Is there a place for you at the Farm to Fork table? Certainly any person will be able to participate in the activities planned for throughout the year. There are the farmers markets and farm tours as well as many upcomng food events. Yet there are those who are more interested in taking an active part in the food community, in their own way. Sacramento has several of these individuals who have successfully taken ideas and created their own place at Sacramento’s table.
How is that Sacramento’s food scene is so easy to get involved in versus other cities? A big part of it has to do with size. If we lived in San Francisco or Los Angeles we would be lost in the noise. Sacramento, while a sizeable city, has a food community where everyone knows each other. Not only that, it’s a cooperative community. While there are definitely egos with a bit of competitive spirit, it’s all in fun. The farms, restaurants, vendors, and other food folk all come together when the cause is right.
This cooperative support continues when someone not directly involved in the food community comes up with an idea. If the idea is solid enough, it can easily go from idea to fruition with a little help. This is something that has been done over and over again in Sacramento.
Often ideas start out as tiny inspirations. One such inspiration occurred back in August of 2011 when Brian Guido thought about having an event centered around bacon. He brought his idea to Chef Patrick Mulvaney, Mulvaney’s B&L, who liked it and pointed him to examples in other cities such as Chicago and Des Moines. The other cities had singular bacon events, but Guido and his partner, Nick Miller, were thinking bigger. Why not a week of showcasing bacon? "That first year was hard," Guido said. "We didn’t have any experience putting together a large scale event."
Baconfest 2012 became such a hit that Baconfest 2013 got even bigger. The second year there were rules for participation. The pork belly had to come from a local source, be hormone free, and not be raised in pens. The chefs were also required to cure their own bacon.
"We had a goal to showcase the bounty of food around us as well as the talent of our local chefs," said Guido. "I believe we live in the best culinary region in the United States and, even, the world. We have the ingredients and the talent all right here."
Years of editing cookbooks is what gave inspiration to Ann Rolke to start her Tasty Books series. "I had been getting the Omnivore Books (San Francisco) newsletter and seeing all their events they have with cookbook authors," Rolke said. She also approached Mulvaney because he had an appropriate sized space next to his restaurant. "I wasn’t sure if there would be enough interest and I didn’t want to have to buy out a restaurant."
Rokle invites a newly published cookbook author to come for a book signing and a meal. Mulvaney adapts recipes from the chosen cookbook and creates a four course dinner. After 70 people attended the first event, Rolke knew she had community interest. "I noticed that there weren’t a lot of gourmet related events similar to the kinds you see in Seattle and San Francisco," she said. Rolke believes that our food blogger community has a big part in the current increase of food events. "Bloggers are aware of what is going on in other cities and they get inspired to do similar events here."
That’s where Rodney Blackwell’s inspiration came from. Blackwell writes Burgerjunkies.com and went to the Denver Burger Battle in 2011. He wondered if it would work in Sacramento. He, like the others, had no experience putting on a huge event. It was after talking to friends and being connected to contacts at the Chalk It Up! art festival that the pieces started to fall into place. The Downtown Partnership helped him to connect to the restaurant owners and chefs. In September 2012 he hosted the Sacramento Burger Battle at Raley Field. It turned out to be one of the best first time events ever, raising over $27,000 for the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation.
When asked what advice he would give to someone who had an idea he said, "Start talking about it. Talk to friends and contacts to see if they think it is realistic and whether it will gain momentum. If the idea is good enough, others will start helping you to bring it to life."
Amber Stott didn’t create an event, she created a charitable organization, the California Food Literacy Center. She knew she wanted to effect change in the food system and didn’t feel her blog, Awake at the Whisk , was having quite the impact she was envisioning. "I made a list of what was needed and then took a leap of faith," she said. She also found the local food community support she needed with people pointing her to others that could help. The networking paid off and now September has been named "Food Literacy Month" by the California State Legislature.
"Years ago," says Stott, "I interviewed someone and asked them why they started their business in Sacramento. They told me it was because in Sacramento you could still be somebody." It’s the small town feel in a big city that allows people to feel a part of it.
At last Wednesday’s discussion, "Farm to Fork: Where’s the Teeth?", there were questions from the audience about how they could get involved. The panel and others in the room made it clear. The Farm to Fork message that is being fostered belongs to the people of Sacramento. It shows pride in our region that should be shared with the world. It only takes an idea and talking to the right people that can help to turn that idea into a reality. Anyone can participate, not only by creating a new project, but by helping with others that need the volunteers or support.
There’s a place for everyone at Sacramento’s Farm to Fork Table. You just need to pull up a seat.
Disclosure: Catherine Enfield writes the blog, Munchie Musings, co-founded SactoMoFo, and created the Sacramento Food Film Festival after an aha moment in August of 2011. Her latest inspiration is "Have an Offal Day", which will take place in late August.