Spring 2014

This category contains 25 posts

San Diegans bait hook for seafood market

Shellfish from Carlsbad Aquafarm await sale at the Tuna Harbor Pierside Market. Photo by Mike Heral

Shellfish from Carlsbad Aquafarm await sale at the Tuna Harbor Pierside Market. Photo by Mike Heral

Throngs of pedestrians stroll past downtown’s Tuna Harbor on a Saturday morning unaware that secluded in the back corner of a large parking lot is the home to San Diego’s only pierside seafood market.

Thanks to prominent signage, the adjacent Top of the Market restaurant is unmistakable on this parcel of blacktop tucked in between Seaport Village and the USS Midway museum. But no such signage alerts pedestrians to the seafood for sale on the dock below. Unsurprisingly, the dock isn’t teeming with buyers.

After reading the the recent posts on https://www.reelchase.com, you realize that, San Diego is the rare U.S. major coastal city without a dockside seafood market. That’s something diver-turned-fishing-industry-advocate Peter Halmay wants to change.

“We’ve been trying to get a dockside seafood market going for two years now,” Halmay said

VIDEO: Peter Halmay discusses the formation and operation of the Tuna Harbor pierside seafood market.

The energetic Halmay created the San Diego Fishermen’s Working Group, uniting most of the region’s approximately 130 commercial fishers. Reeling in a dockside market is the goal. The group wants to capture dollars spent on imported seafood. If successful, it would assist a commercial fishing industry struggling to find its way since the 1980s collapse of San Diego’s tuna industry.

Despite Halmay and his group’s efforts, the possibility of a dockside market remains as murky as the water in San Diego Bay. The reasons include political churn, regulations and a waning interest in fishing.

Market support

In March 2013, then-Mayor Bob Filner presented a vision for “reinvigorating” San Diego’s fishing industry. The mayor wanted a market rivaling Seattle’s Pike Place Market, a bustling farmers market specializing in seafood. Now a landmark destination, Pike Place nets $86 million in annual revenue and creates 3,600 jobs, according to a study by the Pike Place Market Preservation and Development Authority.

Filner wanted his Pike Place located at Tuna Harbor, where Halmay operates the pierside market.

Halmay and attorney Peter Flournoy seized on Filner’s proposal, pulling the mayor into their confidence and inviting him on a ride along to see fishers in action. The Carlsbad Aquafarm, San Diego’s only shellfish aquafarm, joined with the duo, providing Halmay with shellfish, such as crab and shrimp to sell at the Saturday pierside seafood market. From that business convergence, the Tuna Harbor Dockside Market LLC formed on June 26, 2013, hoping to quickly convert a dream into capital.

That dream burst after Filner was accused of sexual misconduct. He resigned two months later, leaving the dockside market proposal floundering.

But the vision isn’t iced completely. Newly-elected San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer is “generally supportive” of the initiative, said Craig Gustafson, Faulconer’s press secretary and director of media relations.

Halmay, however, isn’t convinced that the vision will become a reality because this continually changing cadre of civil servants causes political allegiances to shift. It happens so often, Halmay says, that he created a term for it: “issue transience.”

“Politicians come and go, but the issues remain,” Halmay said. “Too many of our solutions are four-year based.”

Fortunately for Halmay and his collective, an administrative agency separate from City Hall exists for San Diego’s maritime industry—the San Diego Unified Port District.

The agency is “interested in exploring” a dockside market plan, according to Jim Hutzelman, the Port of San Diego’s manager of business development and recreation services.

“People want fresh fish,” Halmay said. “But they don’t know if they are buying fresh fish because anyone can slap a sticker on a piece of fish and call it local. With our market, people will know their fish is fresh.”

