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New Farm-to-Fork LIVE Event Series Kicks Off (Plus Paella)

By Adrian Rehn

You think getting your kids to eat what you cook them is difficult? Try feeding 45,000 kids every day!

That’s what Diana Flores, Nutrition Services Director for Sacramento City Unified School District, and her staff face every school day of the year – the largest restaurant you can imagine with the pickiest clientele. With construction of the district’s new central kitchen underway, nutrition services staff will soon have the equipment and space needed to feed those kids more food grown right here in our region – America’s Farm to Fork Capital.

Last week audience members learned this and more at the kickoff event of Farm to Fork Live!, a new event series developed by Valley Vision, that will focus on different aspects of the food and agriculture economy and culture. “We want to address, not just the “why” of our region being ‘America’s Farm to Fork Capital’, but the “how” as well. How are our food and ag leaders showing that We Are Farm to Fork? How is our region leading the way?” said Bill Mueller, CEO of Valley Vision.

The first event, held last Thursday at UC Davis Health’s MIND Institute, focused on our Home Grown Economy – how institutional food purchasers can support the local economy by purchasing from local growers. In addition to SCUSD, UC Davis Health Executive Chef Santana Diaz explained how he is creating a locally-sourced food services program in the health center’s cafeterias and for their patient care program. Patients, staff, and visitors will be getting high-quality, healthy food while supporting the local economy.

While making the connection between food purchasers and local growers might seem like a no-brainer, it’s not always as easy as it sounds. Growers don’t always have the quantity or exact product a chef or purchaser might need, and buyers have to have a purchasing system that allows them to work with multiple sources rather than one large food distributor. Aquaculturist (“fish farmer”) Michael Passmore of Passmore Ranch and rice farmer Michael Bosworth of Rue & Forsman talked about how working with Chef Santana and other institutional buyers has benefited their operations. They explained the paths they each took to get to that point, while Chef Santana talked about how to make a local-purchasing system work.

When large-scale food purchasers buy from local farmers and ranchers, more of our local dollars stay in the region, which lifts the whole economy. Additionally, fresher, often healthier food reaches people who might otherwise not have access to it. That’s what Ms. Flores faces, as over 70% of the SCUSD students come from low-income households. Ms. Flores explained that when she can purchase from local growers, she also saves money. This is important, especially since the Nutrition Services program is completely self-funded – they get no financial support from the district’s general fund. So, the $3.33 she has per student per meal doesn’t just pay for food, it pays for staff, equipment, transportation, and all of the other expenses that go into feeding that many people at 80 different sites.

The program closed with the unveiling of the new Farm to Fork Live brand developed by Honey Agency, who also developed the We Are Farm to Fork civic pride logo and Visit Sacramento’s America’s Farm to Fork Capital logo. The new Farm to Fork Live logo mixes the excitement of eating healthy food with the beautiful patchwork created by agricultural fields across our region.

The informative, engaging conversation was led by local TV personality Bethany Crouch. We look forward to continuing to work with Bethany through the rest of the series. Following the program, participants were treated to a reception that included Chef Santana’s paella, sourced from local ingredients including fish from Passmore Ranch and rice and Rue & Forsman. This was paired with sangria and an arugula and quinoa salad.

Valley Vision will continue the Farm to Fork Live series with events in December, February, and March!

Robyn Krock was a Valley Vision Project Leader managing food, agriculture, and broadband initiatives.