City Beat

City Beat: Sacramento must take the tomato back

Michael Amabile said something this week that should make every self-respecting Sacramentan cringe.

“Right now,” he proclaimed, “Los Banos is the tomato capital of the United States.”


Amabile was mayor of Los Banos for 12 years. He’s running for office again and was pretty excited about his city’s Tomato Festival this past weekend. They were expecting 15,000 people to come watch tomato-eating contests and learn about all the ways to cook a tomato.

In fact, Amabile was so excited that he and some other event organizers asked The Sacramento Bee to publish a story promoting their festival so that people here would make the 125-mile drive down the Valley and spend their Saturday eating tomatoes in Los Banos.

This must end.

How has Sacramento let a city one-thirteenth its size get away with staking claim to our most beloved – wait, is a tomato a fruit or a vegetable? Doesn’t matter. Sacramento should own this. Tomatoes are the official food of this farm-to-fork town. We even talked a few years ago about painting that water tank along I-5 near Pocket Road red, like a giant tomato welcoming visitors to the city.

In this time of crisis, two heroes have emerged.

Emily Michaels and Callista Wengler promise that next summer, Sacramento will have its own Tomato Festival. Michaels is the head of the Midtown Business Association and Wengler is chairwoman of the Sutter District, the stretch of bars and restaurants near Sutter’s Fort. Wengler is also the head of marketing for Paragary’s restaurants, so we can assume she knows a thing or two about tomatoes.

“It’s been driving Callista crazy that we didn’t have a full-on tomato festival,” Michaels said.

Some of the restaurants in midtown had a “Sacratomato Week” this summer, featuring tomatoes in their dishes. Next summer’s event is going to raise the bar. There will be a weeklong celebration, capped by a Saturday festival on July 25 at Sutter’s Fort with a salsa recipe competition, cooking shows and all kinds of other tomato-inspired fun.

Things might get messy in 2016. Michaels and Wengler said they eventually want the festival to end with a huge tomato fight. The idea was inspired by La Tomatina, an annual event that draws thousands to the Spanish town of Buñol. Don’t worry, they’re not going to cover Sutter’s Fort in tomato sauce. Michaels and Wengler are looking for other spots to hold their tomato brawl.

Festivals are big around here right now. The Farm-to-Fork people said their festival on Capitol Mall last month drew 35,000. TBD Fest, the music, art and food event across the river in West Sac, had huge crowds this past weekend.

By next summer, we’ll have our beloved tomato to celebrate. Spread the word, especially if you have friends in Los Banos.

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