Farm to Fork, Behind the Marketing

An excellent article from Sacramento News & Review examining a few of the details, some critical, behind the promotion of this newest Sacramento marketing drive.

An excerpt.

Sturgeon caviar, wine and some of the city’s most enthusiastic foodies will convene this Friday evening for a party along the Sacramento River. The mixer is the kickoff event for Farm-to-Fork Restaurant Week, 10 days celebrating the abundance and diversity of edibles grown in the farmlands surrounding Sacramento. It’s been almost a year now since Mayor Kevin Johnson applauded Sacramento as the nation’s “farm-to-fork capital,” prompting what has become a city initiative to make use of the locally grown bounty in homes and restaurants.

But amid white tablecloths and stemware, the hype and the fanfare, there are critics of the farm-to-fork movement, saying that it’s largely a lavish celebration of privileges among the city’s higher rollers. To participate in these dinners, after all, isn’t cheap. The caviar party on September 20, costs $85 a person, and the signature event—another wining-and-dining locavore extravaganza scheduled for September 29—sold out long ago at $175 a head.

And while other events will aim lower on the socioeconomic hierarchy by providing free discussions and information on matters related to food, farming and cooking—including market tours for kids—there remains the question of whether Sacramento, for all the talk, is even a hot spot of locally oriented agriculture at all.

In fact, it isn’t. The Sacramento Valley and the Delta are phenomenally productive, producing more than enough food to feed the local population. Thing is, virtually all the food grown here is exported from the region immediately, sold into national markets or overseas.

Meanwhile, the local population’s collective food consumption consists of just 3 percent of locally grown goods.

Patrick Mulvaney, chef and owner of Mulvaney’s Building & Loan in Midtown, has been involved in Farm-to-Fork activities and planning from the start. He says that while the week is largely a restaurant-oriented program, it will also bring schoolchildren into direct contact with farm-fresh goods, as well as explore enhancement measures for food banks.

“The concept of healthy eating isn’t only for a certain level of the socioeconomic scale,” Mulvaney says.

But Jessica Bartholow isn’t convinced that all strata of society are receiving equal portions of locally grown goods. She works with the Western Center on Law and Poverty in Sacramento, and says local food events and activities, often spearheaded by well-to-do authors and upscale restaurateurs, tend to exclude less fortunate people through a “pay to play” approach often hinged around trendy farmers markets and expensive restaurants.

Other critics of the farm-to-fork movement have mocked it as the “Farm-to-Silver-Spoon” campaign—a phrase coined by a Sacramento Bee writer—and a parallel effort pushed by Yolo County officials is going by the name Farm to Every Fork, plainly recognizing that many people within the fertile Sacramento Valley are not finding access to farm-fresh food.

So, as chefs and sommeliers are carefully planning the best pairings of hors d’oeuvres, wine and beer for the coming week’s festivities, a few local activists and economists are thinking about more effective ways to reshape the region’s agricultural industries from the ground up. And how to really become farm to fork.

They want to make small farms more profitable and make it feasible for all of society to afford local foods—if not, perhaps, caviar, cocktails and sparkling wine.

About David H Lukenbill

I am a native of Sacramento, as are my wife and daughter. I am a consultant to nonprofit organizations, and have a Bachelor of Science degree in Organizational Behavior and a Master of Public Administration degree, both from the University of San Francisco. We live along the American River with two cats and all the wild critters we can feed. I am the founding president of the American River Parkway Preservation Society and currently serve as the CFO and Senior Policy Director. I also volunteer as the President of The Lampstand Foundation, a nonprofit organization I founded in 2003.
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