With festival canceled, Sacramento can still celebrate
By Tessa Marguerite Outland
Even though this year’s annual Farm-to-Fork Festival has been canceled due to COVID-19, the harvest events, which include the Farm-to-Fork Street Festival on Capitol Mall, Legends of Wine and Tower Bridge Dinner, are set to return next September.
Since 2013, the Farm-to-Fork Street Festival has developed into a popular two-day event highlighting Sacramento’s agricultural legacy and attracting more than 155,000 residents and visitors. The free open-air jamboree features musical artists, local food vendors, regional wines, craft beer, cooking demonstrations and more.
Visit Sacramento President and CEO Mike Testa says that after talking with Sacramento County public health officials, the decision to cancel the festival was unavoidable. The reality of trying to maintain social distancing between the public and vendors would be unattainable. And while Testa says he and his team looked into going virtual, it wouldn’t quite work for a food-tasting event.
“We were really excited about this year’s new elements,” Testa says. As Sacramento has gained more recognition as America’s farm-to-fork capital, some food industry celebrities are taking notice. In 2019, a Michelin Guide inspector came to Sacramento during the farm-to-fork events, resulting in the city’s first Michelin Star awarded to The Kitchen.
“Part of the reason we do this festival is to shine a culinary spotlight on our region,” Testa says. “Everyone expects me to say (our food) is amazing, but when Michelin says it, it’s valuable.”
This year, Visit Sacramento had planned to invite the James Beard Foundation, a New York City-based national nonprofit culinary arts organization, back to Sacramento. Each year, the foundation awards chefs, regional restaurants, bakers, and even cookbooks and broadcast media. In 2013, Frank Fat’s restaurant received the James Beard Foundation America’s Classics Award and remains the only Sacramento restaurant with this recognition.
Another aspect of the Farm-to-Fork Festival is the prestigious Tower Bridge Dinner. Rows of tables dressed in white tablecloths adorned with flowers are arranged along the iconic bridge, framed by its golden towers. A limited number of guests are invited to indulge in an elegant, locally sourced feast prepared by the region’s top chefs.
A portion of the proceeds from the Tower Bridge Dinner usually go to fund scholarships for Sacramento State students in the College Assistance Migrant Program. This federally funded program is available to students who are the children of migrant and seasonal farmworkers. In 2019, Visit Sacramento provided $5,000 in CAMP scholarships. This year the organization increased that amount to $7,000 to be used for seven $1,000 scholarships.
In the absence of ticket proceeds, Farm-to-Fork Festival sponsor Bank of America will provide the scholarships in 2020. “It is important to us to continue to support farm-to-fork in a variety of new ways given the cancelation of this year’s event,” says Lori Rianda, senior vice president for Bank of America in Sacramento. “When the opportunity arose to cover the cost of the scholarships, we were happy to be able to help.”
Funds for the scholarship will be allocated from a microgrant program called Fork 2 Farm Relief + Restocking Grants, which is funded by Bank of America in collaboration with Visit Sacramento and Downtown Sacramento Partnership.
Testa is confident the festival will return in 2021 complete with all the delightful farm-to-fork offerings of Sacramento’s soil. “One of the great things about Sacramento is we are farm-to-fork year-round,” Testa says. “The festival is just the party celebrating it.” Sacramento residents can contribute to the city’s earthy food scene simply by patronizing local restaurants.
Each gift card purchase or takeout order from one of Sacramento’s farm-to-fork eateries directly supports servers, small business owners, farmers and many others.
“We’re disappointed to have to cancel this year, but it’s not gone,” Testa says. “Assuming (the pandemic) is behind us, folks can expect another celebration of Sacramento’s agricultural heritage next year.”
Tessa Marguerite Outland can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram: @insidesacramento.