U.S. Imported Seafood and California-San Diego Commercial Fishing Revenue (Source: Port of San Diego)

U.S. Imported Seafood and California-San Diego Commercial Fishing Revenue (Source: Port of San Diego)

With locations scouted, the Port of San Diego is reviewing land rights. After that, the Port of San Diego, City Hall, and Tuna Harbor Dockside Market will huddle and determine the best fit before discussing financing. A date for that meeting isn’t clear, Hutzelman said.

Even if a location is settled and resources allocated, another tidal wave awaits—the size of the area’s fish stock. It’s a hurdle hindering San Diego from growing a dockside market into Pike Place Southwest, according to California Sea Grant Coastal Specialist Theresa Talley, who has a doctorate in ecology.

“I don’t think our near-shore environment can support a market as big as Pike Place,” Talley said.

Peter Halmay and Theresa Talley discussing dockside market locations before the pierside market opens for the day, Saturday, April 19, 2014, in San Diego, Calif.

Peter Halmay and Theresa Talley discussing dockside market locations before the pierside market opens for the day in San Diego, Calif. Photo by Mike Heral

“That said, there is room for (market) expansion, if done wisely, as San Diego’s waters offer a great diversity of species, and what is available is some of the most sustainable seafood in the world,” Talley continued.

Sustainability is a hot-button issue for environmental regulators, and California has long been at the forefront for protecting wildlife.

“The U.S., and in particular California, has some of the strictest regulations,” Talley said. “From regulations on the amount of catch, where it can be caught, and the type of gear that can be used, to seafood safety and human rights.”

Halmay is not a stranger to regulation affecting his livelihood. A profitable run selling traditional seafood varieties San Diegans love, such as tilapia and shrimp, stops whenever the California Department of Fish and Wildlife tightens laws protecting dwindling fish stocks.

The environment’s effect on economy

Commercial fishers are often criticized for skirting regulations and overfishing species to the brink of extinction. More than 85 percent of the world’s fisheries are fished past the limit for sustainability, according to the World Wildlife Federation.

Halmay said he understands the government must protect threatened species today so that future fishers will have fish to harvest tomorrow.

Still, understanding the science behind conservation doesn’t earn cachet with a lender expecting a fisher to stay current on his or her financial obligations. A fishing boat’s cost is equal to the cost of a small house, monthly slip rentals are commensurate with a family of four’s monthly grocery bill, and fishing equipment must be continually repaired or replaced.

To stay afloat, fishers must attune San Diego’s seafood palate to the fish stocks unburdened by controls: invertebrates, such as sea urchins, and small fish, such as sardines.

VIDEO: Peter Halmay describes sea urchin cuisine.

Talley is optimistic about the market’s ability to educate San Diegans on how area fishers work within the environmental restraints.

“The imports can’t match us,” Talley said. “People need to be aware of what’s available at home, and how good it is for the environment, the economy and our health.”

Effecting that change isn’t easy. It doesn’t help when the U.S. imports in-demand and over-fished seafood from countries with weaker fishing regulations, Halmay said.

Proving both Halmay and Talley’s point, over-fished species comprise up to one-third of U.S. seafood imports, according to a peer-reviewed study in the September 2014 issue of Marine Policy.

Still, seafood lags behind red meat and poultry in U.S. consumer choice.

U.S. Annual Meat Consumption

‘Fish aren’t produce’

Another barrier is a San Diego County licensing stipulation that effectively prevents Halmay’s group from establishing a dockside market. The Certified Producer certificate establishes that safety and sanitation standards are met, much like a restaurant’s Department of Agriculture grade. But since required forms are tailored only to farmers markets, commercial fishers can’t obtain the license.

“We can’t complete the forms because fish aren’t produce, so the health department doesn’t know what to do with us,” Halmay said. “It’s something we need changed.”

Halmay says it’s possible to start a dockside market with the existing form, but only if the market includes produce. Halmay doesn’t want to do that. He wants the market “pure,” so that every sale supports local fishers instead of competing interests.

Until then, local fishers sell seafood only from their boats, without the aid of signage to entice consumers, and hidden from view.

