Friday, July 18, 2008

A long-winded summary to a year of eating locally

This is my last official post. It’s been a little over a year since I began my adventure of eating locally. This blog has taken on a life of its own, far different from my initial intention of posting about my adventures of eating locally. I learned quickly that plenty of other people were already writing about their personal experiences of trying to find local food and that we were all saying much the same thing: it's tough, it's fun making personal connections, we are suddenly outraged at the state of our food system. So, I decided to steer clear of many of the larger issues (head to Ethicurian, 100-Mile Diet, and the Eat Local Challenge for that) and instead, focused my concerns on the particular issues of the San Diego area (water issues, for one).

I started watching my feed and web site visitor stats more closely and figured out for certain that most of you – as I suspected - could really care less about my personal musings anyway and came to my site for the facts. So, I started giving you facts more often: short bios of local producers, blurbs on news stories, and information on upcoming events. (Thanks all of you out-of-towners who have loyally read my blog even after these drastic changes and, on occasion, even commented. Especially those who aren’t my mother!)

Eat Local – or only kinda:

I didn’t source all our food locally as I had hoped I would. I was never able to find a local milk producer that operated sustainably (nor any milk producer within the county for that matter), so we switched to organic milk from a source I trusted in northern California. Meat was another challenge that I never fully solved. A couple months ago I learned of R &C Livestock, but we had neither the room to store nor the money to go in on a whole animal as would have been required. Just today I learned of Mendehall Ranch near Palomar Mountain which will be selling their grass-fed beef and hormone free lamb, turkey, ducks, chickens, and ostrich through Homegrown Meats in La Jolla, and I’m sure we’ll be sourcing them in the future. I was able to find a thanksgiving turkey nearby and plenty of eggs from free-range hens, but no roasting chickens within the county. Instead, we chose California, free-range chickens (Mary’s, available at Whole Foods), bison from northern California (Lindner Bison), and grass-fed beef (from whatever Midwest source was available at our local Whole Foods).

Local and organic produce, on the other hand, was plentiful. We started out with a weekly small CSA share from Be Wise Ranch and regular trips to the farmers markets, but then switched to a biweekly box from J.R. Organics as soon as they began their program last fall. The vegetables and fruit were truly amazing, and I am spoiled forever by the fresh contents of our CSA boxes. It has been a true pleasure getting to know the Rodriguez farm, speaking with Farmer Joe, and meeting JoanE. J.R. Organics was the highlight of my year (well, and the "abalone incident" as it has come to be known)!

The Cost:

I had hoped to save money while eating local but that didn’t turn out to be the case. I didn’t save a cent! I splurged, partly because I wanted to report back to my readers what was really out there and partly because the local-food scene is so small that I had to buy where I could find it. Produce was the one exception. It was less expensive in my CSA box than either at the farmers market or the store, but for just about everything else I payed top dollar. As an example, only a couple farms sell free-range eggs, mushrooms are only sold by two different companies, and the turkey I bought was from one of the only nearby farms that I know of that sells them. I’m hoping this will change as I learn of more local farms and producers that are contributing to the local foodshed.

Saving on Fossil Fuels:

There’s been a lot of debate on the strength of the fossil fuel argument in the last year, and I came to the conclusion that I probably wasn’t saving that much fossil fuel by eating local since I was rushing everywhere in my car to gather things together. Nevertheless, I can tell you with all truthfulness that certain notorious long-distance traveling food items (like bananas) never did make it to our counter top in the last 12 months, and I feel that’s something.

San Diego is Embracing Eat Local:

I felt very lonely when I started this blog. Some of the only sources I could find for information were Jay Porter’s Linkery blog, Slow Food San Diego, and fellow bloggers like Alice Q. Foodie and Shooting Stars of Thought. Because of my difficulty in finding information on the eat local food scene, I felt it was important to “publish” my findings so others could avoid some of what I was going through.

It has been an exciting time to watch the eat local scene in San Diego. This is what I’ve witnessed this year:

1. the launching of a new CSA program, J.R. Organics, which has been tremendously successful

2. the first two issues of edible San Diego, a solid source for articles on sourcing local food, events, and producers

3. introduction of “local” labels in Henry’s stores, Whole Foods, at the O.B. People’s Food Co-op, and - just last week - Vons

4. establishment of a slew of new farm-to-table restaurants (click here for a list) such as Ritual Tavern and Sea Rocket Bistro

5. commencement of many new farmers markets, particularly in City Heights (first in the county to accept WIC vouchers and food stamps), Little Italy, and East Village

6. two sources for local, grass fed meat: R&C Livestock and Homegrown Meats

7. the opening of La Milpa Organica, the coolest little sustainable farm you’ll ever see, to the public every third Saturday for great food and good films

Worldview Shift:

While I don’t live in a society where it is necessary to know how to preserve vegetables, butcher a full pig, or grow my own food, the very act of learning – or simply acknowledging - those skills caused a worldview shift. Eating local introduced me to issues such as food policy, nutrition, global food shortages, food wastefulness, cooking, and general sustainability that will stay with me for the rest of my life.

