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

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Local, Grass-fed meat from Homegrown Meats - La Jolla Butcher Shop

According to Caron at San Diego Foodstuff, a new butcher shop is opening next month in La Jolla called Homegrown Meats (7660 Fay Ave). They will be featuring locally raised grass-fed beef from Mendehall Ranch on Palomar Mountain as well as local wild turkey, ostrich, lamb, chicken, and duck - all hormone free. Go to the their site right away and click on the link "tell us what you'd like." Be sure to note grass-fed meat and make sure they know you want free-range poultry too!

I'll be back again soon with my final post - can't believe it's been a year already!

Saturday, June 7, 2008

San Diego County Certified Farmers Markets

For the most updated locations, days, and times of the farmers markets listed below, please follow the links.

Borrego Springs


Chula Vista

Chula Vista, Downtown


Del Mar



La Jolla

La Mesa


Little Italy

Normal Heights/Kensington

Ocean Beach


Otay Ranch

Pacific Beach


Rancho Bernardo

San Diego, City Heights

San Diego, Downtown, 225 Broadway and Broadway Circle

San Diego, Downtown, Horton Square

San Diego, Downtown, Third Avenue and J St

San Diego, East Village

San Diego, North Park

Scripps Ranch

Solana Beach



UCSD/La Jolla

UCSD Price Center


Is there a San Diego County Certified Farmers Market missing from the list that you think should be included? Please comment below!

Little Italy Farmers Market opening today

I was so overjoyed to tell you about the new City Heights farmers market that I failed to mention that today also marks the opening day for another certified farmers market, the Little Italy Mercato.

Little Italy Mercato
Saturday, 9:00 am - 1:30 pm
Date Street-India to Columbia -North Side

And while I'm at it, I don't think I've mentioned another new farmers market that has been set up recently in the hip and trendy neighborhood of East Village. It's so idealy situated that you can pick up your produce at the market and then swing by the brand new Cowboy Star Butcher Shop at 640 10th Avenue for some fresh, organic, grass-fed meat (alas, not local). Parking is not usually too much of a challenge on Saturday mornings but don't forget some change for the meters.

East Village Farmers Market
Saturday, 8:00 2: 00 p.m
8th & Market, San Diego

A list of all the San Diego County farmers markets will follow shortly for inclusion in my San Diego Eat Local Food Guide!

Thursday, June 5, 2008

City Heights Certified Farmers Market opening on Saturday

Back in January I mentioned a meeting for those who wanted to be involved in the creation of a new certified farmers market in the mid-city neighborhood of City Heights. It’s finally happened, and I am thrilled to the tips of my toes! 

The farmers market opens this Saturday and will provide a source for local, organic, and fresh produce to an area of chronic poverty and devoid of any good grocery stores (a “food desert”). Many residents of the community are immigrants, especially from East Africa, where open air markets are common, and the new farmers market has been heartily welcomed. The City Heights Farmers Market will be the first in the County to accept food stamps and WIC coupons, a step that encourages nutrition advocates and hunger-relief workers who have found it a challenge to recommend fresh produce when so little could be found in the neighborhood. Eleven vendors have been organized for the first day but more are sure to follow. Read more here

City Heights Farmers Market
Saturdays, 9 a.m. To 1 p.m.
Wightman St. & Fairmont Ave. (4440 Wightman St, San Diego 92105)

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Sea Rocket Bistro opens today!

The latest in San Diego farm-to-table opens its doors officially this evening at 5 p.m. Sea Rocket Bistro has taken over the old Linkery location (which has moved six blocks north) and is providing a farm-to-table menu with a twist: boat-to-table! That's right - they're specializing in local seafood, a fairly untapped source of local food here in San Diego.

We had an opportunity to try a taste of several items on the menu last night at a special Friends and Family evening (thanks, Dennis and Elena!). Our tasting menu included Fancy Green Salad (baby lettuce, heirloom tomatoes, goat cheese, dried cherries, figs, and pine nuts with house mustard vinaigrette), the Black Mussel Steamers (from Carlsbad Aqua Farm) in a perfectly spicy white wine sauce, the Del Mar Sea Bass (a little overdone, but spiced to absolute perfection) with just the right amount of roasted red potatoes and beets, the Emu Burger (tasty but too dry without some sort of sauce to pull it all together), and the Whipped Custard with Berries (delicious, made even better with the complimentary glass of champagne served alongside).

Four local beers were on tap and eight other local beers were available in bottle. The wines were all local too. Brian tried the ice tea (rooibos, a traditional tea of South Africa, my home for about six years) and the house made Blood Orange/Valencia Orange Soda mixed that day. The soda was really quite spectacular - think Orangina but with a richer orange flavor, no pulp, and not as sweet.

Although the restaurant seemed understaffed for such a large crowd (there were about fifty of us, I think, and just two servers along with managers Dennis and Elena), the food did not disappoint, and with a few tweaks here and there, I think it will be a serious contender. I would order the sea bass again in a moment, and the Blood Orange/Valencia Orange Soda was just the specialty a place like this bistro needs to set it apart. It seems like everyone is claiming to be a farm-to-table restaurant these days, but Sea Rocket Bistro's emphasis on local seafood should give it an edge on those serving land-based cuisine.

Give it a month or two to work out some of the kinks with service and recipes and then stop in for some real local flavor. Or, better yet, be one of the first to visit and offer your suggestions for improvements and compliments. Dennis and Elena are open to feedback and are eager to make this a success. I have high hopes!

Sea Rocket Bistro
3382 30th Street
San Diego, California
(619) 255-7049

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Where am I?

Still alive and kicking, although busy with all the things that are worthy of being celebrated with all the panache I can muster - birthdays, anniversaries, graduations, showers, mother's days and father's days, and weddings! I will be back soon!