Posts tagged with Politics:
La Cocina- In San Francisco’s Mission District, there are many cocinas, but there is only one, La Cocina. In just seven years, this organization has grown from the inside out of its neighborhood in the Mission, and is now one of the premiere models in the US for joining community development and social enterprise.
For those of us in the business of food, the La Cocina brand, if not entirely understood, is unanimously respected. This is made evident by the breadth of chefs who’ve endorsed the organization through sharing their talents or outspoken support. It’s usually both.
What seems most likely is that people are familiar with La Cocina because of the massive annual SF Street Food celebration. So familiar in fact, that over 80,000 people are expected to join them this weekend for the festival.
And as if that weren’t enough, this year the event has been expanded to include to a Friday Night event called, Night Market. We’re happy to say Nopalito is participating in the inaugural event, so we met Margarita yesterday to learn more about the Night Market and the organization in general.
Impressions from the Podcast Monday lunch hour on what has to be the busiest week of the year for Margarita Rojas (or for that matter, anyone associated with La Cocina), is a tall favor. But Margarita is a nice lady. She moved from Medellín, Colombia four years ago and has been with La Cocina just over two years. Despite a long weekend volunteering with some of the La Cocina food vendors at Outside Lands, and the onslaught of the work week ahead, she was gracious throughout. We learned a little about her own story of becoming a face and voice of La Cocina, and the origins of “The Kitchen”. You can check out the podcast by clicking this link. Below, some facts and impressions about the organization:
- La Cocina likes to use the term “informal businesses”. Presumably this is in reference to the (functional) black market businesses that serve ethnic communities. While these businesses are assets for community, it’s also clear that the greater long-term value is in formalizing these businesses. For the business of food, La Cocina helps do this
- The La Cocina mission is Cultivating Food Entrepreneurs
- The founding of La Cocina is an interesting story. Unlike most NGO’s, there was no single visionary. Instead it was the construct of three dinstinct community organizations, who saw the value of creating food entrepreneurs in low-income, ethnic communities. They also have a particular interest in supporting the women of these communities, which makes sense in light of the groups founding “mothers”. Here’s a quick summary of those groups:
- Arriba Juntos- An organization started by three community activists in the 1960’s. Arriba Juntos means, “Upward Together”. At it’s core, the organization was to support the Latino immigrant community with various social services, ranging from education to medicine. They’ve remained true to the mission and are still active.
- The Women’s Initiative for Self-Employment- This is exactly as it sounds. They provide high-potential, low-income women with the training, funding and ongoing support to start their own businesses and become financially self sufficient.
- The Women’s Foundation of California- This organization is a bit more broad. They’re an established grant making nonprofit, who’ve been active for 30 years. In addition to the grantgiving, their website states that they’ve been involved in advocacy for a wide range of issues from gay rights to environmental health.
- It’s nice to see that these respective groups were able to come together to form a singular entity for a shared interest. So often, effective collaboration is a challenge in the nonprofit sector. It’s also noteworthy that each of the respective organizations are independently active.
- La Cocina also had an anonymous donor that helped launch the organization. I guess if we wanted to identify the singular visionary person that are so often identifiable with nonprofits, we would choose this person.
- At it’s core, La Cocina is actually a kitchen. It is a functional commercial kitchen where startup food businesses can operate legitimately. It’s even available to rent for caterers and chefs who would like to use the space. With 85 food carts participating in this weekends SF Street Food Festival, it’s easy to see how a hospitable commercial kitchen could make so many friends in the industry.
This Weekends Events
SF Street Food Festival- This is La Cocina’s signature celebration since 2009. It is really hard to believe that it has grown this big, this fast. Part of this must be credited to the organization itself for working tirelessly on policy to recognize and formalize mobile food businesses. It is also shows (what we already knew) that the citizens of San Francisco are food obsessed. And that’s why it’s such a remarkable place to live.
Night Market- Margarita described Night Market as “a more intimate” event than SFSFF. Which, technically is true, but the reality is they’re expecting over 1,500 people. There are food vendors coming from around the country (Scott’s BBQ, anyone?) and many participating restaurants from the city including our own. This is a fundraising event, so unlike SFSFF, this one’s a $25 ticket. You can buy one here. We hope to see you all there this weekend!!
Many thanks to Margarita for her time on such a busy week, and Caleb for leading such a tremendous organization. To all of the amazing staff, supporters, and alum of La Cocina, you all are a truly a special group that changes lives. Thanks for all you do!
There are four beehives on Nopa’s roof. They’ve been there for about six months. Urban apiaries are a emerging movement throughout the city and in the country. We’ve been happy to feature rooftop honey on our cheese plates for the last two seasons. Beyond the fact that its really cool to talk about, we believe it is a meaningful act in improving our local ecology. The recent (and sudden) decline of the global bee population has been well documented.
Bees are not merely a participant or indicator of a healthy environment, they are the most essential part of it. Almost all of the delicious things we eat rely on pollination of bees.
our four hives
Terry Oxford is the Founder of UrbanBeeSF. She takes care of our bees and today came to talk to us about it. In one of our candid moments, Terry compares beekeeping to parenting. Everyone has their own way. After an afternoon with Terry, I am convinced that we like her way.
