Out-of-town bloggers take to Sacramento’s farm-to-fork approach

The 29-degree chill of the cold-storage space at California Endive Farms caused some food bloggers touring the Rio Vista indoor growing operation to erupt in shivers on Friday morning.

Not Laura Sampson, though. “I love it,” she said of the temperature. Sampson had traveled to the Sacramento region for the eighth International Food Bloggers Conference from her home in Palmer, Alaska. The high in Palmer on Friday was 69.

Sampson, 46, who posts recipes for grilled romaine with truffle dressing and Vietnamese pork chops with bok choy on her “Little House, Big Alaska” blog, encountered a temperature of 100 degrees when she arrived Thursday in downtown Sacramento.

“From about 1 to 7 p.m., I thought, ‘Why do people live here?” she said.

By 10:30 a.m. Friday, however, Sampson was calling Sacramento “a treasure.” This even though the temperature outside, in the California Endive parking lot, already had more than 50 degrees on that cold-storage space, which helps preserve the roots of the traditional vessels for bleu cheese and pecans. California Endive supplies its vegetables to Sacramento’s Grange and Paragary’s restaurants, among others.

A bus ride with 50 fellow bloggers from conference headquarters at downtown’s Hyatt Regency through the verdant farm fields of the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta had helped shape Sampson’s opinion.

“If we didn’t have Sacramento, people in Alaska wouldn’t have food part of the year,” Sampson said. Alaska might epitomize cool, temperature-wise, but “it takes a lot of effort to grow your own tomatoes” there, she said. But trucks full of tomatoes were passing the bloggers’ bus on a morning excursion that also included a tour of, and lunch amid, the pear trees of Courtland’s Stillwater Orchards.

Connecting the 350 bloggers attending the conference, running through Sunday, to food producers is essential, said Sheri Wetherell, CEO of Foodista.com, the Seattle-based website that founded the IFBC.

“As food bloggers, we are writing more and more about where our food comes from,” Wetherell said. “It is my responsibility to the little chunk of the world that’s my audience to encourage people to think about things like sustainability.”

Wetherell said Sacramento’s high-profile, “farm-to-fork” marketing and education initiative made it a “no-brainer” to become the site of the 2016 conference. For most of its life, the event has been held in Seattle (with stops in Portland, Ore., Santa Monica and New Orleans).

The Sacramento Convention & Visitors Bureau spearheaded the effort to bring the conference to Sacramento. Mike Testa of the bureau said earlier this week that he estimates the conference, on which the SCVB spent $30,000, to infuse $295,000 into the local economy through attendees paying for hotel rooms, meals and other services.

The impact of bringing in writers to spread the word about Sacramento’s food scene is harder to gauge. But organizers have strongly encouraged dissemination by slashing the conference registration fee from $495 to $195 for bloggers who write at least three posts about the conference. During Friday’s Delta excursion, bloggers enthusiastically snapped photos of endive roots. Later, several jockeyed for position near a tree at Stillwater Orchards, looking for the best angle to capture the dramatic sunlight and shadow falling on a particularly photogenic pear.

Adriana Martin, a 52-year-old Orlando, Fla. resident who runs the “Adriana’s Best Recipes” blog, said she took the discount but “I would have written about it anyway, because it pertains to what I do.” She has attended the conference seven of its eight years, and has been to Sacramento before to study its food scene.

“I am a big fan of Sacramento,” she said. “My focus is fresh and seasonal. Coming here, you are really getting fresh and seasonal.”

Her bilingual blog, on which she offers recipes for strawberry jalapeño turkey burgers and chipotle chocolate churros, draws 50,000 hits a month, she said.

Most of the conference does not involve direct engagement with dirt. The numerous panel sessions range from the basic (“Culinary Travel Writing”) to the highly specific and oxymoronic (“A Deep-Dive Into SnapChat”). On Saturday evening, attendees will step out onto 13th Street for a special “farm-to-fork feast” prepared by Jason Poole of Dawson’s at the Hyatt.

In the meantime, bloggers are enjoying that conventioneer tradition of checking out restaurants near one’s hotel. Seattle residents Jenifer Smith, 34, and Bee Tangsurat, 37, attended previous IFBCs in their hometown. Smith is at the conference on behalf of the fruit-juice company for which she works. Tangsurat is on a break from her food and travel blog but is still offering thoughts on social media.

The pair were impressed by their conference-related excursions, including a Thursday trip to Yolo County’s agriculturally rich Capay Valley. But when asked how Sacramento stacks up as a farm-to-fork experience, they voted with forks.

“We had some amazing food last night at Cafeteria 15L,” Smith said. The peach and tomato bruschetta there, Tangsurat chimed in, is so good she’s been to the restaurant three times in two days.

A quick call to 15L revealed that peaches from Newcastle’s Twin Peaks Orchards and tomatoes from Yolo County’s Yeung Farms go into the dish.

These same ingredients, it so happens, will appear at the conference’s Saturday night dinner. But they already passed that key test of farm to table, which is not so much how it’s told or sold, but how it tastes.

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