Sacramento turned out in strength for Saturday’s free taste of farm-to-fork fun.
An estimated 50,000 patrons – 15,000 more than last year – strolled Capitol Mall during the third annual Farm-to-Fork Festival, the largest event during the city’s three-week food-centric celebration.
“When we opened the gates at 11 a.m., it looked like midday last year,” said Steve Hammond, CEO of the Sacramento Convention and Visitors Bureau, which coordinates the event. “It was so crowded. I thought people were just trying to beat the afternoon heat, but the crowd was just as strong all afternoon.”
Armed with sunscreen and comfortable shoes, festivalgoers browsed hundreds of displays, tasting locally grown products and collecting samples. In addition to a fleet of food trucks, they found dozens of booths featuring familiar restaurants offering special festival menu items.
At stages set up in the grassy median, chefs demonstrated recipes and talked about healthy eating. Patrons stopped to sample locally brewed beer made from locally grown hops.
“It’s a beautiful experience,” said Dean Peckham, a partner in United Hops, a Yuba City hop farm that supplies several local brewers. “The turnout for this event keeps growing exponentially. It’s really energizing. A lot of people are interested in the farm-to-fork or, as we put it, farm-to-glass movement.”
At UC Davis’ booth, Kelly Kong and Nancy Zheng made olive-branch wreaths decorated with chive, oregano and yarrow blossoms for visitors to wear.
“All of this was grown at our student farm,” Kong said. “This is a really great event. I’m surprised by how many people are here.”
Added Zheng: “A lot of people don’t think about where their food comes from. This is a simple way to show that connection.”
That connection is key, said Jim Morris of the California Rice Commission, which brought out a huge combine along with rice-related giveaways such as bamboo serving paddles. “Of the rice California produces, 97 percent is grown in the Sacramento Valley, yet locally, most people don’t know that.”
Part of the fest’s appeal was meeting farmers face to face and learning about their crops.
“People want to eat healthy and support local farms,” said Citrus Heights’ Bal Bains, who was attending the fest for the first time with her husband, Randy. “It’s great to meet the farmers and see their fresh produce.”
“We love all the vegetables and fruit,” Randy Bains said. “We wanted to see what this was all about, and it’s pretty nice.”
A first-time fest vendor, Jordan Henry of Roseville’s Fresh Way Fish, was busy selling steelhead trout fillets at his farmers market booth.
“I just love the variety of vendors – everybody is here!” Henry said. “It makes it a pretty awesome event.”
Sacramento’s branding as “America’s Farm-to-Fork Capital” is taking hold, said attendees and participants.
“We’re very much into the farm-to-fork experience,” said Sacramento resident Tony Panariello, another festival first-timer, who attended with wife Cheryl. “When you think about it, we’re in the middle of all this agriculture. It makes sense.”
Sunday evening’s $175-a-plate bridge dinner gala wraps up Sacramento’s farm-to-fork festivities, which started with the inaugural California Craft Beer Summit on Sept. 11. Other events included Restaurant Weeks, with local eateries serving special locally sourced menus, and Legends of Wine, with area winemakers toasted on the steps of the Capitol.
Meanwhile, F2F Fest has quintupled in size in three years. The first fest in 2013 drew about 10,000 people.
“We’re very encouraged by the attendance,” Hammond said. “Several vendors have already asked me about getting additional space next year. No question, we’ll have to expand further up the mall, not only to accommodate the vendors, but all the people. We couldn’t have dreamed by year three that we would have this sort of support. ... The community has embraced (farm-to-fork) because it’s genuine.”