“I did a survey of knowledge last year, and 25 percent of the public didn’t know we have a local fishing industry,” Talley said.

An octopus is selected for purchase at the Tuna Harbor pierside market,  Saturday, April 19, 2014, in San Diego, Calif.

An octopus is selected for purchase at the Tuna Harbor pierside market in San Diego, Calif. Photo by Mike Heral

Halmay accepts the challenge of selling seafood in an area as secluded as an underground street, while staying concerned that continued concealment threatens the future of his industry.

“It’s fighting with one arm tied behind your back,” Halmay said. “You can do it, but you’re going to get beat more often.”

This fight already knocked out one seafood farmers market, according to Halmay.

A separate group of fishers not affiliated with the San Diego Fishermen’s Working Group opened the Fishermen’s Farmers Market at Driscoll’s Wharf in Point Loma last August. The market ran every Wednesday from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m., according to a Blogher article written by Caron Golden.

But an early evening visit to Driscoll’s Wharf on Apr. 9 found empty sidewalks where food booths and seafood consumers once stood.

“They had to close the market because no one knew it was there, and the couple fishermen left didn’t want to do it anymore,” Halmay said.

A Fishermen’s Farmers Market Facebook page remains active, suggesting that the market intends to regain its footing.

The tale of the aging fisher

Only 4 percent of San Diego County’s population are employed as fishers. They are no longer young in the tooth. With few commercial fishers in their twenties, the 73-year-old Halmay says he refers to 60-year-old fishers as “kids.”

But not all commercial fishers are in their twilight years. Peter Halmay’s 24-year-old son, Luke Halmay, is following in his father’s footsteps.

SLIDESHOW: Luke Halmay talking about why he became a commercial fisher.

Flying fish and field trips

Peter Halmay points to the aging fisher as one reason why it’s important to make the occupation visible to San Diegans via a dockside market. But he has something else in mind, too. He wants to use the market as a springboard catapulting commercial fishers into area schools for show-and-tell-type activities designed to entice students into fishing.

“San Diego has flying fish that jump into your boat,” Peter Halmay said. “Years ago, I brought one to a school and let the kids see it. Later, a father calls me up and asks why I lied to his kid. He says, ‘Everyone knows that fish don’t fly. They swim.’”

Education is one of the San Diego Fishermen’s Working Group’s goals for the dockside market itself.

“If people can see their fish as really fresh, and learn how to cook it from the fisherman himself, interest will improve,” Luke Halmay said.


San Diego fertility egg donation: An 11-time egg donor keeps in contact with her “hatchlings”

Doris Dunkel, a 32-year-old wedding planner, has no children of her own but she has helped bring about 18 babies into the world through egg donation. She calls these babies her “hatchlings” and keeps in contact with a couple of their families.

Dunkel began donating at age 18 while she was waiting tables to pay her way through college. Over the past several years, Dunkel has donated 11 times. Although the financial aspect originally propelled her decision to donate, she says she repeated the process several times because she enjoyed helping families bring a child into the world.

“I feel like most women want to experience growing a baby, and I certainly do too,” Dunkel says.

Doris Dunkel at Mission Bay Park

Doris Dunkel reflects at Mission Bay Park on the children she’s brought into the world. Photo Credit: Meghan Mietus

The demand for egg donations has risen in the U.S., according to a study by the Journal of the American Medical Association, which illustrates a nearly 70 percent increase in the number of cycles women have had with egg donations from 2000 to 2010 (learn more at http://www.advancedfertility.com/insem.htm). Dunkel says this increase is more about the recipient than the donor because the option of purchasing eggs is more accepted by society and openly discussed.

Dunkel had to find confidence in the decision to donate, conscious that not everyone is understanding or accepting of the process. Although she knows the children who have been born as a result of her egg donations carry her DNA, Dunkel recognizes that she is not their mother.

