Farm-to-Fork: Growing an identity

Tractor at work at Foothill Roots Farm in Meadowvista, CA.
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Farm-to-Fork.

Three simple words but defining what they mean can be a challenge.

It’s a slogan meant to capitalize on the very best of Sacramento. That means the best growers, the best food, and the best restaurants. But it also takes the best land, best water, and best workforce.

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And what makes it even more challenging; it requires everyone to buy into it.

As Sacramento redefines itself as ‘America’s Farm-To-Fork Capital,’ we here at 10 Words, heard from a lot of you who wanted to know more about where your food comes from.

So, we set out to find answers.

Click here to learn more about 10 Words

To be honest, there’s a lifetime’s worth of stories to tell, below are ten we focused on for now.

Farm-to-Fork; Top crops; Big and small; The new office; Modern family farm; Urban farming; Farm-to-School; Farmland loss; Water woes; Immigration and labor

If there is something you feel we should give more attention to, please click here to let us know.

Farm-to-Fork

Sacramento adopted the ‘Farm-to-Fork’ name in 2012.

Not everyone loved it at first, but Mike Testa, the President and CEO of Visit Sacramento, said the name has really helped define the city. “The narrative on Sacramento has changed from a gold rush historic city to a modern-day capital that is producing food that’s feeding the rest of the world.”

Click here to learn more about the history of Farm-to-Fork in Sacramento

Restaurants in Sacramento have especially embraced the idea of farm-to-fork, even if they don’t necessarily advertise it.

Chef Christopher Barnum-Dann of Localis told us his restaurant doesn’t claim to be farm-to-fork, “and that’s not because we don’t want people to know where we get our ingredients, we just don’t want to shove it down their throat… And for us, at Localis, it’s just more so of: This is how people should cook.”

Top crops

While the fork end of the equation tends to get most of the attention, farms are equally, if not more important.

According to local Farm Bureaus, agriculture brings in more than $9-billion to the region.

Learn more about what's grown in Sacramento County

Explore the map below to find the top crops for each county in our region.

Big and small

And it’s not just big farms, per the USDA, more than 80-percent of all farms in the country sell less than $100,000 worth of goods per year.

The new office

There is also a new generation of farmers that is emerging.

We met one young couple who left their early careers behind to start their own farm.

Patrick and Diane Bollinger are the heart and soul of Foothill Roots Farm in Meadow Vista and are deeply rooted in the community.

Modern family farm

Then there is the young farmer who got his start as a 13-year-old planting his own garden.

Fast forward nine years and Cody Johnson’s passion has become a family business.

"I didn't learn any of this from anybody else," he told us. "So, everything was trial and error for me. So, everything that's been successful, I've screwed up at least once to get it to be successful."

Cody is now 22, and Johnson Family Farm in Nevada City continues to grow. He reaches most of his customers through farmers markets in the area.

Urban farming

And farming isn’t always rural. Chanowk and Judith Yisrael are working to transform the ‘hood for good,’ one backyard garden at a time.

The founders of ‘The Yisrael Family Urban Farm’ started growing their own food in South Oak Park nearly a decade ago. It’s an area where many residents don’t have access to fresh food.

As the family’s farm continues to grow, they are now teaching their neighbors how to grow their own food.

Farm-to-School

Across the state, students are learning the importance of food through ‘Farm to School’ programs; and the reach is impressive.

Natomas Unified School District recently received a federal grant to help grow its farm to school efforts.

Those efforts are led by Nutrition Services Director Vince Caguin, a chef who came to the cafeteria after years of cooking for A-listers in Hollywood.

Farmland loss

The land is one of the keys to California’s farming success but it’s also one of its biggest concerns.

American Farmland Trust estimates California loses 40,000 acres of farmland every year.

Ultimately, the loss of farmland could mean a loss of identity to our region.

“Sacramento is becoming known for being the ‘Farm-to-Fork Capitol,’ said Virginia Jameson, Interim Director for American Farmland Trust here in California.

“But if we start paving over our local farmland, we’ll see what happens. You can’t have local food if you don’t have local farmland.”

Water woes

Of course, farmland isn’t enough. Farmers need reliable water to grow.

Heavy rainfall last season was enough to wash away the surface drought, but years of digging deep to draw water to the surface have left groundwater severely depleted.

That’s causing another problem—sinking.

Immigration and labor

Another concern is finding enough people to work on our local farms.

A USDA survey found 71-percent of crop workers were foreign-born and 48-percent indicated they were not legally authorized to work in the United States.

There has been a jump in the number of H2-A guest workers in California. In 2011, the State certified 1,500 H2-A workers. Now, that number has grown to well over 11,000.

Click here to learn more about the influx of H2-A workers

Nationally, the Department of Labor has issued nearly 20-percent more H2-A visas over the first three-quarters of 2017, compared to the same time period last year.

What’s next?

Our goal at 10 Words is to be part of the community conversation, so we want to hear from you.

Please vote on which topic you would like to see us cover next.

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You can also click here to tell us about another issue that is affecting you or your family.

Also, please feel free to email us your thoughts: 10words@abc10.com