Community

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!

2015 Good Food Community Fair

By Sarah M. Shoffler, SFUSD board of directorsPhotos by Eric Buchanan

We had a great time at the 2015 Good Food Community Fair! This year's event, at the wonderful Quartyard, featured some of the best of San Diego's thriving slow food scene: coffee, honey, beer, pigs, sea urchins, yellowtail, sushi, oysters, kombucha, mead...plus farmers, fishermen, chefs, brewers, beekeepers, butchers, food researchers, publishers, educators and conservationists. Check out our photos below!

IMG_1024Over 40 partner organizations, our colleagues in the San Diego Slow Food movement, brought their variety of good, clean & fair food for all to our annual event. We owe our success to these partners, plus to our generous donors of food, supplies, raffle items, time and expertise, and to our awesome volunteers. Not to mention the rockstar staff at Quartyard. See you next year!

Like this year's artwork? You can buy an artist-signed print, of just the art, for $10. Email us at info@slowfoodurbansandiego.org. 

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Our amazing partners and sponsors:

1:1 MovementBaby CydesdaleCafé VirtuosoCalifornia Sea Grant, Scripps Institution of OceanographyCatalina Offshore ProductsCat Chiu PhillipsChef Rob RuizCity Farmers NurseryCity Farming AcademyCulinary Historians Of San DiegoCommunity Health Improvement PartnersCook Pigs RanchDuck Foot BrewingEdible San DiegoEpicurean San DiegoErnest MillerGirl Next Door HoneyGolden Coast MeadGreen Flash BrewingJeanne's Garden Program for ChildrenKashiLeah’s Pantry and EatFresh.orgMaster Gardeners of San DiegoNOAA Fisheries, Nomad DonutsNopalito Hop FarmOlivewood Gardens and Learning Center, One Bag World, Project New VillageRainThanksResource Conservation District of Greater San Diego CountyRevolution LandscapeSan Diego Weekly MarketsSlow Food San Diego State UniversitySlow Money SoCalSoCal FishStone Brewing Co.Surfrider Foundation San DiegoSuzie's FarmThe Humane LeagueTuna Harbor Dockside MarketVia International, Viva PopsWild Willow Farm & Education CenterWomen of Coffee Microfinance Fund, Specialty Produce, The Meat Men, Eclipse ChocolateThe Lodge at Torrey Pines, Next Door Wine + Craft Beer Bar, Dr. Bronner's, Blind Lady Alehouse, Leroy's Kitchen, Suzie's Farm, NINE-Ten, Curds and Wine, Epicurean San Diego, San Diego Food Systems Alliance.

Celebrate the Craft

By Rachel Helmer, SFUSD Board of Directors

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Slow Food Urban San Diego is honored and grateful to have been a part of the 13th annual Celebrate the Craft held at The Lodge Torrey Pines. The October event showcases the region's best chefs, produce, wine, and beer. Guests came from all over California to gather together and celebrate with local culinary artisans, growers, brewers and vintners that were there to showcase their craftsmanship.

FullSizeRenderA portion of the proceeds will be donated to Slow Food Urban San Diego, to support efforts in raising public awareness, improving access, and encouraging the enjoyment of foods that are local, seasonal, and sustainable. Thanks to everyone who came out and visited the Slow Food table and to Executive Chef Jeff Jackson and The Lodge for hosting such a beautiful event.

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

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By Kathryn Rogers. SFUSD Board of DirectorsPhotos 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.

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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.

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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

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

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.

Master Gardeners Educate and Service San Diego Communities

by Nathan Yick, Slow Food SDSU Chapter Leader

master gardener community gardenSan Diego has over 300* Master Gardeners, passionate gardeners who serve and educate San Diegans on pest control and horticulture for free. Part of a rigorous training program founded in 1980, by the University of California Cooperative Extension, they work alongside teachers and parents helping children with their garden projects. They help community gardens overcome challenges with their plots, and with the drought plaguing California, their services and knowledge are much needed in the gardens.