“The first thing that people say to me is ‘well those are your kids,’” Dunkel says. “That baby is way more hers than it ever is mine, even though it biologically is me. She grew it, she felt the pain, she had the nausea, she breast fed them. I’m just the lucky DNA that got to be put in there.”

For Dunkel, donating eggs has been rewarding in the sense that she has helped women have babies when they physically could not. But, she says her “why” goes beyond that. She also donates to give gay couples the opportunity to have biological children with the help of a donor and a surrogate.

“My uncle was gay, so I knew about gay people when I was very young,” Dunkel says. “It just didn’t phase me. I just thought okay well he has a boyfriend instead of a girlfriend and they love each other. So I thought about him a lot because he never had kids.”

Dunkel has been able to keep in contact with two families who’ve received her eggs. Both are gay men with twins who not only share Dunkel’s physical features, but also her mannerisms and characteristics. Dunkel enjoys FaceTiming her hatchlings. Although the children don’t understand the process of egg donation yet, they are aware that Dunkel has a biological connection to them. Dunkel thinks about having a family of her own someday, but sees these kids as family too.

 MULTIMEDIA: Doris Dunkel talks about her relationship with her egg babies. 

Breaking the stereotype of “family”

Craig Fields always wanted to have biological kids. As a gay man, the challenge was finding the right egg donor and surrogate to help create a family with his partner. After two years of unsuccessful attempts at a fertility agency in Chicago, Fields came to California and ended up with Dunkel’s eggs.

David Robey and his son at Seaworld in San Diego.

David Robey and his son enjoy a day at Seaworld, visiting Dunkel, the egg donor, in San Diego. Photo credit: Doris Dunkel

Since Dunkel had donated several times before and her eggs had been successful in the process, she was a “proven” donor. Fields paid a bigger price tag for Dunkel’s eggs.

“They were a substantially higher price because my eggs are pretty much guaranteed to work,” Dunkel says.

Out of all donations Dunkel has done, only two have not taken. One was due to the father’s sperm not fertilizing and the other was because the woman’s uterus was inhospitable, Dunkel says. Feeling that this was his last hope, Fields paid the toll. Finally, he received a successful outcome – twins! Fields felt connected to Dunkel through these new additions to his family and eventually he began to send her photos of them.

“You have a feeling for this other person because there’s this relationship even though you don’t know them,” Fields says.

When the kids were 5, Dunkel and Fields decided to meet for the first time and introduce the kids to Dunkel.

“A child has a right to know where they came from,” Fields says. “It was always in my intention that I would tell them the truth at some point.”

Fields looks back on the day they all met like it was surreal. His son and daughter, now 8 years old, did not completely understand who Dunkel was. But, Fields says, there was an instant bond between her and the kids.

“I don’t expect her nor do I want her to be the mother in a parental type of way, but I want them to know who she is and know her on a level that they’re comfortable with – both Doris and the kids.” – Craig Fields

The month-long process of donating

Becoming an egg donor is not something to take lightly or to do just for quick cash, Dunkel says. Egg donors can make upwards of $10,000 per donation. Although this is a big payday, there’s some sacrifice involved. Dunkel says the undertaking becomes more emotionally taxing than it may appear at the onset.

The entire process of one donation takes up to a month of doctor’s appointments, injections. During that month, donors are required to abstain from sex and alcohol. In order to sync the donor’s menstrual cycle with the intended mother or surrogate’s cycle, the parties involved must take medication. After the cycles are synced, which takes about two weeks, the donor starts taking a stimulating medication, Dunkel says. At this point, the donor has to give herself two injections of medication in the morning and one in the evening.

Dunkel and her four hatchlings at SeaWorld. Photo compliments of Doris Dunkel.

Dunkel and her four “hatchlings” become friends on a trip to SeaWorld. Photo courtesy: Doris Dunkel

Stimulating medicine makes each egg follicle larger, which allows the eggs to mature, Dr. Samuel Wood, director and lead fertility doctor at the Reproductive Sciences Center in La Jolla, says. Next is the retrieval process. While under local anesthesia, the doctor goes into each follicle with a needle to retrieve the eggs.

