San Diego Natural History Museum--Your Nature Connection[BRCC San Diego Natural History Museum: Research Library]
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Michael Wall, Ph.D.
Director of the Biodiversity Research Center of the Californias

Whatever you want to eat, it grows in San Diego's mild climate. Photo: Mel Lions.

Whatever you want to eat, it grows in San Diego's mild climate. Photo: Mel Lions

Hungry for Local Food?

By Nancy Owens Renner

Flavorful and fresh, delicious and nutritious—locally grown food has fueled human endeavors for thousands of years. During the twentieth century, large-scale industrial farming and “cheap” oil revolutionized agriculture in our country. From farm to plate, food now travels farther than ever before, raising concerns about food safety, food security, and the real costs of our food-supply system. Every day, we learn more about industrial agriculture’s deleterious effects on the quality of our soil, water, and air including massive carbon emissions from food production and transportation.

Now, a new food revolution is gaining momentum. Gardens in homes, schools and communities are growing in number. Farmers’ markets and organically grown products are gaining market share. With increasing awareness that eating is an environmental act comes dramatic changes in attitudes and behavior. Here and across the country, more and more people are choosing locally grown pesticide-free produce to promote personal and environmental health.

Urban Farm at San Diego City College
Master gardeners and student interns work together at the new Urban Farm at San Diego City College.

“Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” In these seven words, Michael Pollan, famed food journalist, sums up a wise approach to food—for personal and planetary reasons. Mountains of scientific research demonstrate the importance of plant-based foods for our personal health and well-being. Vitamins, minerals, anti-oxidants, essential fatty acids, complex carbohydrates, protein—plant foods provide all the nutrition we need without negative side effects. From an ecological perspective, eating lower on the food chain—e.g., grains, legumes, fruits and vegetables—uses fewer resources in acreage, water, and energy. So for personal and environmental reasons, people are eating less meat and more plant-based foods. To sweeten the deal, you can grow your own edible plants at home!

Coupled with concerns about personal health and environment, market forces are pushing people toward gardening. When the economy turns down, seed sales go up. Besides saving money on groceries and eating fresher food, we find other rewards in gardening—good exercise, relaxation, and connecting with family, friends and nature. Home-grown foods are reviving valued food traditions like canning and preserving, sharing abundant produce, and cooking with seasonal fruits and vegetables.

Supporting this move toward home gardening and local agriculture, local organizations provide opportunities, information and inspiration.

The San Diego Natural History Museum offers classes on cooking and Earth-friendly gardening. Also, look for upcoming lectures in the Sustainable Planet lecture series.

Victory Gardens San Diego encourages and assists in the development of Earth-friendly home, community, and school edible gardens throughout the San Diego area. A network of garden mentors and partner organizations collaborate to help people start growing their own food.

San Diego Roots Sustainable Food Project promotes local agriculture. Their website maintains a list of local farmers’ markets, community-supported agriculture programs, and organic food suppliers. Innovative school garden programs—the Urban Farm at City College, the Terra Nova Garden at Morse High School—provide students with opportunities to observe cycles in nature, grow tasty food, teach others their craft, and practice leadership skills. San Diego Roots is working toward creating a family of educational, organic farms throughout San Diego County.

Fairview Farms, Goleta.  Photo: Doug Zilm
Development has paved over much of our best farmland, but isolated pockets of organic farms can still be found, and make excellent neighbors! Fairview Farms, Goleta. Photo: Doug Zilm

San Diego Food Not Lawns presents workshops and classes on food preservation, cooking of seasonal veggies, mushroom cultivation, landscape conversion and organic edible gardening. They will host the Cultivating Food Justice Conference at City College on May 1 and 2.

Community Farms and Gardens provides volunteer support to local farms and gardens, conducts outreach, and advocates for changes in public policy to support more local food production within our urban and suburban communities.

The International Rescue Committee works to increase access to fresh, affordable foods among San Diego’s refugee and low-income communities through their Food Security and Community Health program. Food literacy and leadership development provide the focus for the Crawford High School’s Gardening and Food Justice Team. The New Roots Community Farm in City Heights brings refugees and community members together to grow food in the urban center.

Slow Food Urban San Diego and Slow Food San Diego embody the values of the international slow food movement through community events featuring local food and local chefs. Slow Food launched the San Pasqual Academy Organic Farm, serving foster children at a residential high school.

That’s just a taste of what’s happening in the local food movement—here are some ways you can be involved: Grow an edible landscape...Reduce or convert your lawn to food plants and use less water...Make compost (A rind is a horrible thing to waste!)...Cultivate rich healthy soil... Volunteer to work at a farm or garden...Share your knowledge about food and plants...Shop at a farmers’ market...Buy a share in a farm’s harvest through Community Supported Agriculture (CSA)...Read a book about food and farms...Share a home-cooked meal with people you love...Think about what you eat, how it’s grown, and where it comes from...Eat and enjoy locally grown, fresh flavorful produce!

Hungry for more? Members of the local food community suggest these authors for great ideas and good food that nurture body, soul, and community: Wendell Berry, H.C. Flores, John Jeavons, Wes Jackson, Barbara Kingsolver, Anna Lappé, Frances Moore Lappé, Gary Paul Nabhan, Raj Patel, Michael Pollan, Jessica Prentice, Vandana Shiva, and Bryant Terry.

Nancy Owens Renner develops exhibits at the San Diego Natural History Museum and serves on the board of San Diego Roots Sustainable Food Project.

Varieties of beans harvested from a University Heights front yard.  Photo: Mel Lions
A sample of the many varieties of beans that were harvested from a University Heights front yard.
Photo: Mel Lions



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