To help San Diego communities combat the drought, the Master Gardeners have developed their Earth Friendly Gardening program. This program trains gardeners in sustainable gardening addressing things like how to adapt to the drought by providing information on creating an earth friendly garden--information on how to conserve water, maintain soil quality, and reduce waste. Thanks to the Master Gardeners, Community Gardens all over San Diego, like the Agape House by San Diego State University, have thrived and continue to provide fresh and local produce for the community.

"One of my favorite things about being a Master Gardener is helping people with their gardening challenges," says Dominick Fiume who became a Master Gardener through working at the Ark of Taste Heritage Garden in Old Town State Park.

As fulfilling and rewarding experience it is being a Master Gardener, becoming one takes a lot of work. To become certified, students go through a training program consisting of 16 weekly classes taught by agricultural experts which educate aspiring volunteers on pest management and horticulture. They must pass an exam and then volunteer regularly as well as continue their education to keep their certification.

Through their commitment, knowledge and passion for public service in gardening and pest control, the Master Gardeners have helped San Diego communities preserve and create more sustainable gardens.

SFUSD is excited that this passionate and knowledgeable San Diego resource is participating in our 2015 Good Food Community Fair. Look for their booth on wise water use.

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*the original story in the Sept newsletter reported there were over 60 Master Gardeners in San Diego. San Diego has over 300.

 

 

Join the SFUSD Board of Directors

Slow Food Urban San Diego is soliciting applications for our Board of Directors. If you are interested in joining our Board, please email a brief bio and letter of interest indicating the position in which you are interested in to info@slowfoodurbansandiego.org by October 15th. In-person interviews will be scheduled in late October. Join us in supporting good, clean & fair food in our community. Positions up for election are described below. SFUSD-logo-horizontal

Members of the Board serve up to two two-year terms in any one position, and newly elected Board Members will serve during 2016-17, beginning in January 2016. To be eligible, you must have or obtain a Slow Food membership. 

Education Committee Chair The Education Committee provides the San Diego community with education and enrichment opportunities and supports campus and school chapters. The Committee supports existing programs, including the School Garden program, Edible for San Diego Kids, Farm-to-School, as well as educational programming for families and adults. The Chair oversees the Education Committee, which meets monthly, striving to engage and include Slow Food Urban San Diego’s membership as much as possible.

Farm Liaison / Ark of Taste Liaison The Farm Liaison works to link Slow Food Urban San Diego with the local farming community and recommends strategies for the Chapter to advocate for and support farmers. The Farm Liaison sits on the Slow Food California Ark of Taste Committee (~2 conference calls a month and review of applications to the Ark) and to support Ark of Taste Programming and recognition in San Diego. The Farm Liaison may form a committee.

Membership Coordinator The Membership Coordinator oversees all things membership. S/he maintains and updates the Chapter’s membership list and leads in recruiting and retaining members; reports membership status at each board meeting; organizes membership drives and leads in planning Slow Food Urban San Diego’s “Slow Sips” events. The Membership Coordinator also maintains relationships with our Member Benefit Partners and continues to build the Member Benefit Program. The Membership Coordinator may develop and coordinate additional programs to build the Chapter membership and may form a committee.

Outreach / Food Justice Committee Chair The Outreach / Food Justice Committee spreads the word about Slow Food and collaborates with relevant community partners to promote sustainable food production and urban farming. The Committee represents SFUSD at community events and coordinates with the Membership Chair to develop and coordinate programs to build Chapter membership. The Committee also liaises with the Slow Food University Chapters, the SD Food Systems Alliance, and the Slow Food California Policy Committee, which meets monthly via conference call. The Chair oversees this committee and identifies community events and partnerships that best support the SFUSD mission and programs.

The Fund Development Chair The Fund Development Chair creates, maintains and updates an inventory of resources of potential donors and sponsors; develops and implements a fund-raising campaign to be supported by the Board. The Fund Development Chair may form a committee.

Secretary The Secretary records minutes during monthly Board Meetings, administers annual elections and coordinates a schedule of interviews for Board positions.

Treasurer The Treasurer maintains the books for the organization, handles expense reimbursements, accounts payable, and annual filings. The treasurer is responsible for leading the budgeting process and providing financial guidance to the Board, as well as presenting a Treasurer’s report at monthly board meetings. A working knowledge of Quickbooks is desired but training by the outgoing treasurer will be provided if necessary.