Dunkel says she went to the the doctor every other day while taking the stimulating medication. Every checkup requires getting blood drawn to check estradiol levels and a vaginal exam to monitor the ovaries and make sure everything is on track. Once the doctor decides the follicles are big enough, the doctor gives the donor one more shot of the pregnancy hormone. After one day of no injections, the donor goes in for retrieval.

“Could I say that I would have altruistically just said ‘you know what, let me give up a month of my life to donate eggs?’ No,” Dunkel says. “I wish I was more Mother Teresa like I suppose. But it was the financial aspect. I was in college and it’s helped out a lot.But as the years have gone, it just kind of became part of me.”

Some women have paid their entire way through college by donating eggs, according to Wood. However, some people have strong negative reactions to the decision, Dunkel says. She’s received cold shoulders from friends. Mainly, Dunkel says, the people who oppose egg donation are usually those who are against abortion and stem cell research or who believe that conception is the most important part of procreation.

Although Dunkel did not have religious conflicts with donating, she had many factors to evaluate. From her time, to her travel, to what her body went through, Dunkel said it was important to consider if donating was going to be worth the money. Yet, according to Wood, over 90 percent of women who donate once, do elect to donate again.

“I would do it forever, truthfully, if I wasn’t older now,” Dunkel said.

Clinics usually limit women to no more than 10 donation cycles because there’s potential for scarring on the ovaries after several donations, and there’s incestual reasons.

“Say I’m based in San Diego and then I’m donating to all these San Diego couples and the kids grow up and start mating with brothers and sisters that they didn’t know they had…you’re suppose to limit that,” Dunkel says.

For her, this isn’t a problem since she’s donated to families dispersed widely apart from each other.

A donors’ must-haves

Egg donation is not something that every woman feels comfortable doing. However, Dr. Rochelle Perper, a San Diego therapist, says donating eggs can be therapeutic for some women.

“For a lot of women, it’s about giving back or feeling like they can fulfill a role of motherhood or contributing to a baby’s  life,” Perper said.

She says infertile women can suffer from feelings of loss and grief for not being able to create a child in the “natural” way.

“Some women I’ve heard think ‘I’m not woman enough,’ or ‘What’s wrong with me that I’m not able to do what comes naturally for a woman, what I’m built to be doing,’” Perper said.

Egg Donor QualificationsWomen are commonly portrayed as wanting a family, and egg donors, especially those with the innate desire to help others, are able to give in this way. But more than desire is required to become an egg donor. Fertility specialists, as well as potential recipients, look for good genes, along with physical and mental health.

In general, egg donors who are accepted into the agency are not overweight, according to Wood. They cannot have any medical complications. He also says they need to have the “right” kind of personality. Every potential donor is required to go through a psychological evaluation, partly to gage whether or not they will regret the decision later in life.

After the screening process, donors are required to sign detailed, lengthy contracts with many stipulations, Dunkel says.

“I’m not even allowed to contact any of the couples,” Dunkel says. “They’re allowed to contact me because I put in my contract that if they ever want to talk to me, see me, or tell the kids about me, that they can because I’m open that way.”

Dunkel says that many women will choose her as a donor if she has similar features to them, wanting their kids to look like them too. She says people will live their entire lives thinking that they came from their mother’s DNA, not knowing that a donor ever existed as a part of the equation.


The rise of bikini competitors: Female bodybuilders in San Diego are breaking the ‘meathead’ stereotypes

Rios, also a certified makeup artist, helps another competitor get ready for show day. Photo by Megan Looney.

Rios, also a certified makeup artist, helps another competitor get ready for show day. Photo by Megan Looney.

