321-1030.

Read more articles by Kurt Chirbas

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