Vice Chair/Chair-elect The Vice Chair works with the current Board Chair to administrate the Slow Food Urban San Diego Board of Directors and maintain chapter standing. Candidates must have served on the Slow Food Urban San Diego Board for a minimum of one year and agree to assume the Board Chair position in 2017 for at least a one-year term.

Communications Committee Chair The Communications Committee facilitates Chapter communications through website maintenance, newsletters, social media and networking and ensures consistency of communications to members, media and the community. The Committee oversees marketing and getting the word out regarding Chapter activities. The Communications Chair oversees the committee and supports the Chapter Co-Leaders in tracking Slow Food California, Slow Food USA and Slow Food International activities of interest and in sharing SFUSD activities with other Slow Food entities. Strong writing, editing and communications skills required.

Sincerely, Slow Food Urban San Diego Board of Directors

 

2015 Good Food Community Fair

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SLOW FOOD URBAN SAN DIEGO'S THIRD ANNUAL

GOOD FOOD COMMUNITY FAIR

WATER WISE SAN DIEGO

SUNDAY, OCTOBER 11, 2015

11AM - 3PM

@ QUARTYARD IN DOWNTOWN SAN DIEGO.

Go to GoodFoodFair.com for more information!

A celebration of artisanal food and craft drinks, cooking demos, art and music, discussion panels with local farmers, chefs, food producers and breweries, and more!

Join us downtown at the Quartyard to mix and mingle with San Diegans working towards a sustainable & delicious San Diego. Special programming and events will cover good, clean and fair food in a time of drought. Entrance is free.

It'll be a delicious time! Go to GoodFoodFair.com for more information!

Interested in Participating?  Would your organization like to host a complimentary booth at the fair? Please fill out this form by September 4th.

Questions? Please contact us at membership@slowfoodurbansandiego.org.

Local Delegates Explore the Ethics of Eating Meat at Slow Meat 2015

slowmeat How are livestock animals raised? What are they fed? How are they processed? What is the impact on the environment and surrounding communities? What are the ethics of eating meat?

The Annual Slow Meat conference, held this year in Denver, Colorado on June 4-6, brought together producers, butchers, thought leaders and eaters of every ethos to address the conundrum of industrial animal husbandry and to celebrate the alternatives. Each year, the diverse attendees join together to take a hard look at the current state of meat and seek solutions to the problems of the industrial system. It's part conversation, part celebration.

Joining this year’s conversation were Slow Food San Diego delegates Jaime Fritsch and Drew Deckman.

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Fritsch came to San Diego from Portland, Oregon in 2014 after spending his time in the Pacific Northwest living in an old homestead farmhouse, traveling to shoot commercial photos and contemplating the state of food issues surrounding his locale. Inspired by the local food movement and drawn to tough questions about what it means to be a conscious omnivore, Fritsch formed alliances with meat producers and storytellers up and down the west coast – Sean Kelley of the San-Diego based art curation group Set & Drift; Camas Davis of the Portland Meat Collective; Michael McGuan of the former Linkery; food writer and TV personality, Troy Johnson; and chef Javier Plascencia of Finca Altozano in Valle de Guadalupe, Ensenada. Together they created Death for Food, an experiential exhibition that examines questions about the process of humanely bringing meat to the table.

Death for Food raises tough questions about the “right” way to harvest animals for consumption. One answer to these questions is Fritsch’s new collaborative project, MEAT San Diego. This meat collective is a group of people that organize themselves to learn about and take ownership of their roles in procuring, raising, butchering, preserving and preparing meat. By coming together as a community that supports good food values, collective members can take classes to learn about animal husbandry, humane slaughter, whole animal butchery, charcuterie, cooking, and more. Members can access local, humanely raised meat animals at a fair price that supports both them and the farmer. MEAT San Diego poses an answer to a regional logistical problem in San Diego (a three-million person metro area with no USDA slaughterhouse within hundreds of miles): how do San Diegans get the best local meat on their dinner tables? Stay tuned as the collective grows in the coming months and years ahead.

