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5 Slow Things to Do in San Diego on Black Friday Instead of Shopping

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By Slow Food Urban San Diego Board Member, Kathryn Rogers

In sunny San Diego, with our near-perfect year round weather that is the envy of northern dwellers across the country, one of the strongest indicators (besides those 4:30 sunsets) of the long-anticipated holiday season is a whole lot of marketing. We get e-blasts, mailers and point-of-purchase reminders galore that the best way to celebrate this holiday season is by buying as much as possible.

Long gone are the days when retail employees spent the Thanksgiving holiday at home with their loved ones. Now we can jump on those holiday deals while we’re still in the first clutches of a Thanksgiving feast food coma. We’ve traded retail therapy for good, old-fashioned family time.

This Thanksgiving, Slow Food Urban San Diego invites you to reclaim your dining table with gratitude for the bounty of food and the people who produced it, with a heritage turkey and locally sourced, seasonal side dishes. You can enjoy slow living the whole weekend and throughout the season, perhaps by opting for these five local activities in lieu of the mad crowded rush that is Black Friday and Cyber Monday.

  1. Visit a Farmers’ Market. Whether you intend to purchase produce and homemade goods or just want a great reason to taste seasonal fruits and veggies and chat with local farmers, a day at the farmers’ market is sure to be a hit with the whole family. Many markets also have a wide selection of prepared foods (in case you’re still hungry) and some even have live music.
  2. Get Outside. The County of San Diego manages more than 120 parks and preserves throughout the region with locations ranging from the beach to the valleys, the mountains to the desert. Not to mention all our local parks and open coastline. These trails, scenic vistas, playgrounds, and lakes are perfect for hiking, cycling, strolling, or horseback riding. Being active is a great way to avoid the crowds and burn off some of those extra calories.
  3. Make Homemade Gifts. Nothing says “I love you” more than a gift crafted from the heart. Whether its beeswax candles, a hand knitted hat or your famous holiday cookies, you can “wow” your loved ones while saving time and money by making presents in batches. Stock up on your supplies and ingredients in advance so you can spend all of Black Friday cozy at home, crafting away. Any little ones in your house will surely enjoy lending helping hands as well.
  4. Enjoy Arts and Culture. This Friday, Balboa Park has scheduled more than 20 exhibitions, 15 film screenings, botanical garden tours and family activities including holiday puppet shows, many of which are free and open to the public. Hop on your local bus line or bike path to make it a completely green day while avoiding parking woes. Then enjoy the natural and historical beauty in the company of your dear ones.
  5. Share your Abundance. As you are feeling extra grateful for all the good in your life, take time to give back to your community. Local organizations offer a number of volunteer opportunities for individuals and families, including preparing and serving meals to people experiencing food insecurity. Wild Willow Farm and Shakti Rising are also hosting a Give 5 Black Friday Challenge where you can volunteer your time or make a donation in support of sustainable farm education programs.

If the buying bug is still tugging on your purse straps or wallet folds, shop local whenever possible. This puts money back in our local economy, and you’re likely to discover more unique gifts compared to online or in big box stores. Check out Edible San Diego’s Holiday Guide for tasty local gift ideas, stroll shops on Adams Avenue during Small Business Saturday (November 28) while enjoying festive libations, or head over to South Park on December 5 for the Holiday Happenings Walkabout.

To find additional small businesses in your area, check out the Urbanist Guide.

Wishing you and yours a slow start to the holiday season!

Cook Pigs Ranch Brings Healthy and Happy Heritage Pigs from Farm to Table

By Kathryn Rogers. SFUSD Board of Directors
Photos by Colin Leibold

Cook Pigs Ranch

At the age of seven, I proclaimed to my carnivorous parents that I would no longer be eating meat.  It was a moral decision grounded in my love for pigs; I couldn’t bear the thought of my favorite animal ending up on my dinner plate.

Looking back on my youthful conviction, it’s a wonder that some 20 years later I find myself standing on a pig ranch outside San Diego staring into the eyes of more than 40 porkers destined for slaughter.

My staunch pescetarian days had ended years before during a college semester in the south of Spain. Sipping espresso in my favorite corner cafe, I was enticed by the cured pig leg hanging above the chopping blocks. Shortly thereafter I enjoyed my first piece of toast with Spanish olive oil and the famed Iberian ham. I’ve been eating meat ever since.

Cook Pigs Ranch

As I expanded my diet to include poultry and beef, I faced the classic omnivore’s dilemma. My body responded well to the added protein and fat; I felt healthier than I’d been in years. And my culinary forays blossomed with more diversity in my staple ingredient list. But I still didn’t feel right eating animals, especially those that came from the crowded, dirty and inhumane conditions on factory farms.

I hoped that my journey to Cook Pigs Ranch, located outside the little mountain town of Julian, CA, would help to resolve some of my inner turmoil.

Winding through the oak groves on the way to the 11-acre farm, I admit I was nervous.  But as soon as we pulled through the iron gate, I was put at ease with a greeting first by two friendly “watch” donkeys and a giant white horse, followed by an oinking pen of recently weaned piglets. I grinned seeing their curly tails and crinkly snouts.

Krystina Cook, with her youngest daughter Rosaleigh in tow, came to welcome us.

“Let me introduce you to our pigs,” she said, smiling proudly.

Their more than 500 pigs are crosses of heritage breeds including Red Wattles, GOS, Large Blacks, Berkshires, Durocs, Tamworth, and Mulefoot that spend their days roaming pastures and oak groves to feed on grass, herbs, acorns, and roots, with some supplementation from sprouted barley and pesticide-free seasonal produce. Sows birth their piglets in covered birthing facilities and protected pens, and the youngsters are never given medicine so they can build up their immune systems naturally to thrive in the outdoors. It is a truly beautiful (and surprisingly pleasant smelling) operation.

