Thousands gather in Sacramento for second annual Farm-to-Fork Festival

The farm-to-fork movement gained momentum locally and statewide with Sacramento’s Farm-to-Fork Festival taking place Saturday, less than 24 hours after Gov. Jerry Brown signed a bill establishing a California farm-to-fork office.

Thousands gathered at Capitol Mall to partake in the second annual Farm-to-Fork Festival, where demonstration tents, music stages and myriad food sellers lined the streets. It was one of the final events in Sacramento’s celebration this month as “America’s Farm-to-Fork Capital,” which culminates Sunday with a $175-a-plate gala dinner on the deck of Tower Bridge.

The celebration is the city’s effort to brand itself as a farm-to-fork mecca, an effort also underway in other cities in the U.S.

The free event had a decidedly fair-like feel, with large tractors sharing street space with food trucks and two music stages, as well as vendors like Soil Born Farms, the Sacramento Food Co-op and booths hawking items such as teeth-whitening services.

However, the focus was mostly on food and farming, including a graduation ceremony for the third class of the California Farm Academy. The academy, run by the Winters-based Center for Land Based Learning, seeks to attract and train new generations of young farmers, especially women.

Natomas resident Roberta Callaghan rode to the event on her bicycle with husband, Jim, and their dog Scooter.

“I’m glad that Sacramento is waking up and realizing what it has here,” Roberta Callaghan said.

She was born and raised in Sacramento and hails from a family of onetime rice and pumpkin farmers in the Natomas area near the Sacramento airport.

Callaghan said she feels that Sacramento is somewhat late to the farm-to-fork party. She remembers eating at Chez Panisse in the 1970s – a Berkeley restaurant instrumental in bringing attention to the farm-to-table movement.

The event took place blocks away from the headquarters of the California Department of Food and Agriculture, where a new office devoted to farm-to-fork efforts will be created as a result of Brown’s signature on a bill Friday.

Assembly Bill 2413 by Assemblyman John A. Pérez, D-Los Angeles, establishes the Office of Farm to Fork at CDFA. The goal is for the new office to be a marketing tool and clearinghouse for information to promote food access statewide. The bill also seeks to identify ways that CDFA can connect small and large farmers and schools and other food-buying institutions, said CDFA Secretary Karen Ross.

“What we found is that there is so much enthusiasm for this around that state,” Ross said. “We’re trying to collect information and become a clearinghouse of best practices and case studies of what we’ve learned in schools. This will also help us understand where the gaps are.”

Funding for the new office will come from a patchwork of federal, state and industry funds.

A particular focus will be to help school nutrition directors find locally-sourced agricultural products that meet new USDA guidelines for school food, Ross said. Another focus will be helping “food deserts” – neighborhoods typically in low-income areas that lack access to produce and groceries – find sources of locally grown food.

“We also want to improve nutritional understanding and acceptance of these healthy foods with children – so that they can develop lifelong healthy eating habits,” Ross said.

The bill was one of seven related to food and agriculture signed Friday by Brown. Among them was AB 2561 by Assemblyman Steven Bradford, D-Gardena, which requires landlords to permit tenants to grow edible fruits and vegetables for their own use, provided they are in portable containers in private outdoor backyards.

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