Claudia Rios, a 33-year-old single mother of three, wakes up at 4:30 a.m. every day to get her children to school before beginning her 6 a.m. serving shift at a San Diego restaurant. Rios has just enough time after she gets off work to pick her kids up from school and hit the gym for an hour before cooking dinner and helping her children with their homework. Rios dedicates a lot time to prepare for her upcoming bodybuilding competition and she says that not everyone understands why.

“I’ve heard everything,” said Rios, a fitness competitor and bodybuilder. “People who don’t really know say ‘oh you don’t care about your kids.’ But now I’m actually always home. I can’t go anywhere else because I can’t eat out at a restaurant, I can’t go have happy hour drinks, I can’t go spend money because now it’s all going to [contest] prep.”

Rios got into fitness after she started dating a bodybuilder five years ago, but at just over five feet tall and weighing 105 pounds, she doesn’t fit any of the bodybuilding stereotypes. For many people, the word “bodybuilder” might conjure up the image of Arnold Schwarzenegger flexing in a speedo while gazing at his reflection in a dirty gym mirror. However, bodybuilding has quickly become a popular activity among many different types of women in San Diego.

“I have never devoted so much time and energy into anything before like I have with training for this competition,” said Kathleen Martinez, a fellow bodybuilder who is hoping to compete later this year. “The saying ‘nothing worth having comes easy’ has a whole new meaning to me.”

Female competitors typically have to add a rigorous cardio component to their workout regimen because women naturally have a higher percentage of fat and not as much muscle-building testosterone as their male counterparts. The average woman has 25 percent body fat while men have around 15 percent. In order to showcase their hard-earned physiques, both female and male bodybuilders typically compete with less than 10 percent body fat. Along with high intensity cardio,  female competitors hit the weights and focus on glute-building exercises like lunges six days a week.

Women are holding their own in the bodybuilding industry 

National Physique Committee competitors “pumping up” before getting on stage. Photo by Megan Looney.

National Physique Committee competitors “pumping up” before getting on stage. Photo by Megan Looney.

While women have been actively participating in bodybuilding competitions since the 1960s, they weren’t fully welcomed into the industry until 1980 when the National Physique Committee hosted the first national bodybuilding competition for women. The NPC is the largest amateur bodybuilding organization in the U.S. and the most popular among competitive San Diego athletes.

In 1992, the International Federation of Bodybuilding and Fitness – the world’s largest professional bodybuilding organization –  started marketing bodybuilding divisions like bikini and figure to the everyday woman, adding “femininity” rules into the judging criteria. This opened up the world of bodybuilding to women who didn’t want to “get too big” or too bulky.

“Girls realize I don’t have to look like a bodybuilder, like I take drugs to enhance my physique,” said Francine Sablan, a professional figure competitor and personal trainer. “I think the look is empowering … it’s still feminine and more importantly, it’s attainable. It’s realistic.”

The bikini division: Posing, prepping and paying the bills

Bodybuilding competitions consist of pre-judging and final judging rounds where female participants pose on stage in a bikini. There are many divisions for females within NPC competitions, the most popular of which are bikini and figure. Bikini focuses more on attaining a model-like appearance while figure competitors have slightly more muscle mass but are still expected to display a feminine and sexy appearance.

The bikini division has received positive and negative reactions from fitness industry professionals since it was added in 2010. San Diego Certified Personal Trainer Spencer Aiken says the bikini division has exploded in popularity over the past few years because the industry carefully chose specific words to target the female demographic.

The average cost breakdown for a NPC bikini or figure competition.

The average cost breakdown for a NPC bikini or figure competition.

“The bikini division has taken off because of marketing and the use of the term ‘bikini’,” Aiken said. “[The IFBB] is playing on the psyche of females to achieve a skinny body instead of promoting fitness.”

The bikini division has been a major draw for both aspiring athletes and spectators, accounting for roughly 50 percent of the total competitors at recent San Diego contests. For the competitors, the price of an award-winning body is high. Personal trainers, nutritionists and accessories can run close to $3,000.

