What Does it Mean to Be America’s Farm-to-Fork Capital?



it’s drawn praise, guffaws, consternation, and excitement. And it’s now been five years since then-Mayor Kevin Johnson pronounced Sacramento America’s Farm-to-Fork Capital in Cesar Chavez Park.

Fast forward five years and the phrase is now plastered on street signs and a massive water tower. It’s the focus of a two-day festival in September that draws more than 60,000 people, and it has spurred sister events and activities throughout the year.

Five years ago, the group of chefs, farmers, and business leaders at the park lauded the mayor’s effort as a means of promoting the city as a culinary tourism destination. Local restaurateur Josh Nelson, credited as one of the effort’s chief instigators, propelled the city-level action and state-level recognition that blossomed from early scribbles on paper to what became the farm-to-fork logo and a public celebration of Sacramento’s derided cow-town image.

The farm-to-fork moniker hasn’t been without controversy. But even its detractors often argue it’s an opportunity to work through the region’s values, including investment in the local economy, the environment, and people, from chefs to farmers and low-income eaters.

So what has changed in five years? It depends on whom you ask. Here are some responses from local luminaries:

Josh Nelson
Co-founder & CFO of the Selland Family Restaurants, credited with instigating the capital’s new moniker

“I think a lot of things have changed in the last five years. But the most important pieces have stayed the same. These are the pieces that make Sacramento the farm-to-fork capital:

  • We still have a Mediterranean climate.
  • We still are located in the middle of the largest piece of USDA Class 1 soil in the world.
  • We still have more than 1.5 million acres of active farmland.
  • We still have the most diverse selection of crops in the nation.
  • And all of this remains outside our back door!”

Suzanne Ashworth
Farmer and proprietor of Del Rio Botanical in West Sacramento

“There have been incremental changes in Sacramento, and we remain hopeful as more businesses continue to jump on the bandwagon and then change the way they do things, including more restaurants procuring items from farms like ours.”

Darrell Steinberg
Mayor of Sacramento

“In the past five years, we have strengthened our claim to be America’s Farm-to-Fork Capital. We now have more than 50 breweries, with new ones opening every month, and we have attracted national attention for our high-quality coffeehouses. We also have the biggest certified farmers’ market in the state.

“More than ever, people want to know where their food comes from and how it was raised. In Sacramento, they can feel that connection.”

Dr. Richard Pan
Pediatrician and state senator, District 6

“Significant progress has been made in the last few years through the Sacramento Food Bank & Family Services organization toward the goal of including six pounds of produce for each person who receives food through one of its local distributions. We’ve also worked toward minimizing food deserts in communities of need throughout our region.

“However, we can’t be the farm-to-fork capital until we are farm to every fork. When you consider that one in four children and one in six adults in the Sacramento region are food insecure, we still have much work to do … Sacramento is unique; we have an incredible opportunity to feed all of our children with locally sourced produce supporting our farmers and our communities. I launched an ambitious program called the Million Meal Summer to serve 100 percent locally sourced and nutritious meals to Sacramento’s children who depend on the free and reduced breakfast and lunch program at their local school during the academic year.”

Chanowk Yisrael
Farmer at Yisrael Family Farm in Sacramento

“For me, the farm-to-fork designation is a mixed bag. For the urban farms, chefs, and restaurants whose main focus is on selling food, [the] farm to fork [designation] has provided abundant opportunities for growth and recognition.

“For those of us working to alleviate inequities in our food system, [the designation] is problematic in that it paints a picture of prosperity in local food while ignoring the history of how people of color have been and still are excluded from fully participating and benefiting from [the F2F movement].

“That said, [the designation] has raised awareness of these things, and much needs to be done for Sacramento to live up to its new title.”

Randy Stannard
Farmer and director of Oak Park Sol community garden in Sacramento

“The overall community education level has been elevated around the impact of our food purchasing and consumption, with regard to both personal and environmental health. There has been an increased interest and access to locally grown food through farmers’ markets, with one of the largest changes being that EBT/CalFresh (part of the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) services are available at pretty much every market in our region.

“It feels like there has been a huge increase in the number of people and families that have some sort of garden, whether at their home, community garden, or school garden. And, with all this said, there still are huge disparities in health outcomes based on race and economic levels. I would be all for amending our tagline to ‘Farm to Every Fork’ to keep this very real disparity in our public consciousness and develop a financially backed commitment by our region to change this.”

Brenda Ruiz
Chef at Biba Restaurant in Sacramento, president of the Sacramento Food Policy Council, cooking instructor at Grant Union High School, and leader at Slow Food Sacramento

“Since the pronouncement, I’d venture to say that there have been few changes and a ton of activity. The stock market rebound, low unemployment, and bounty of fresh, local foods haven’t reached working-class families in a way that can be classified as a change for them and their circumstances. Although ‘farm to fork’ may be known in these communities, the brand and concept have a long way to go on equity and inclusion. Thankfully, the farm-to-fork brand has opened the door for deep conversations on food justice to begin.”