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Is Sacramento really ‘Almond Capital of the World’? ‘Jeopardy!’ clue raises question

Get a spectacular soaring view above Sacramento Valley’s blooming almond orchards

John Hannon shot this spectacular aerial view of blooming almond orchards in the Sacramento Valley. It's from the Arbuckle area in Colusa County. Did you know California grows more than 80 percent of the world's supply of almonds?
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John Hannon shot this spectacular aerial view of blooming almond orchards in the Sacramento Valley. It's from the Arbuckle area in Colusa County. Did you know California grows more than 80 percent of the world's supply of almonds?

Sacramento is occasionally the correct answer to a clue on the popular TV quiz show “Jeopardy!” but rarely does it spark the intense level of controversy that left local viewers stunned Thursday.

During the first round in an early game from the show’s most recent Teachers Tournament, Maryland middle school music teacher Sara DelVillano buzzed in to respond to the following clue in the category, “State Capital Nicknames”:

“The Almond Capital of the World.”

DelVillano asked, “What is Sacramento?” and was ruled correct.

Now, wait just one farm-to-fork second. Sacramento is the capital of California, a state that produces more than 80 percent of the world’s almonds. But is Sacramento itself the world capital of almonds? Some locals might be asking: “Since when?”

Yes, jaws dropped from the Pocket to the Fab 40s as viewers watched longtime host Alex Trebek bequeath $800 unto DelVillano.

But it turns out, we’ve been called that. And we’ve been called that on “Jeopardy!” at least twice, with archives maintained by the shows’ fanatics and a 2013 feature in Sactown Magazine noting that the exact same clue and answer were used in a 2004 episode. (“Jeopardy!” which is approaching its 8,000th episode, frequently reuses its own clues.)

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We’ve been called a lot of other things. Our own water tower has deemed us for years the “City of Trees” and – more recently and to the dismay of some – “America’s Farm-to-Fork Capital.”

The title of global almond capital appears to one assigned to both Sacramento and Chico, with a few other cities in the Central Valley in the mix as well.

Sacramento’s most obvious stake to the claim of almond emperor is Blue Diamond Growers, which has its headquarters and a sprawling processing plant in the capital city’s downtown area. As the biggest almond producer in California, which says it churns out 100 percent of the nation’s almonds, Blue Diamond is the undisputed top dog of the global almond industry.

The bulk of those nuts, though, are farmed from almond trees across the expanse of California’s Central Valley, including Stanislaus, Merced and San Joaquin counties, which are among the leaders in the state. Thousands more trees are harvested in Butte County orchards, west of Chico and south of the town in the census-designated place of Durham.

On Friday, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported the state’s almond harvest hit a record 2.5 billion pounds, up 9 percent from the year before, despite dicey weather during a late-winter pollination.

Chico is also the host of the annual California Nut Festival. The 2019 rendition of that festival was canceled following the devastating Camp Fire, which raged in nearby Paradise last November, killing 85 people and leveling thousands of homes.

A quick internet search says the moniker of “Almond Capital of the World” has also been used to describe Ripon, which has the phrase in its official city seal. Chico’s seal, for those curious, includes the slogan, “City of Roses.” Sacramento’s reads, “City of Sacramento.”

Farther south in California, Paso Robles was previously known as the almond capital of the world, boasting 25,000 acres of almond trees back in 1920, according to websites for local history museums and wineries in the area.

And while Modesto doesn’t appear to have been considered the world capital of the nut at any point, the Almond Board of California has been seated there since its establishment in 1950.

Phew.

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At the end of the day, the “world capital” designation is a highly unofficial one, often self-assigned and subject to change over time. Some are more distinct than others.

The general subject has been discussed in The New York Times. A tongue-in-cheek 1993 article by Harold Faber poked a bit of fun at the term, which has been used to comment on cities’ features running the gamut from jazz music to food stamp fraud.

“They are named by chambers of commerce and writers who use the phrase ‘world capital’ as a shorthand device for describing a place’s major product or attraction,” Faber wrote in definition of the term.

Faber noted that California appeared at the time to be “the (uncrowned) food capital of the world.”

“Look at the list: Almonds, Chico and Sacramento; asparagus, Isleton (disputed by Hadley, Mass.); artichokes, Castroville; avocados, Fallbrook; blackberries, McCloud; broccoli, Greenfield; dates, Indio; garlic, Gilroy; lettuce, Salinas; lima beans, Oxnard; raisins, Selma and Fresno, and strawberries, Watsonville (disputed by Plant City, Fla.).”

Isleton’s argument for the asparagus throne was once supported by the Isleton Asparagus Festival. City archives online show that the small city housed five canneries at its peak, about the same time it was incorporated into Sacramento County in 1923.

More recently, it wasn’t asparagus but an annual crawdad festival that drew as many as 200,000 guests to the Delta-side city. Isleton’s Delta Dad Festival was discontinued about a decade ago. Even so, Isleton could never wrestle the title of world crawfish capital away from the bayou: Breaux Bridge, Louisiana.

The most layperson-friendly internet archives available – Google, Wikipedia, a number of niche websites dedicated to the unofficial titles and even children’s encyclopedias – all list both Sacramento and Chico as the world capital of almonds. So perhaps, in the court of public opinion, it’ll be ruled a tie.

‘Sacratomato’ and more

Sacramento has nine nicknames used commonly enough for Wikipedia to list them. That’s tied with Los Angeles for second-most of any California city, per the user-driven online encyclopedia. San Francisco has 12 distinct nicknames, though three are denoted “archaic” and one (“San Fran”) is considered “locally disparaged” on Wikipedia’s list.

Here is Sacramento’s list of nicknames. Wikipedia has not marked any of them “locally disparaged,” though some locals likely wish the website did.

  • Almond Capital of the World
  • America’s Farm-to-Fork Capital
  • Big Tomato
  • Sacto
  • Camellia City
  • City of Trees
  • River City
  • Sacratomato
  • Sactown

Most recently, “The Big Tomato” was used by Gary Rotstein of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette in an article about his city’s stagnant population – yes, Sacramento’s metro area is now bigger than Pittsburgh’s by 20,000 or so people.

It’s unclear how Rotstein came about this rarely-used nickname, but it did leave plenty of residents doing a double-take on the popular social media site Reddit.

One user exclaimed, “Been here over 30 years, not once have I ever heard our city referred by this name,” to which another user replied, “I mean, we can’t stick to one thing so they probably (as) confused as us.”

The growers' co-op gives a look inside its state-of-the-art, hands-free almond processing facility at its Sisk Road plant in Salida. Deke Farrow/jfarrow@modbee.com

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Michael McGough anchors The Sacramento Bee’s breaking news reporting team, covering public safety and other local stories. A Sacramento native and lifelong capital resident, he interned at The Bee while attending Sacramento State, where he earned a degree in journalism.
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