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After growing up in Peachtree City, GA and earning a degree at Rhodes College, Drew Deckman followed his passion with a ten-year culinary journey to France, Switzerland and Germany. Drew cooked with “gastro masters” such as Paul Bocuse, Jacques Maximin, Gilles DuPont and Tommy Byrne, and was awarded a coveted Michelin Star for his work in Restaurant Vitus in Germany as well as Rising-Star Chef of the Year in Berlin in 2003 during his tenure as Executive Chef at the Four Seasons Berlin (17pts Gault Millau). Back in the states, after mentoring under star-teacher and cookbook author Madeleine Kamman, Drew became a part of the final class of the School for American Chefs at Beringer Vineyards in Napa Valley, California. He has since then worked in Kona, Hawaii, Cancun, Rome, Shanghai, and in Los Angeles, where he was an entertainer’s private chef.

These rich experiences and Drew’s desire to create and serve Mexican-influenced haute cuisine “drew” him to the rich shores of San Jose del Cabo as the owner and chef of Deckman’s in San Jose, and now to the Guadalupe Valley where in 2012 Deckman’s en El Mogor was born. This al fresco organic restaurant is nestled amid the Mogor Badan Winery in the Guadalupe Valley in Northern Baja California. Drew remains dedicated to the local, sustainable ingredients in the food he sources and prepares at his restaurant, sourcing much of it from the Mogor Badan farm. He is Regional Governor for Slow Food International in Baja California and Brand Ambassador for SmartFishAC a sustainable fisheries NGO.

We are excited to hear what our delegates bring back from Slow Meat 2015! Be sure to join us at Slow Sips on June 17 from 6-8 at Carnitas Snack Shack, featuring Jaime Fritsch as our special guest and a future seafood event with Chef Drew. 

Update on the Pacific to Plate Bill We need your support!

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FullSizeRender_1 Thanks in part to the Slow Food community's support, Speaker Atkins’ fishermen’s market bill, AB 226, has advanced to the Senate.  The bill must now repeat the committee process, and has been assigned to start in the Senate Committee on Health.  Because the bill is now in its second house, we ask that you continue your support by submitting a new letter, this one addressed to the Senate Committee on Health.  An updated sample letter is below with the new address.

The bill is not yet officially scheduled for a hearing, but there is a chance that it could be brought forward in the coming weeks, so to ensure that your support is captured in the official record we are asking that letters be submitted this week if at all possible.

Send your letters to the CA State Senator Ed Hernandez or San Diego County, Thomas Ledford: Thomas.Ledford @ sdcounty dot ca dot gov by June 10, 2015.

AB 226 Sample Support Letter (to CA Senate's Health Committee)

Pacific to Plate AB 226

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From a previous post:

Slow Food Urban San Diego is excited about the new proposed legislation that will help California fishers get their products to Californians. State Assembly Speaker Toni G. Atkins (D-San Diego) has introduced legislation, "Pacific to Plate," to clarify and streamline state laws to make it easier for San Diego's Tuna Harbor Dockside Market, and other fishermen's markets like it, to grow and thrive. See how you can support California's fishermen's markets and the Pacific-to-Plate bill below.

Slow Food Urban San Diego and Slow Food California Support this legislation. 

Three barriers in the current California laws and regulations affect fishermen's markets in California:

  1. Current laws and regulations in California do not define fishermen's markets so prevent them from easily obtaining permits to operation.
  2. Current laws and regulations do not allow fishermen to clean fish for direct sale to consumers.
  3. Current laws allows direct fresh-caught fish sales to occur only from permanent, temporary, or mobile food facilities where permits are required for each participating fisherman or aquaculturist.

The proposed legislation:

  • Designates Fishermen's Markets as “food facilities” in the California Retail Food Code.
  • Exempts evisceration of whole raw fresh-caught fish at a Fishermen’s Market from the definition of food preparation to allow fresh-caught fish to be cleaned by the fishermen for direct sales to the public.
  • Establishes a separate Fishermen's Market chapter in state law, specifying the operational requirements (modeled after requirements for Certified Farmers' Markets) to allow commercial fishermen and aquaculturists to organize under a single permit holder for the market.
  • Clarifies that food facilities that sell certain products such as whole fresh-caught fish can have an open front.

