Farm-to-Fork In Many Voices
A THREE PART SERIES ON DEFINING FARM-T-FORK IN OUR REGION
The City of Sacramento declared itself the Farm-to-Fork Capital of America in 2012. Since then, food has taken over the city. Streets and bridges that once held cars have been temporarily transformed to hold cows and dinner parties. Everything from bowling alleys to coffee shops has embraced the “local food” mantra.
Sacramentans have embraced their inner farm-to-fork. The way they choose to express it varies widely depending on who’s cooking the food and who’s eating.
As a community, we are collectively discovering our shared farm–to-forkness. Is this a movement, akin to the food movement that’s building mobile food banks and community kitchens in libraries? Is it a marketing campaign? Is it a call to restaurants and chefs to become more sustainable? Is it a celebration of farmers and farmers markets?
Or is it some garden hybrid of all these efforts? Just as the farm-to-fork effort has taken a nontraditional approach to celebrating our region’s food, as a journalist I took a new approach to this story. My editor originally asked me to write about farmto- fork restaurants in the area. Yet, I had to ask myself how I would qualify any food establishment under those terms?
What does it mean to be farm-to-fork? Are there any agreed-upon standards that the majority of our food leaders can get behind? Is there a standard by which we can measure restaurant, a nonprofit or a business as “farm-to-fork?”
To help me answer this question, I knew I would need to consult a bushel of experts. So I convened a roomful of regional food leaders. Even as the list of RSVPs grew, I knew I needed more voices, more perspectives: farmers, nonprofits, food writers, restaurants, eaters—the list goes on.
It quickly became apparent that the city and region need a shared vision, some goals, an action road map that we develop—together. The food system is too complex to whittle down to a few simple standards. Our ideals need to shift as innovations and technologies advance.
In part one of this farm-to-fork conversation, I gathered a group of leaders who work in community food: nonprofits, food writers, educators. We wanted to invite so many more—so I’ve decided to hold a series of gatherings and report on the progress as we go. I also decided to convene non-restaurant leaders first, taking the information from this gathering to a second convening of restaurants to seek their feedback. Stay tuned as the conversation builds.
LOCAL FOOD LEADERS
In round one, the following experts met:
Debi Gollan, Edible Sacramento: Gollan serves as editor of Sacramento’s only magazine dedicated to farm-to-fork.
Robyn Krock, Valley Vision: Krock oversees Valley Vision’s food and agriculture portfolio, including projects such as the Food System Collaborative and the Healthy Foods Task Force, which addresses healthy food in the Sacramento City Unified school district.
Kathy Les, Slow Food Sacramento: The local Slow Food chapter actively hosts a range of educational and convivial events celebrating the producers and creators of the region’s outstanding foods, farms and restaurants.
Nicole Nabulsi, Assemblymember Roger Dickinson’s office: Assemblymember Dickinson authored the 2012 resolution, which Food Literacy Center sponsored, that declares September as Food Literacy Month. Nabulsi is one of many dedicated staffers working to improve our food system.
Nicole Rogers, Farm-to-Fork Program Manager, Sacramento Convention and Visitors Bureau: Rogers took the helm as Sacramento’s first farm-to-fork manager in spring of 2012. She brings a wealth of food systems knowledge from her years working in marketing for Chipotle and serving on the board of directors for both Center for Land-Based Learning and Food Literacy Center.
Kirk Stauffer, Edible Sacramento: owns Sacramento’s only magazine dedicated to farm-to-fork, and serves on the board of directors for Sacramento’s Meals on Wheels program.
Jaime Wilson, Sacramento Zoo: Wilson is one of Sacramento’s favorite “foodies” on social media. As a board member of the Social Media Club Sacramento, she uses her social savvy to celebrate local food.
Julia Thomas, Sacramento Natural Foods Coop: Thomas oversees the co-op’s newsletter, featuring recipes and stories covering the local sustainable food scene. She’s part of the co-op’s education department.
Andrea Thompson, Sacramento Business Journal: Thompson recently joined the journal as a food writer, covering restaurants and the local food scene. She also works at UC Davis on a number of food-related projects.
Nita Vail, California Rangeland Trust: Vail heads the regional nonprofit that works with California ranching families and future generations to preserve the Golden State’s rangeland, air and water quality, wildlife habitat and local food supplies.
Blake Young, Sacramento Food Bank and Family Services: Young heads a food bank using innovative approaches to solving hunger. The food bank looks for long-term solutions, such as job training and GED courses, hoping to address root causes of hunger in addition to providing emergency services.
WHY WE LOVE SACRAMENTO’S FOOD SCENE
The conversation started by listing the things we love about the Sacramento region’s culinary scene—and there’s a lot to love!
SPEARHEAD ZONING CHANGES
“Sacramento is on the cusp,” said Thompson. “It’s brimming with potential and it’s exciting to watch the blossoming!”
There was a shared confidence in the room that our region is on the right track to a more curious, engaged, healthier, innovative food scene.
Chefs are viewed as leaders. “Many young, opportunistic chefs are seizing the chance to rise high and quickly,” said Thompson.
We have the largest farmers market in the state. And we love our tomatoes!
A WORK IN PROGRESS
Yet, we also view our region as a work in progress. We want to see a lower-impact culinary scene committed to eliminating food waste where possible. We care about food access, hoping to bring higherquality, healthier food to those who need it most. We want policy changes that allow restaurants to plant gardens on-site and handle more composting. We want to see farm preservation.
“The culinary scene can enhance the importance of agriculture in our region,” said Young.
We explored existing standards for a sustainable food system. Slow Food Sacramento uses “good, clean and fair” as its gold standard.
“I love that Sacramento’s food scene is evolving toward an increasing awareness of where their food comes from,” said Slow Food’s Kathy Les.
The Sacramento Convention and Visitors Bureau deems food farm-to-fork-worthy based on locality (they consider “local” anything within 350 miles); seasonality; stewardship of land, livestock and environment; and education that creates confident consumers who make better decisions.
Food Literacy Center measures success by the knowledge our community has about the impact of our food choices on health, environment, and community.
While there are many similarities in these approaches, they reflect slightly varied perspectives on a complex food system.
A chef ’s choice about which tomato to serve in his restaurant will have ripple effects across the community—and this was visible in the conversation we shared. And yet, we view farm-to-fork as something much bigger than chefs or restaurants.
In the end, the thought leaders in the room didn’t come to any conclusions about how to judge the farmto- fork standards of a local restaurant. Instead, there was a consistent drumbeat calling for increased food literacy: education for chefs, education for consumers on everything from cooking to food waste, and even deeper education across sectors among the leaders in the room.
CARRY LOCAL PRODUCE
Education is surely one of the most important roles a restaurant can play in its farm-to-fork approach. Every purple carrot on the menu will spark a question from a consumer: What is it? Is it natural? How does it grow? Every new bite is an opportunity to learn.
Join our conversation! How do you define “farm-to-fork?” What actions do you want to see in our regional culinary scene? us on facebook and follow the continued conversation: facebook.com/EdibleSacramento.
Amber K. Stott, founding executive director of the nonprofit Food Literacy Center, celebrates farm-to-fork living and grows her own groceries in Sacramento. She blogs about living la vida locavore at Awake at the Whisk. She’s chair of the Sacramento Region Food System Collaborative and has been named a “Food Revolution Hero” by the Jamie Oliver Food Foundation.