Going forward, I will still be focusing on our San Diego foodshed, and I will continue choosing to put my money towards supporting a professional farmer or artisan who can do it more efficiently than I can, thereby freeing myself to devote time to other equally worthwhile causes a little more in my zone of knowledge, like historic preservation.

I begin work towards a Masters degree in Historic Preservation this month, to complement my work as a historian. The practice of Historic Preservation is not so far off from the Eat Local mentality that I've nurtured in the last year. You know that saying "All politics is local?" Well, that is equally true of historic preservation, which is most effective at the community level. People are more likely to work towards saving a building or landscape that they see everyday or have memories within than to care about some other town's first courthouse or covered bridge, for example. It promotes community involvement as well as a sense of place, two great results from the Eat Local movement too.

Another similarity is found in the emphasis on sustainability. While it has been accepted for some time that the preservation of an old building can increase the economic value of it and the surrounding neighborhood or city, in the last couple years there has been a growing emphasis towards saving old buildings because it is more "green" or energy efficient than to tear down and replace it with a brand new structure.


Before I signed off, I’ve gathered most of what I've found into a Guide to Eating Locally in San Diego, separated into different pages for each type of food. You can find it at the top of the right column on my blog page. This will still be updated, so please give me feedback! Let me know what is missing, what is listed incorrectly, and I'll make it better. While I don’t intend to make regular posts from here on out, I will keep the site up and will be monitoring emails and comments.

Thank you, everyone, for your ongoing support and for continuing to make this such a pleasurable effort. I hope that you will stay in touch and let me know where your adventure of eating local is taking you!

All the best, Melanie


Mom :-) said...

It's been great to read your posts for the past year. I'm proud of you!

Jeffrey R. Willis said...

Melanie - I know I will miss your posts !! I have really enjoyed them (yes, even the personal musings) and found them very informative. Good luck on the Master's Degree and stay in touch. Jeff

Anonymous said...

Thanks for all the work you've put into this. Your research has been a great resource for me. Good luck with the master's!

Anonymous said...

I just want you to know how much I looked forward to reading your posts this last year. Of course, my favorite was the "abalone incident". I still laugh until I cry when I think about that one. What a fine job you have done. Thanks for taking the time. You are an excellent writer - witty as well. I know your mom is proud of you. Your west coast mom is too!

ali said...

Melanie, You have really provided an invaluable resource for San Diegans wanting to eat locally. Thank you again for all your hard work, and I will check back often.

Also, I just learned about this J&J beef that might provide a meat CSA to Southern Californians. Here's a link:
They are located north of LA.

I hope to be in touch soon, and I hope your course is going well!


Marian said...

i've really enjoyed this blog and found it helpful during my attempts to eat more locally. Thank you.

lauren duffy said...

Hi Melanie--your site has been a great resource for fellow locavores--and will continue to be so if you keep it out there. thanks for compiling such detailed information on our foodshed and good luck moving forward!

Melanie Lytle said...

Thanks, everyone!

Kelly M said...

I have also really enjoyed your posts and hope you'll come back to update from time to time. I was just at the Linkery last night and discovered this new magazine that you might be interested in, if you haven't heard about it already. It's dedicated to eating locally in San Diego and I was pretty excited to discover it!

ali said...

Yes, I totally want to come down and try a new restaurant with you! But we'll have to talk schedules. I started bussing tables at this restaurant in my town, but my nights are free. Also, I don't think i have your cell, so I'm going to have to email you!

Beany said...

I just found your blog and am so glad I did. I moved here a few months ago from Philadelphia where I went all out in trying to be local (including seeking out local flour/oats). The cost was almost gave me a heart attack.

I'm so glad you wrote about your experiences. I will be referring to this regularly.

For example, I'm suspicious of the strawberries at the Hillcrest Farmers' market. Is it in season? I got used to the growing season in the North East that I am not sure what its like here.

Re: the milk. Although I don't drink it very often (usually just make yogurt with it), I was hoping to make cheese at home in an attempt to reduce some of the plastic consumption I bring. But I guess I'm going to have to wait on that one.

But again. Thank you.

Melanie Lytle said...

Beany - thanks for your feedback! Strawberries are in season beginning in February through to October (as unbelievable as that may seem!). If you're interested in learning what fruits and vegetables you can expect each season here in San Diego, check out the San Diego County Farmers Bureau harvest calendar (

All the produce vendors who sell at San Diego's certified farmers markets are required to grow their product within California. Most of the farmers are from southern California though sometimes you'll come across produce that was grown up north in the valley. If you're wondering, just ask the seller.

Good luck! Melanie

Anonymous said...
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Susan Payton said...

I started reading your blog a few months ago and read it from "cover to cover." I've loved it, and learned a lot. I recently moved to San Diego, so this has been a great resource.

And FYI I loved your editorial pieces!

Susan Payton

Melanie Lytle said...

Susan - Thank you for taking the time to leave a comment! Welcome to San Diego - I hope you find our foodshed just as fascinating as I have. Feel free to drop me a line anytime if you find a good resource or even just want to make a comment. Take care, Melanie