We began the afternoon with a tasting of different honeys throughout San Francisco. On the community table, there were dozens of little clear glass jars stacked in the shape of a pyramid. It was a prism of blondes, golds, amber and mahoganies. Each of the different honeys from different neighborhoods, with different properties. The Bay View honey was my favorite. It was dark amber with a rich anise flavor. Mission honey was blonde and clear and smelled of citrus.
Healthy bees can travel up to 4 miles to pollinate, so the terriors of San Francisco are fascinating for tasting and speculation. We discussed the possibilities of marijuana being grown nearby (smelled strongly of hops) or eucalyptus (bitter herbal finish).
We then discussed the perils of RoundUp and other pesticides. After such an intimate exercise of tasting local honey, the prospect of literally ingesting pesticides reinforced the importance of organic produce.
Terry beams as she talks about her different hives throughout the city. She is rightfully proud and enthusiastic.
Bees are so interesting. It was so easy to get swept away in imagining all of the ways in which we are like bees. Busy bees. In a bunch of busy little colonies. For hives that are healthy, there is a lot of activity. Highway of activity, in fact, with bees zooming in and out from pollinating. Everything they do is with complete intention and with maximum energy exerted. For instance, Beeswax is secreted through the plates of the worker bee abdomen. And after the drones ejaculate they explode and die! Geez. In every way, the more you learn the more interesting it gets and the more obvious it becomes that they are an essential part of our health.
So what can we do? Interestingly, she doesn’t think everyone starting their own apiaries is the way. San Francisco’s bees actually need more gardens to pollinate. And as we discussed, our gardens need them. She also believes that regulation will soon hinder most residential endeavors. We learned about how the California almond industry may have been partly responsible for the “vanishing” of the bees. This is reinforced by population data for the corresponding period.
Terry teaching us about honeycombs on this heavily pollinated old one
Almonds are big business in California. In 2004 we exported over 1 billion dollars in almonds. That is twice as much that can be said for the wine industry at the time. And in order to pollinate all of those almonds trees bees were being farmed commercially and exported from overseas to satisfy the demand.
Interestingly, we were mostly aware of the dangers of not having a healthy bee population to give us food, but we never considered that there was a commercial market, essentially for pollen, that was obviously disrupting the entire ecosystem. Could there be a stronger impetus to buy local honey?
Yesterday, NY Times Writer, Julia Moskin wrote a great article entitled Southern Farmers Vanquish the Clichés. As a 4th generation Southerner (via Atlanta, GA), this is one of the most exciting things I’ve read in a long time. In short, there is a revival of heritage Southern cooking happening, and it is being driven by local farms.
Southern Cuisine, real Southern Cuisine, is more authentic than any other in America. The commercialization of our food (Paula Deen) has reinforced already hollow ideas about the cuisine while marginalizing a very important and complex heritage of agrarianism and enslavement. As it turns out, the Southern genre is unlike any other in America.
American gastronomes, farmers, chefs and historians should collectively rejoice in light of this Renaissance. The magnitude of what’s being discussed and practiced is enormous. (Assertions of the South having the best charcuterie in the world! The WORLD!) Reading Glen Roberts, the owner of Anson Mills, (the most delicious grains I’ve ever tasted in my life), recount an era when rice fields covered North Georgia and the Carolinas is an earnest reminder of the cultural and economic roots of the region, and in many ways, the country. The prospect for a revival of heirloom rices and grains that are shaped by hand and barrel-aged is inspiring and formidable.
If there is one thing that Southerns will get behind (for better or worse) it is the protection of our legacy and heritage. Although the economics of farming forced many of these traditions into extinction, I can think of no more reasonable platform for Southern men and women to proudly exalt their Southerness than in its cuisine.
Not to mention of the important role of pigs. Do we dare imagine a New Old South in which bacon is not expected to cameo in each meal? It will be hard, but the quality of charcuterie and pig farmers may be enough to orient our thinking towards quality rather than unsustainable (and unsatisfying) shortcuts and depletion.
My friend Angie Mosier, one of the proudest advocates for Southern Food I know, got me to join the Southern Foodways Alliance last year. The clarity, energy and leadership of that organization the SFA is most impressive. Led by John T. Edge, it is a diverse collection of intellectuals and industry insiders dedicated to advancing a better understanding of Southern Culture through our food history. Or something very close to that.
I am also indebted to Linton Hopkins, Chef/Owner at Restuarant Eugene, who is also mentioned in the article, and has been a pioneer for this type of cooking long before the newspapers showed up. I learned an immense amount from working with him, particularly his sensibilities on heritage without disdain for a contemporary relevance and innovation.
It is for the betterment of our collective palates, minds, and environment that their work, -along with these chefs and farmers- be supported going forward. What is at stake is a revolution. This is where Alice and Carlo have brought us. And where we take it now is up to us. I couldn’t be more excited to see where it goes.
Check out the Southern Foodways Alliance Here:http://southernfoodways.org/
Check out Angie Mosier Here: http://placematproductions.com/