Finally, ‘Farm to Fork Week’ arrives in the capital

Published: Saturday, Sep. 21, 2013 - 12:00 am
Last Modified: Tuesday, Sep. 24, 2013 - 12:40 pm

Sacramento’s inaugural “Farm-to-Fork Week” is officially underway and promises a cornucopia of activities designed to celebrate the region’s agricultural abundance while championing local and sustainable eating practices.

Marquee events includes Monday’s downtown cattle drive, Sept. 28’s family-friendly festival at Capitol Mall and Sept. 29’s sold-out dinner on the Tower Bridge. Interspersed are dozens of special restaurant dinners, beer-and-wine happenings, farm tours, cooking demonstrations and educational symposiums.

The weeklong shindig arrives nearly a year after Mayor Kevin Johnson proclaimed Sacramento to be “America’s Farm-to-Fork Capital” at a press conference where he was flanked by more than three dozen regional chefs and restaurateurs. According to the Mayor’s Office, the Sacramento region contains between 7,000 and 8,000 acres of “boutique farms” and is home to more than 50 farmers markets.

Local chefs, purveyors and others have since rallied behind the farm-to-fork banner and made the term ubiquitous around Sacramento. But for those still wondering what the hubbub is all about, a quick primer:

What exactly is farm to fork?

Depends on whom you ask. For some, it’s a way of sourcing food that has social, economic and health benefits. For others (including the mayor and Sacramento Convention & Visitors Bureau officials), it’s also a marketing campaign meant to give Sacramento a national identity beyond the state capital and the Kings.

But in both instances, the term “farm to fork” speaks to the relationship between food producers and consumers. Much of the idea focuses on local farm products making their way into local kitchens and restaurants – a concept that’s gaining popularity, as people become more interested in where their food comes from and how its been farmed, raised, processed and prepared.

Josh Nelson, chief financial officer of the Selland Group (with runs The Kitchen, Ella and Selland’s Market Cafe), is credited with coming up with the “farm-to-fork capital” concept for Sacramento. While “farm-to-table” is the more common term, “farm-to-fork” has quickly been adopted as the local slogan.

Hasn’t the farm-to-fork concept been around since, well, forever?

As early Mesopotamians would likely tell you, eating farm fresh isn’t exactly a new idea.

More recently, however, the rise of “California cuisine” and an emphasis on eating locally grown ingredients surfaced in the 1970s, spearheaded by chef Alice Waters and her Berkeley restaurant Chez Panisse. This emphasis on locavorism developed in Sacramento through the ’90s with such chefs as Randall Selland, Patrick Mulvaney and Rick Mahan, who championed local farmers and sometimes name- checked them on menus.

The Paragary Restaurant Group also operated its own midtown garden from 2000 to 2005 for servicing its eateries, while the opening of downtown’s Grange Restaurant & Bar in 2008 trumpeted local “farm-to-table” ingredients with a near fervor.

The region overall has had plenty to trumpet for quite some time. The Sacramento area’s agribusiness industry has been going strong for more than a century, and is known internationally for its crops of citrus, pears, grapes, cherries, rice, almonds and other produce. Currently, about 98 percent of the region’s produce is shipped outside of the area and not consumed locally.

And while the notion of eating farm-to-fork is hardly new, building a civic branding campaign based on it is certainly a recent development for the region.

OK, so what is Sacramento’s “Farm-to-Fork Week” all about?

This festival, which runs today through Sept. 29, is a celebration of the farm-to-fork ethos, as well as a promotion of the city itself, highlighting what’s grown here and the city’s burgeoning food, wine and beer scene. The week also contains educational components to teach people about sourcing, cooking and enjoying food grown and raised here.

While the Tower Bridge dinner has gotten much attention, many “Farm-to-Fork Week” events are free. The most unusual – and probably the most entertaining for young and old alike to watch – is the cattle drive 10 a.m. Monday from West Sacramento across the Tower Bridge and down Capitol Mall.

Who pays for and benefits from “Farm-to-Fork Week”?

A number of sponsors have been tapped to help foot the bill for “Farm-to-Fork Week,” and they include both businesses from corporate America and local organizations.

Merrill Lynch, the food distribution giant Sysco, Chipotle and Bank of America are all contributors. McDonald’s also purchased a sponsorship table at the Tower Bridge dinner, which, at $175 per ticket, will help fund public “Farm-to-Fork Week” events.

Among the week’s local sponsors: Nugget Markets, UC Davis, Produce Express and Capital Public Radio.

The primary benefactors are local restaurants participating in “Farm-to-Fork Restaurant Week,” and can expect a business uptick from meal specials that showcase area ingredients. Local boutique farmers also stand to benefit from the increased exposure.

The convention bureau, which is funded by tax dollars and is principal organizer, hopes the city will ultimately benefit from increased food tourism.

Who are the major players in Sacramento’s farm-to-fork movement?

The movement represents a consortium of restaurateurs and chefs, civic officials, farmers and other interested parties.

Nelson found a supporter in council member Darrell Fong, whose staff and others helped Nelson develop a proclamation of Sacramento as “America’s Farm-to-Fork Capital.” That was delivered in October by Johnson, who also declared 2013 as Sacramento’s “Year of Food” during March’s State of the City speech.

Mulvaney also joined as a key figure in the movement by helping develop the campaign with Sacramento Convention & Visitor’s Bureau officials and organizing the Tower Bridge Dinner, where 30 Sacramento-area chefs will cook for 600 attendees.

Chefs such as Oliver Ridgeway of Grange, Aimal Formoli of Formoli’s Bistro have also hosted dinners on local farms to further various locavore causes. Michael Passmore of Passmore Ranch and Shawn Harrison of Soil Born Farms have also emerged as key supporters and rallying forces of the movement.

But perhaps the biggest players are the consumers themselves – people who value locally sourced food, shop for it in stores and at farmers markets and order it off menus.

Can Sacramento back up its claim as “the farm-to-fork capital of America”?

Pose that question to Mike Testa, senior vice president of the Sacramento Convention & Visitors Bureau, and he’ll say absolutely.

Sacramento’s farm-to-fork campaign notes that no major city is more centrally located to take advantage of the bounty from nearby farms, but that’s not exactly a claim brimming with precision. To be sure, though, this is not a livestock capital. Much of the Sacramento region’s bounty is produce, and chefs will tell you the quality and variety of the produce is world class.

Still, similar things can be said of other California cities. What Sacramento is trying to do with this moniker is stake a claim. Whether people from the region and beyond buy into the idea – and whether this campaign will become a lasting and commercially viable initiative for the city – remains to be seen.

For a complete list of “Farm-to-Fork Week” events go to www.farmtoforkcapital.com.

Editor's note: This story was changed Sept. 21 to correct the date of the family-friendly festival at Capitol Mall.


Call The Bee’s Chris Macias, (916) 321-1253. Follow him on Twitter @chris_macias



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