Regular visitors to A News Café know that we’re strong promoters of locally sourced food. A session during the Great Valley Center’s Sacramento Valley Forum on Wednesday reminded me just how far Shasta County has to go with its local food movement. But the session also hinted at the possibilities.
Much of the focus of the panel discussion, conducted at Sierra Nevada Brewery in Chico, was on “Placer Grown.” The nonprofit organization of the same name does innumerable things to boost the Placer Grown brand, to educate consumers about the benefits of eating locally, and to connect growers with distributors, retailers and restaurants.
As Placer Grown Board President Karen Killebrew explained, the group conducts an annual food and farm conference for growers and others in the industry, organizes events that showcase local food, wines and restaurants, coordinates with the Sierra College ag program and FFA, assists with advertising campaigns, helps with social networking, promotes Satsuma “mountain mandarins” as Placer County’s signature crop, and – very importantly – ensures the Placer Grown label gets slapped on all of it. Increasingly, consumers know to look for that label at farmers’ markets, the grocery store or even in restaurants.
Matt Williams, who owns Café Zorro in the Placer County town of Loomis, conceded that although he changes his menu weekly based on what local products are in season, consumers are not totally ready for a purely seasonal menu. The Caesar salad stays on the menu, no matter where the Romaine comes from. At the same time, consumers are not as hesitant to pay a higher price for local food, and growers are willing to bend in order to prevent Williams from offering “a $12.95 plate of broccoli.”
There are other huge challenges for Placer County’s local food scene, especially distribution problems for growers, and burdensome regulations for slaughtering and processing livestock, Killebrew said.
Still, the energy those two and the panel’s third member Ben Ratto, who runs a Central Valley wholesale produce company, brought to the issue was encouraging. The audience of about 70 peppered the panel with questions, further demonstrating interest in the subject. Of course, we were in Chico, where at least half a dozen restaurants offer menus heavily based on local, seasonal products. As Jim Dyar recently reported, Moonstone Bistro is the lone Redding restaurant seriously committed to locally sourced meat and produce, although other eateries are dipping a toe in the local waters.
All I know is that if Placer County – which may be best known for growing tract houses – can put together a successful local food program, there’s no reason that Shasta County could not have an even better Shasta Grown campaign.
Paul Shigley is senior editor of California Planning & Development Report, a frequent contributor to Planning magazine and really likes to eat. He lives in Centerville. Paul Shigley may be reached at email@example.com.
A News Cafe, founded in Shasta County by Redding, CA journalist Doni Greenberg, is the place for people craving local Northern California news, commentary, food, arts and entertainment. Views and opinions expressed here are not necessarily those of anewscafe.com.