Forklifts whirred around a Sacramento Food Bank center Wednesday carrying boxes of acorn squash, heirloom tomatoes, melons, and other fresh fruits and vegetables that, when taken all together, made for a record-setting windfall of donations.
For a third straight year, the food bank hosted a fresh produce drive to kick off the city’s farm-to-fork month. In 2015, it received nearly 171,000 pounds of produce in a 24-hour period, setting a then-Guinness World Record. Last year, donors shattered that number by giving 493,977 pounds of produce.
This year, organizers were aiming for the 500,000-pound mark. And they just tipped the scales, collecting 503,071 pounds of fresh produce at their center on Bell Avenue near McClellan Park, said Sacramento Food Bank & Family Services spokeswoman Kelly Siefkin.
The food will be distributed over the next week through Sacramento Food Bank outreach programs, partner agencies and food banks in neighboring counties.
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“I love that they came up with this idea that individuals who benefit from this beautiful produce include families in need in our community,” Siefkin said.
Visit Sacramento, which puts on the farm-to-fork celebration, ran the produce drive for its first two years before turning operations over this year to the food bank (which does not plan to submit the results for Guinness consideration). The visitors’ bureau had staged a cattle drive along Capitol Mall and a tractor parade in prior years to open farm-to-fork month before settling on a food collection.
“We saw what (the fresh food drive) did in the community,” said Mike Testa, Visit Sacramento’s president and CEO. “The amount of people it feeds for the amount of days, and for three meals a day, was incredible.”
Like the free Farm-to-Fork Festival, scheduled this year for Sept. 23 on Capitol Mall, the produce drive helps get the program’s message to a broad audience, Testa said.
“We want to make sure everybody understands that if you live in the Sacramento region you have the ability to be farm-to-fork, just based on what’s growing all around us,” he said. “I think it’s kind of a misconception that farm-to-fork is (only) about white linen tablecloths. It’s not. If you have a restaurant in this region, if you buy food in this region from grocery stores, you are in many cases buying direct from local farmers.”
Most of the produce donated Wednesday came directly from regional farms, Siefkin said, with nearly two dozen farms and food distributors contributing. After arriving in trucks, boxes of fruits and vegetables were weighed on floor scales and stored in the food bank’s warehouse or in one of its six industrial-size refrigerators.
Siefkin said a goal of the food bank is for 50 percent of the food it distributes to be fresh produce. Currently, that number is between 30 and 40 percent, she said. But when available, fresh fruits and vegetables don’t get pushed aside.
“Oh my gosh, people love it,” Siefkin said. “I think a lot of people, if they had resources, would perhaps choose that for their family. They know there are good choices they could be making.”
Other farm-to-fork events this month include:
▪ Restaurant Week: Beginning Friday, area restaurants will highlight regional, seasonal ingredients with special menus, events and opportunities to meet local farmers, brewers and winemakers.
▪ Legends of Wine: The Sept. 14 event, held in front of the Capitol, allows attendees to taste wines from the Sacramento region selected by Darrell Corti and David Berkley. Tickets cost $65.
▪ Farm-to-Fork Festival: The free festival on Capitol Mall offers food samplings from regional eateries and purveyors, cooking demonstrations, live music, and booths from local grocers and farms. It runs 11 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. on Sept. 23.
▪ Tower Bridge Dinner: The program’s marquee event, the Sept. 24 dinner brings hundreds of diners together for a locally sourced meal on the bridge. Ticket proceeds help fund the Farm-to-Fork Festival and other events.