“Innovation is not the product of logical thought, even though the final product is tied to a logical structure.” Einstein
The Kitchen’s Co-Founder and CFO Josh Nelson loves this quote, saying it really sums up how innovation is about creativity and chance, and that it is often illogical. However, to truly innovate, you need to then put that “crazy” thought into action and do something about it, even if you don’t know exactly where you are going with it. It is only at the end that you can look back and see how it is you got there.
So it was with the development of Sacramento’s Farm-to-Fork logo and subsequent city branding and identity. Here’s how it happened. Around 2007, Nelson reminisces, when the Sacramento Kings would play the LA Lakers, the famous Lakers Coach Phil Jackson would often disparagingly refer to Sacramento as a “cowtown.” Nelson recalls he kept thinking to himself, “Well, maybe we are a “cowtown,” but what we really are is a farming town, and what is wrong with that? That’s a good thing. It should be a point of civic pride.”
While this idea was fresh in his mind, he also, with his well-known fondness for graphic tees, thought that Sacramento should have its own version of the “I Heart NY” t-shirts you saw everywhere, something that people in the Sacramento restaurant and food community could wear both at home and when they traveled or represented Sacramento at major food events. Something iconic, memorable, likable, and authentic.
What was more iconic and more representative of Sacramento, he mused, than the fact that we are farming town, and proud of it? We are unique in this respect. This is our identity. Knowing that Sacramento boasts the most farmers markets per capita in the nation and that many of our local chefs had for quite some time sourced many of their ingredients locally, embracing the farm-to-table ethos that had been growing nationwide, he decided to come up with the logo and the t-shirt design himself. It could be sold at farmers markets, he thought, and shared with other chefs. Eventually, perhaps the design could be used on other merchandise and have a broad appeal across the entire Sacramento food scene and beyond, helping to foster a sense of community.
Nelson came up with the slogan – “I Dig Sac” – and went to work conceptually on logo ideas with a friend. A first pass missed the mark a bit, but it was still a jumping off point. You have to start somewhere! So, in January of 2011, Nelson turned to his marketing director Sheryl Trapani and local graphic designer Carol Wright to work on the development of a new logo, asking to incorporate creative elements of “farm-to-table,” “America’s #1 city for farmers markets,” and the visual elements of a pitchfork and a dinner fork, with a color palate that should convey a sense of “freshness, flavor and earth-friendliness.”
As the design evolved, the idea of bringing the term “Farm to Fork” came into play and eventually, in September of 2011, the final version of the logo that made it onto the first printing of t-shirts by Nelson and team was born. They soon discovered that – oops! – the word Capital should be spelled with an A rather than an O. But mistakes are always part of the creative process. Surely those original misspelled t-shirts are worth a pretty penny now! 😉
But Nelson was thinking bigger, as is his habit. He felt that this “Farm-to-Fork” idea was not just a slogan or logo, it was a real and authentic identity that the city could and should make official. Maybe this could lead to something bigger, he thought. So he again took it upon himself to approach City Councilmember Darrell Fong and the Sacramento Convention and Visitors Bureau to see how he could help craft a resolution to declare Sacramento “America’s Farm-to-Fork Capital,” officially recognizing the city’s unique relationships between food, restaurants and farming. Nelson and the Selland Family Restaurants team actually researched, created and drafted the resolution, which reads:
In the fall of 2012, the Mayor held a press conference at a ceremony officially declaring Sacramento America’s Farm-to-Fork Capital at the city level. Subsequently, Assemblyman Richard Pan helped steward the resolution into being adopted at the state level. Then in 2013, Nelson and SFR officially turned over the rights to the Farm-to-Fork logo and name, as well as the internet domain and all social media accounts to the city, hoping that after he had steered it to this point, the city could take over and grow the identity even further. Nelson was hoping this identity would help the city and the entire Sacramento restaurant, farming and food community, so he gave it away.
The SCVB rolled out the official version of the Farm-to-Fork logo in 2014, introducing the first series of events to be held in September’s Farm-to-Fork Week. Since then, the festival has grown each year, along with recognition by the restaurant community, by the public at large, and by the entire nation that Sacramento IS America’s Farm-to-Fork Capital. Even the groundbreaking new Golden 1 Arena in Downtown Sacramento has embraced the identity, pledging that they would source 90% of ingredients at their concessions regionally, and contracting with many local restaurateurs to open outposts at the arena. The opportunities at this point are endless.
As more and more people embrace Sacramento’s farm-to-fork identity as a point of civic pride, Nelson is just happy to have seen his idea come to fruition. He likes to remind us that even if an idea seems crazy and illogical, and you don’t know what the end game is, the key is to start doing something about it and see where it takes you. You may surprise everyone – perhaps yourself most of all!