Earlier this week, reps from various California destinations converged on New York City for a handful of press events (including a stunning reception at Jazz At Lincoln Center, pictured). On Tuesday, I had lunch with one — Lucy Steffens, director of travel media for Visit Sacramento — who gave me the lowdown on how that city is developing its farm-to-fork identity.
As we shared some chargrilled squid and salmon salad, Steffens explained how just a few years ago, visitors might not have necessarily targeted Sacramento as a place to get their food groove on. San Francisco, 90 miles to the west, has always cast a long shadow.
Yet this city of nearly half-million people is surrounded by 1.4 million acres of farmland, making it easy for chefs at any of Sacramento’s 1,600-plus eateries to serve ridiculously fresh cheese, meat, veggies, fruit, and legumes — not to mention first-class wine and beer. A nearby university, University of California, Davis, is known for its agricultural research. More tomatoes are grown around Sacramento than anywhere else in the world. And did you know that Sacramento is an epicenter for caviar and almonds? Neither did I. (Blue Diamond Growers is headquartered here).
Recognizing that this has long gone — well, unrecognized — in 2012, the city took steps to highlight this former Gold Rush locale as a farm-to-fork hotbed. The Sacramento Convention & Visitors Bureau launched a website that aggregates food-related events such as permaculture courses and walking tours with farmers market schedules. A handy chart even shows when certain veggies and fruit, such as beets and cherries, are in season.
Planners are taking notice, Steffens said. Though Sacramento’s meetings capabilities max out at a few thousand attendees, those that do come in for events find a city teeming with fresh food, incredible wine, and opportunities to learn about the working landscape and how it works in tandem with award-winning restaurants. Sacramento is working hard to get that message out into the world, and it’s a prime example of how a destination can mine an underdeveloped facet of their identity and use it to their advantage. We can’t wait for our next visit.