Cook Pigs Ranch

Krystina Cook never set out to be a commercial pig farmer. But she was always committed to being an excellent mother to her eldest son, who suffered from severe food allergies. Grounded in the belief that food is medicine, Cook set out to raise a few ultra-clean animals for her family to eat. She had no trouble raising healthy chickens and sheep, but the pigs struggled to thrive. She became obsessed with figuring out how to raise them well, for both the health of the animals and the best-tasting meat. Word soon spread of her small family farm, and her endeavors blossomed into the growing ranch that is Cook Pigs today.

“Our entire operation is driven by the psychology and art of the pig,” says Cook. “We take pride in raising the healthiest, happiest pigs possible. And we model our slow-growth approach after the famous Iberico pigs from Spain, which produces very consistent heritage pork of the highest quality.”

Krystina Cook, Cook Pigs Ranch

Krystina Cook, her daughter Rosaleigh, and Patron the Donkey on Cook Pigs Ranch

Contributing to the art is Head Butcher Nick Scafidi. He and his team at Cook Family Butcher Shop process more than 20 heads a day at the only USDA-approved butcher in San Diego County. The pigs arrive after to the Kearny Mesa facility after harvesting at a USDA-approved facility north of Los Angeles and are artfully carved and crafted into everything from sausage and ribs to coppa steaks and pig skins.

“We strive to use as much of each animal as possible,” says Scafidi.

Scafidi spent a number of years working in the kitchen, so he understands what it’s like to want unique cuts of meat and is proud of the shop’s commitment to excellence.

“We are ensuring the highest quality from farm to finish.” gushes Scafidi. “I find this very rewarding because no one else is really doing this in San Diego right now.

Nick Scafidi and his team at Cook Family Butcher Shop

Nick Scafidi and his team at Cook Family Butcher Shop

With increased demand for humane and delicious heritage pork, Cook Pigs continues to grow. The farm is moving to a new location near Julian with more acres of pasture. They just expanded their product line to include holiday hams. And they will soon be opening up an online store for broader distribution.

“This is the most beautiful pork I’ve ever seen. It tastes rich and robust – just like you are back on the farm,” says Distribution Manager and “Jill of All Trades,” Dana Hayden.

As I get ready to grill up that beautifully marbled coppa steak, I sure hope she’s right.  I would be glad to return to Cook Pigs Ranch for a visit anytime. My love for happy pigs (and delicious pork) is strong as ever!

Cook Pigs Ranch in Julian, CA

To learn more about Cook Pigs and how to order their heritage pork, visit their website. And be sure to join Slow Food Urban San Diego at the Good Food Community Fair on October 11, where Cook Pigs will be giving a butchering demo at 1:00 p.m.

Educating and Advocating for Healthy Bees in San Diego: Profile of San Diego Beekeeping Society Secretary Camille Smith

San Diego Beekeeping Society

Honeybees intuitively know when it’s time to nurture a new queen. So it’s no surprise that when Camille Smith landed in San Diego, the bees took flight to bring her a hive to nurture in preparation for a role as Secretary and Volunteer, Recruitment and Event Planning Coordinator of the San Diego Beekeeping Society.

Smith has always been interested in bees, but it wasn’t until she moved to California in 2008 that she had the opportunity to keep a hive of her own. That summer, three swarms came through her backyard, enticing her to buy a bee box. The bees didn’t return, but a few months later a friend called saying they had caught a swarm. Her forays as a suburban beekeeper had begun.

Over the next few months, she read a numerous books about beekeeping, watched educational videos on YouTube and joined the San Diego Beekeeping Society. From her mentor and working with society members, she learned hands-on how to properly care for bees to help them thrive.

Her initial interest in working bees quickly transformed into heartfelt passion.

“I love working with the bees,” gushes Smith. “It is so amazing how they work completely collectively with no ego. Everything they do is for the benefit of the entire hive. Even at the end of their lives, they go outside the hive to die so their sisters don’t have to clean out their bodies.”

This level of collective thinking inspires Smith in her role bringing people together at the San Diego Beekeeping Society. She and more than 1,000 volunteer members work to educate people about bees and best practices in responsible beekeeping. They visit schools and participate in community events to increase awareness about pollination and bees among people of all ages.

“The more information people have about bees, the more people are aware to not use pesticides/herbicides in their yards,” explains Smith.

The San Diego Beekeeping Society also works to advocate for legislation that is friendlier to bees and beekeeping. They had success a few years ago working with a coalition to loosen restrictions on urban beekeeping and designate best practices for keeping bees in the City of San Diego. More recently, the San Diego Beekeeping Society has worked with the County of San Diego to update their policies to make it easier for beekeepers to comply with the ordinances.

“We’ve made good progress,” says Smith. “We are proud to be doing our little part to help support the bees, and we have more people every month interested in becoming beekeepers.”

Even with growing efforts to support them, bees are not out of danger. Colonies are still collapsing from the combined effects of exposure to pesticides and herbicides, monoculture that limits access to food sources when crops are not blooming, and weakened immune systems from parasitic mites.

What can you do to learn more and support healthy bees?

Like the community-minded bees, together we can do more. Take it from a resident Queen Bee:

“Bees pollinate one third of the crops we eat,” explains Smith. “There is a direct relationship between the bees, our food, and our health. By voting with our pocket books – choosing to support local and sustainable food production through farmers’ markets and CSA – the food vendors will have to adjust. And the bees will fare better too.”