Fly over the newly branded water tower
I was curious to see what the fuss was about.
A walk along the river toward Clarksburg allowed a glimpse of the controversial new slogan displayed on one of Sacramento’s beloved landmarks, one I grew up admiring.
“America’s Farm-to-Fork Capital.”
I studied the modified version of the gateway greeting, and instinctively glanced toward the Meadowview area that lies in the shadow of the tower.
The juxtaposition of the two struck me.
Having lived and taught in Meadowview, I know the landscape well: a virtual field of asphalt and strip malls with a handful of community-maintained gardens sprinkled throughout.
Hardworking people live here. People who are invested in their neighborhoods and community well-being. People who are trying to provide for families despite economic challenges.
And Meadowview is a food desert. There are no farms within convenient distance. Residents have restricted access to affordable, healthy food options due to an absence of grocery stores many of us take for granted. I certainly can understand the resistance to the slogan.
I witnessed the consequences of a lack of fresh produce options when I taught at John Still Elementary School earlier this decade. Almost daily, I noticed students emerging from corner convenience stores carrying chips and soda for breakfast – products devoid of the nutrients and freshness that characterize the nature of farm-to-fork essence.
Families regularly rely on such markets for their grocery needs, often because they have no means of transportation to better-stocked stores. When cheap, processed food is readily available and healthy choices inaccessible, the eating habits of a community are shaped accordingly, particularly for our youth.
Lately, I have asked families I work with in the Sacramento City Unified School District what farm-to-fork means to them.
Their responses gave me pause.
“It has something to do with that Tower Bridge dinner where the tickets are $200 a plate,” one parent said.
“Farm-to-Fork is a way for the city to bring more business to the restaurants around Golden 1 Center,” a teenage student said.
“It means that some local grocery stores carry local fruits and vegetables. Too bad we don’t have one of those in our neighborhood,” a grandparent said.
I believe much of the pushback of rebranding is because many residents lack a concrete connection to its concept. It is one thing to declare ourselves the “Farm-to-Fork Capital” of the world. It is quite another to bring the essence of that slogan into our communities. We need to make this a collective effort.
It is easy to see why people feel a disconnect to the farm-to-fork identity; most farms are outside the city, and fast-food restaurants outnumber grocery stores 5 to 1.
Farm-to-fork initiatives are most successful with community participation, including youth and families. The continuing challenge is for city leaders to find widespread ways to extend these values to all of its citizens, not just those who dine on the grid or are fortunate enough to land a seat at the Tower Bridge table.
A local food system is only as strong as its ability to reach those who need it most. If we want effective and sustainable change, we need to improve access to healthy food for low-income families. We need to connect farms to neighborhoods and to dinner tables. We need to eliminate our food deserts within the city.
When Sacramento residents feel engaged with local food movements and everything it entails, then we may see the collective acceptance of our identity as the farm-to-fork capital of the world.
Christina Marie Martinez is an early education instructor in the Sacramento City Unified School District. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @christinaixchel.