California Forum

There was a time when Sacramento didn’t want to be an ag town. My, how we have grown.

Piglets dine at Soil Born Farms. The nonprofit farm in the city – which supplies fresh produce to Sacramento restaurants, farmers’ markets, the Sacramento Natural Food Co-op and others – is one of many organizations celebrating Farm to Fork month, in this case with an Autumn Equinox festival on Saturday, September 16.
Piglets dine at Soil Born Farms. The nonprofit farm in the city – which supplies fresh produce to Sacramento restaurants, farmers’ markets, the Sacramento Natural Food Co-op and others – is one of many organizations celebrating Farm to Fork month, in this case with an Autumn Equinox festival on Saturday, September 16. lsterling@sacbee.com

It has been nearly 20 years since the idea for Soil Born Farms was planted. Agriculture, as it has since the 1840’s, was booming in the Sacramento Valley. There were some early voices singing the virtues of our agricultural heritage to the growing population of city slickers back then.

Leadership at the Sacramento Natural Foods Co-op and Harald Hoven, the master gardener at Fair Oaks’ Rudolf Steiner College were raising consciousness on the value of urban gardens. And community garden advocates such as Sacramento’s Bill Maynard, the leadership at the Fair Oaks Horticulture Center and Mary Kimball at the nonprofit Center for Land Based Learning were spreading the gospel.

But not much of the “culture” of our agriculture was seeping into the rapidly expanding urban environment of Sacramento. In fact, it seemed there was a push regionally to shake off our “cow town” identity.

Pull back the curtain on Farm to Fork month and you are likely to see a very different landscape than existed 20 years ago.

What a difference two decades – and a lot of hard work – can make. For those of us who were around 15 years ago when our nonprofit Soil Born Farms hosted its first Autumn Equinox Celebration (this year’s is this weekend), it’s hard to overstate the contrast between the early days of the sustainable food movement, and this month, as Sacramento dedicates September to highlighting all the things food and ag that make us so unique.

More than clever marketing, these Farm to Fork activities celebrate the pride and bounty of our region, as well as the land and the farmers who produce it. Importantly, these events also help highlight and build support for a stronger and healthier food economy that can benefit urban and rural dweller alike.

Pull back the curtain on these big and small events, and you are likely to see programs that are creating a very different landscape than existed 20 years ago. Beginning farmer training programs, new urban and peri-urban farms, school garden programs. Locally sourced salad bars in schools, community and home garden builds, food system action plans, urban fruit tree gleaning and planting. School wellness plans, revised city and county agricultural ordinances, expanded and improved emergency food distribution systems. All are new, and all exemplify key food system developments.

As we approach Soil Born Farms’ eighteenth autumn in Sacramento, our conviction is stronger than ever that these “urban” food activities really matter. Our team, with the strong support of Kurt Spataro, our new board president, is working diligently to create a world class Center for Food, Health and the Environment at the American River Ranch.

Our programs there and throughout the community offer an opportunity for all Sacramentans to learn more about healthy food and agriculture. We believe they help build the awareness, support and identity that our community, along with its food and agricultural economy, needs to survive and thrive.

And isn’t that exactly the point? Living in the richest agricultural region in the world and with the world human population growing by the day, doubling down on food, farming and innovation is something the world needs. As Sacramentans who have made our life’s work in this region’s essential mission – feeding people – we’re pleased to see that, at last, it’s also something about which everyone in our region can be proud.

Shawn Harrison of Sacramento is the founder and co-director of Soil Born Farms, a nonprofit dedicated to urban farming. Patrick Mulvaney is the co-owner and chef of Mulvaney's B&L restaurant in Sacramento. They can be reached at sharrison@soilborn.org and info@mulvaneysbl.com.

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