Farm to Fork Week - An Assessment, Part 2

Please read Part 1 on regarding the successes and some problems with Farm-to-Fork Week events. (Sadly, now deleted. )

Sell it to the locals

When Mike Testa gave his speech last spring and talked about selling it to the locals first, it made a lot of sense. Sacramentans, he said, need to understand the message so that when they travel to other cities they can talk about it and spread the word with enthusiasm. It’s Sacramentans themselves who have to be the biggest cheerleaders, it can’t all be on the shoulders of the Sacramento Conventions and Visitors Bureau and the restaurants.

Yet as much promotion as there has been all year for F2F week, I became more and more bothered by the emphasis on the dinners and restaurant events and the lack of promotion for the Festival itself. After all, the free Festival on Capitol Mall was the event that was engineered to target the most people and the general populace.

Who was going to be there? What activities were going to take place? What could people expect to find there?  These were all questions I had that had very vague answers up to the day of the event. It wasn’t until several days before the Festival that the first overview went up on the website of what to expect. It wasn’t until about 24 hours before the event that a map and an actual schedule of events went up.

Then there’s the app. Yes, that’s right. There was a F2F smartphone app.  When did I find out about it? At 11pm on the night before the Festival and 48 hours before the end of the whole F2F Week. The app should have been widely publicized a month before the event, not at the tail end of the Week.

When I talked to people on the Mall that day, I asked them, “When did you find out about the Festival? How much have you heard about F2F Week? What did you expect to find or do here today?”

Jeanette was there with her two adult daughters. She considers herself to be a foodie and yet she didn’t know about the Festival until the day before. She had no idea what to expect and although she understands the general idea of F2F, had no idea about Sacramento being proclaimed the Farm-to-Fork Capital of America.

The only reason Loana knew about the Festival was because her daughter is in Elk Grove 4H and was helping with some of the animal exhibits. She knew about the Festival a month ago, thanks to that involvement. She also had no idea what the Festival was for or the message it was trying to convey.

If the first goal is to sell the concept to the populace, then the F2F organizers need to step it up considerably. Compared to the well organized Tower Bridge Dinner, the Festival seemed to be thrown together at the last minute. This is unfortunate since they had the same amount of lead time that restaurants did.

(Added note: SCVB did lose the assigned coordinator for this project late spring. Not sure on hiring status.)

What about the end goal?

As I walked the Mall on Saturday I began to think about the end goal. If that goal is to increase tourism to Sacramento using F2F to attract foodies, do the events that took place accomplish it? Do the week’s events appeal to those tourists?

I don’t think the Festival accomplishes that goal. Think of yourself as a foodie from Chicago, North Carolina, or even Europe. Why would the Festival attract such people? If I’m from Chicago I have no interest in the California Rice Commission or Lucky Dog Ranch beef. I’m not going to be getting a Lucky Dog steak in my local restaurant. So why would I stroll along looking at booths from these Northern California producers?

The Festival, in its current form, is for the locals and has not much appeal for a tourist to spend money to come here.

The week before our F2F Week it was Feast Portland. Only in its second year, Feast Portland managed to draw a bunch of names from around the country to attend. Chris Cosentino, owner of Incanto and Top Chef Masters winner, flew up from San Francisco. Paul Qui, Top Chef contestant, flew up from Austin, TX and Christina Tosi from Momofuku Milk Bar flew from NYC. The Feast events included a sandwich invitational where Qui and others competed, a Best Butcher & Fishmonger face-off, and grand tasting tent events. Those are the kind of big events that attract foodie tourists.

I’m not saying we need to pull in out-of-town talent when part of the goal is to showcase what great talent we already have here. But the events need to be attractive enough to entice that Chicagoan to fly out and attend.

A good example is the Sacramento Burger Battle, also held last month. I stood in line waiting for the gates to open for General Admission and in line next to me was a guy from Ohio. He came to meet some online friends he never met before, see California, and the event that enticed him to do so was the Burger Battle. He actually planned his visit around coming to the Burger Battle.

Sacramento has great food events sprinkled throughout the year. Perhaps some of them need to be tied to F2F week in order to attract the out-of-towners. Burger Battle, Baconfest, and Have an Offal Day are all excellent events that would have that kind of draw and tourist appeal.

Looking to the future

We are at the completion of Year One of Farm-to-Fork. As with all first time events, after assessments have to be done to think about what worked well and what didn’t. It is also a time to reexamine aspects of the message, the goal, and the plan to get there. Loana, Jeanette, Susan, and others were all excited by this first year and hopeful for next year’s events. I’m hopeful for our next decade of events.