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California pears and rice feed Sacramento's Farm-to-Fork moniker

California Pear Bistro Salad
California Pear Bistro Salad
California Pear Advisory Board

We don’t want to bore you, but the statistics are staggering! They validate why the Sacramento region (and California) reigns as America’s Farm-to-Fork Capital. The region claims more than 7,200 farms and 150 unique crops. Just over 1.4 million acres of the region’s six-county land base are devoted to agricultural production with about 20 commissions and 40 marketing and promotion boards working to support and market the growers they represent.

Sacramento and all of California is farm-to-fork
Courtesy of Sacramento Convention & Visitors Bureau

Two such organizations, California Pear Advisory Board and California Rice Commission, help elevate the presence of pears and sweet rice locally and throughout the world. Our region’s history is deliciously plentiful – agriculturally and culturally – in regards to both.

California’s Gold Rush delivered more than 14K riches. Prospectors seeking their fortunes brought Bartlett pear trees to California by 1849. The Delta town of Courtland is famous for its pear orchards and 42-year-old Pear Fair. A 150-year-old legacy, there’s a heritage pear grove that still being harvested near Courtland! “We have fifth- and sixth-generation growers who want to keep doing this work – the same families and the same lands. There’s a very strong connection to the community,” said Chris Zanobini, Executive Director, and California Pear Advisory Board.

Who knew eating fresh could be so delectable and healthy? Well, the California Pear Advisory Board has a hand-up on that information. Consider “a pear a day”! Pears are loaded with healthy fiber! That may not sound sexy or exciting, but according to the American Dietetic Association, “Getting enough fiber on a daily basis is critical to maintaining health – from helping to achieve or maintain a healthy weight, healthy lipid profiles, stable blood sugar, and normal GI function.” Number one in so many ways, California leads the nation in Bartlett pears yielding about 165,000 tons of sweetness and beneficial fruit annually. All of this translates into a healthier, happier you.

Our region’s present is inextricably linked to its past. In 1849, the Gold Rush brought thousands of Chinese to the region. Growing rice to meet the demand was unsuccessful for 50 years. The problem? Farmers were trying to grow long grain rice to meet the demand for rice consumption. It’s great for the tropics, but not Sacramento Valley’s Mediterranean climate. Enter 1908 and the introduction of Japonica rice. It thrived in our temperate climate. “They struck gold twice!” exclaimed Tim Johnson, President/CEO, California Rice Commission. “The first successful crops were centered just south of Chico – Biggs and Fruitvale – the climate and heavy clay soils were perfect!” The combination led to an industry that produced 550,000 acres of rice in 2013 with 97 percent of the state’s rice crop grown in the Sacramento Valley. All the sushi rice – a Japonica – used in the USA is grown here and exported all over the world. Now that’s an OMG! factoid.

Rice has healthful benefits of vitamins and minerals, too. However, it also enriches our environment and lives in a very special way. Mostly gone are the days when rice straw was burned after harvest – reducing our air quality. Today, grain harvesters disk 350 pounds of grain per acre after which most rice paddies are flooded. This attracts insects and creates about 700 pounds of food per acre attracting waterfowl and shorebirds along the Pacific Flyway. “This was a new revelation – we didn’t know how important the rice fields are to them.” Thousands of birds descend each year inundating the fields. Wildlife and nature tourism provides a secondary boost to local economies. Numerous wildlife festivals have been created encouraging everyone – with a special emphasis on children – to get outdoors and engage. The benefits are huge. Healthy minds are healthy bodies.

Sidebar Factoid: There are more than 41 Certified Farmers Markets in the Sacramento Region and 24 Certified Farmers Markets in Sacramento County. For certified markets the California farmers grow 100% of products they sell!