If you'd like to support this legislation, please send a letter of support (like the sample letter below) to Speaker Atkins. Send letters to CA Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins. Some reasons to support Pacific to Plate AB 226:

  • Fishermen’s markets allow fishermen to sell local seafood direct to consumers - providing fresh seafood with a lower carbon footprint.
  • The Pacific-to-Plate legislation streamlines the permitting process, so that fishermen can sell direct to the public.
  • Fishermen's markets provide a place for fishermen to collaborate and plan what they'll fish - leading to more sustainable fishing practices, like fishing lightly across a wider variety of fish.
  • More fishermen's markets means more fresh fish available at better prices to the consumer.
  • Fishermen's markets, like farmers markets, connect the community to their food producers and the food producers to their community.

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5 Tips for Building Community Around the Kitchen Table

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- contributed by Kathryn Rogers -

Setting the table for a dinner party always makes me excited. Arranging the linens, plates and candles takes me back to happy times with family and friends. So easily my thoughts drift to balmy summer days with vegetables roasting on the grill and the anticipation of guests. No matter the occasion – a summer picnic on the patio, a holiday feast, or a springtime brunch – nothing is better than pairing good people and delicious food.

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Reflecting on the joys of mealtime, I’m amazed at how infrequently these busy days I take time to sit at my table and truly enjoy a meal. I often find myself grabbing a breakfast bar for the road, eating my leftovers lunch at my desk, stopping by a deli for a quick bite on my way to an evening meeting.

When did mealtime become a try-to-fit-it-in-your-day task instead of time to gather, nourish and connect? And why, when we do make the time to sit and enjoy a meal, does it feel so good?

The kitchen table is sacred domain – our trusted ally in times of hunger, joy and sadness. We gather around the table to tell stories about our days, to nourish ourselves with fresh ingredients lovingly prepared, to share culture and history in the recipes of our ancestors, to get to know each other on a first date, to shed tears over the struggles we face, to witness big moments like baby’s first bite of broccoli, to laugh. Food brings us together.

It is not surprising, then, that as we have traded shared mealtimes for a quick bite in our cars that our relationship with food and community suffers. In fact, according to a recent article in the Atlantic, the average American eats one in every five meals in the car, and the majority of American families report eating one meal together less than five days a week.

It’s time we reclaim our kitchen tables as a place for building relationships and strengthening community ties. And to start thinking of new people and places to bring together to share food and stories. For it is around our tables that we create new opportunities to collaborate, spark creative ideas, or connect with each other in deeper ways.

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Looking for some ideas to spice up your next food gathering?

Here are five tips to bring even more enjoyment to mealtime:

  1. Invite friends and family to a themed brunch where everyone brings a dish using the same ingredient. Think something versatile like olive oil, ginger or fresh figs. An in-season ingredient from the farmer’s market is also a great option. You and your guests might come up with a dish as genius and unexpected as fig ceviche or olive oil scones.
  2. Designate a guest to bring a question to your next dinner party. Then have each guest go around the table and answer the question. It’s a great way to get to know each other better and discover shared connections. Otherwise you may never learn that your neighbor loves live jazz as much as you do!
  3. Host a cocktail hour and have each guest bring a bottle of wine. Then cover all the bottles with paper bags, number them and do a blind taste test. Ask your guests to vote for their favorite, and award the guest who brought the winning bottle with first dibs on dessert.
  4. Host a picnic in one of San Diego’s beautiful outdoor spaces. Gathering in a community garden or on blankets in Balboa Park brings new energy to mealtime. Encourage everyone to bring a potluck dish and reusable plate. Great food, fresh air, good company and no stress of hosting… a winning combo.
  5. Next time you go out to eat, choose to sit at the bar or community tables and strike up a conversation with those around you. Simple questions about what they’re eating or if they have a favorite drink are a great place to start. Perhaps you’ll end up swapping stories about your shared love for international travel and maybe even end up with a new friend.

Together, we can reclaim our sacred kitchen tables.