Sacramento’s second Farm-to-Fork celebration, capped by a gala dinner Sunday night on the Tower Bridge, outdid last year’s installment in nearly every way.
Even rain – agriculture’s best friend and a welcome visitor to the region over the weekend – seemed to know it should make way for Farm-to-Fork 2.0. Midday sprinkles became brilliant late-afternoon sunshine that bounced off the yellow-gold bridge holding a well-dressed crowd who nibbled on sturgeon-poke appetizers and drank local wine.
The celebration of locally sourced food, which started with a tractor parade and included restaurant showcases and educational events, lasted two weeks this year, double its length in its inaugural year. Sunday night, food from 40 local chefs, headed by Brian Mizner of Hook & Ladder and Jason Poole of Dawson’s at the Hyatt Regency, fed 700-plus people – well more than the 600 who came last year to the bridge, a symbol of the shared agricultural histories of Yolo and Sacramento counties.
Tickets sold out even more quickly this year than they did in 2013 – within five minutes of going on sale. The Sept. 18 Legends of Wine event, which had not sold out last year, did this year. And attendance at Saturday’s free Farm-to-Fork Festival on Capitol Mall rose from an estimated 25,000 last year to 30,000-35,000 this year, said Mike Testa of the Sacramento Convention & Visitors Bureau, a primary organizer of the celebration.
“I think yesterday was a product of the year we have had – how attention to Farm-to-Fork has increased,” Testa said Sunday about Saturday’s event. “You are seeing this region” embrace the concept, he said.
Another example: When table sponsorships for the bridge dinner were raised from $3,500 to $5,000 this year (proceeds from the bridge dinner fund the Capitol Mall festival and other events during the Farm-to-Fork celebration), nobody balked.
“It was one of the questions we had internally: ‘If we raise it to $5,000, are people going to pay it?’ And they paid it like that,” Testa said with a snap of his fingers.
Mayor Kevin Johnson proclaimed Sacramento “America’s Farm-to-Fork Capital” in October 2012, ushering in the civic campaign. On Sunday, Johnson declared the bridge dinner “the hottest ticket in town.”
“This ticket was nearly impossible to get, so the awareness of Farm-to-Fork overall has been great, and certainly this bridge dinner has been something Sacramentans really, really look forward to,” Johnson said, in between posing for joint selfies with well-wishers on the bridge.
Johnson brought with him to the event a contingent of fellow mayors from around the country. The officials were in town for a leadership meeting of the U.S. Conference of Mayors, for which Johnson serves as president.
The movement received a statewide push last week when Gov. Jerry Brown signed a bill creating a state farm-to-fork office.
“The whole country is becoming more aware of it,” Rep. Doris Matsui, D-Sacramento, who grew up on a farm, said Sunday on the bridge. “What I really like about what’s happening today is I think there is a confluence of events. People today are looking at not only the agriculture industry but what the environment is like, what kind of energy we use, and where the rivers come from, and why this is a fertile area. All of that (signals) a healthy respect now for who we are and where we are.”
The $175-per-person bridge dinner inspired an offshoot feast on Sunday – “Dinner at the Overlook” in the downtown railyard area. Put on by the Food Literacy Center educational nonprofit, for which it served as a fundraiser, the event started with a reception on the Sixth Street Bridge before moving to a building known as the Paint Shop.
Chefs including Aimal Formoli of Formoli’s Bistro collaborated on the meal for 120 diners. Individual seats sold for $140, but most tickets were bought through sponsorships ranging from $2,500 to $7,500.
“The idea occurred because we knew here were so many people looking for something to do that same night,” said Amber Stott, executive director of the Food Literacy Center. The center has a close relationship with the city’s Farm-to-Fork campaign, she said, and wanted to stage an event in the spirit of the bridge dinner.
“That is the beauty of Farm-to-Fork,” Stott said. “It has really elevated the stature of this cuisine, and people are willing to support it when supporting a good cause, which is a giant benefit for nonprofits like us.”
West Sacramento’s Broderick Roadhouse on Sunday revived its “Off the Bridge” dinner started last year. Designed as a less expensive alternative to the Tower Bridge dinner, the multicourse Broderick event cost $40 a head and featured wine-braised beef shanks as main course.
Broderick co-owner Chris Jarosz also was on the Tower Bridge, where he and Ten22 chef Jay Veregge were working on the event’s main course, lamb shanks braised in Track 7 Hoppy Palm pale ale.
There’s room for events on and off the bridge, said Jarosz, also co-owner of midtown’s Capital Dime and Trick Pony restaurants.
Like the city of Sacramento, Jarosz sees endless possibilities in the local Farm-to-Fork movement.
“We are going to do it smaller and do it more frequently,” Jarosz said of special farm-to-fork dinners. “Hopefully, it is going to be an almost monthly thing popping up in one of the restaurants.”