Eat Local & Be Social: How the Farm-to-Fork Capitol Engages via Social Media
Sacramento’s food elite gathered at Urban Hive Monday, March 12, to cover two emerging trends on everyone’s minds these days: eating local and being social.
As participants in Sacramento Social Media Club’s (SMCSAC) “Eat Local & Be Social” panel, local food advocates discussed how social media is fueling the “Farm-to-Fork” movement.
Chef Brenda Ruiz, Slow Food Sacramento and Biba Restaurant (@chefbrendaruiz)
Shannin Stein, Feeding Crane Farms and Lulu's Kitchen (@shannin_rae)
Amber Stott, Awake at the Whisk and California Food Literacy Center (@awakeatthewhisk)
Callista Wengler, Paragary Restaurant Group (@ccatprg)
Moderator Sonny Mayugba, AugustineIdeas and The Red Rabbit Kitchen and Bar (@sonnymayugba)
Moderator Mayugba opened the evening with a true testament to the power of social media, recanting a time when social media and food intertwined in his own restaurant (full story here: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/05/30/yelp-extortion-sacramento_n_155...).
After a patron claimed he suffered food poisoning as a result of dining at The Red Rabbit, he threatened to report the establishment unless he was gifted a $100 gift card to Ella. The incident went viral, catching the attention of national news outlets and bringing attention to the potential pitfalls of social publicity.
The anecdote segued into the opening discussion, Mayugba asking the panelists if they believe social media is enabling patrons to blackmail restaurateurs.
While they acknowledged that social media certainly has it’s risks, they agreed that social media is an equalizer.
Ruiz explained that social networks can be used to foster already-positive relationships that restaurants, farms, etc. have with their supporters. She reasoned that, if these relationships are solid, they will outshine any unfavorable social publicity.
In agreement, Stein reminded the audience that most social networks are opinion-based and encouraged everyone to take negative posts with a grain of salt.
How we Eat
When the discussion turned to social media and how it is changing the way eat, Stott laughed that she styles her food for breakfast [for social postings]. She used this an example of how society has raised visual expectations of food with the rise of social media.
More seriously, she credits social media with changing the way we eat through knowledge, understanding of where food comes from and empowerment to make better choices, pointing to TEDTalks as an example of this.
Wing it or Plan?
Curious about the logistics behind each panelist’s use of social media in their organizations, Mayugba asked for each to discuss the methods they use to plan or to confess if they wing it.
Stott admitted that it’s a little of both. She has an intern dedicated to content creation and implementation of the Food Literacy Center’s social content calendar, which is planned down to the details like timing of posts. On the other side of spectrum is her content for Awake at the Whisk, which she bases on “what I’m eating and what I’m in the mood for.”
As food photography plays an integral role in her social campaigns, Stott advised that bad photography is “the kiss of death.” She shared that being told to purchase a good camera was the best advice she has ever received as a blogger.
Stein shared that, while the public seems to believe otherwise because of their strong presence, there is a slight amount of “winging it” taking place at Feeding Cranes too. The farm has just begun formulating a long-term social strategy and is working on establishing a unified voice among multiple contributors.
Ruiz has a team of four actively working on their social media mediums and said that each contributor has their own personality. This works in their favor, resulting in a wide variety and abundance of content.
Wengler, whose team manages 12 different restaurants, enlists the help of employees at each to generate photos of menu items and postings about real-time specials. Employees are educated about generating quality content and, thanks to a marketing manager on staff and a solid internal framework, their platforms are thriving.
Fielding a question from the audience, panelists switched gears to a quick rundown of why consumers should eat local.
Speaking as restaurateurs, Wengler and Ruiz both attested to a careful balance between consumer demand and supporting local growers and seasonal selections.
Ruiz joked that “it’s always summer somewhere” when customers’ demands must be made a priority. She quickly followed with a reminder that eating locally is better for more than just the economy, citing the nutritional value of local picks.
Stein and Stott also spoke from the same place, with Stein saying that we can use situations like customer requests for out-of-season produce as a learning opportunity. She suggested offering alternatives and explaining the value of eating something that’s currently in season.
Stott said she had three reasons why she eats produce that's currently in season:
Flavor: She half-joked that eating a peach in winter is proof enough to why eating in season tastes better. When teaching low-income students at the Food Literacy Center how to eat, she reasons that using “disgusting” out of season produce isn’t an effective way of getting them excited.
Economy: She knows that dollars circulate when they are spent locally and is optimistic about players in the local economy finally picking up on that. She points to the Mayor’s office and the Convention & Visitor’s Bureau now touting the Farm-to-Fork movement as proof of this.
Environment: The food system is responsible for a third of what’s heating our planet and she reminded the audience “what’s good for you is also good for the planet.”
Where is it Headed?
Visibly excited when asked where the local movement is headed, Stott advised everyone not to wait for the Mayor to tell Sacramento what’s next for Farm-to-Fork.
“WE are Farm-to-Fork” and it’s up to us to eat local...we’re going to take this movement to the next level!” she enthused.
Building on Stott’s passion, Ruiz advised fellow enthusiasts on how to get involved. She said it’s great to start conversations and take photos about it about it but the next step is to actually turn that into action by supporting the organizations that fans “like,” “follow,” and “Tweet” about.
“We can have forums and have efforts and at the end of the day it really requires us to be part of the change and put our skin in the game,” Ruiz advised.
Food for Thought
As a closing thought, Mayugba asked if the current momentum is enough to keep the movement going and, if so, will social media play a role in keeping the fire burning?
Stein thinks so.
She pointed out that the Farm-to-Fork movement has been around for a long time but now there is money, a unifying force and effort behind it that is reigniting the momentum already built up. She affirmed that social media is the answer because it empowers the “smaller players” in the food system and gives a voice to the consumer.
Referencing a study that found 40 percent of consumers would pay more to eat local, Stott agrees.
“Social media is where we all first became empowered...and started standing up to the big guys...” She admits that there is still room to grow but she is confident the movement is heading in the right direction.
Get ready Sacramento, because the social Eat Local movement has just only just begun.
Watch the full event at http://www.ustream.tv/recorded/29938697
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