However, female competitors say they spend the time and money because they feel empowered, strong and sexy after training for a competition. During the last few weeks before the competition women, and the men, tend to start tanning, to really get their muscles to pop. Recently the mode is to use tanning creams instead but tanning is still popular. Most tanning salons adhere to SalonTouch tan salon software to help them, but I digress.

“I love seeing how far I can push myself,” said Leia Pugh, a San Diego mom who just placed second at a NPC competition last summer. “It’s very satisfying to achieve the impossible … and I’m glad I found coaches who have a healthy approach. It’s important to research the people you are entrusting a big part of your health in.”

Pugh is just one member of Body University, the new San Diego contest prep team created by powerlifting power-couple Francine Sablan and Jason Tweed.

Body University is out to school the competition

For some women, a bodybuilding competition is just a check mark on their bucket list, for others it is a career goal. Whatever their desire, Sablan and Tweed have teamed up to help local athletes build their dream body.

Sablan meets with her clients for training sessions at World Gym, a no-frills San Diego bodybuilding gym in Pacific Beach, while Tweed monitors individual nutrition plans by checking in with competitors every day.

MULTIMEDIA: Sablan works closely with two of her clients, Betsy Balger and Claudia Rios, to prepare them for upcoming competitions.

Is strong really the new skinny?

Fitness professionals, such as Aiken and Tweed, warn that without proper coaching, bikini competitors risk doing more harm than good when preparing for a competition. Some coaches encourage their clients to achieve maximum results in the shortest amount of time possible, which could cause serious long-term repercussions.

Aiken warns competitors to stay away from “quick fix” meal plans that entirely eliminate fats or carbohydrates. While this will help competitors lose weight quickly, it will also come with negative side-effects such as metabolic damage, which can lead to rapid weight gain once returning to a normal diet.

Trophies lined up backstage at an NPC competition, waiting to be awarded to the top five competitors in each height class. Photo by Megan Looney.

Trophies lined up backstage at a NPC competition, waiting to be awarded to the top five competitors in each height class. Photo by Megan Looney.

“There are some smart competitors and a few good coaches that do it right,” Aiken said. “Most are idiots who do no carb or no fat diets or [tell their clients] to do four hours a day in the gym.”

Sablan and Tweed have prepared a number of nationally-ranked competitors, whose progress they proudly show off on their @BodyUniversity Instagram page. Martinez, a Body University client and bikini competitor, appreciates the balanced lifestyle approach that she receives from her coaches. Martinez points out that they also take the time to make sure their athletes are healthy, never hungry, and always happy with their physical and mental state.

To achieve a stage body without sacrificing health and nutrition, most Body University athletes spend a few hours every weekend meal prepping, which consists of cooking and portioning out a week’s worth of meals. Athletes eat small meals every two to three hours, are in the gym 10 to 12 hours a week, and still make time for work and family. For the women who train with Body University and make it to competition day, the sacrifice is usually worth it, whether they leave with a trophy or not.

“Body University has a heart,” Sablan said. “We form these relationships, these friendships throughout the prep. It’s not necessarily about the body but the development of yourself. To change your whole body and your whole lifestyle for 30 seconds on stage makes no sense. Just do what you love.”

The various competitive bodybuilding divisions for women within the NPC.

The various competitive bodybuilding divisions for women within the NPC.

Please visit my personal fitness blog, Fit N’ Freckled, by clicking here or by going to fitnfreckled.com to comment on this post and to read about my personal fitness journey.

Chula Vista Olympic Training Center: A stepping stone for athletes and Chula Vista youth

Photo by Livvi Sefton

The Chula Vista OTC track used by USA Olympic and Paralympic athletes. Photo by Livvi Sefton

The United States has dominated the summer Olympic games for the past two decades, topping the medal table in each of the five Olympics since the 1996 Atlanta games. Young athletes dream of one day wearing the stars and stripes, representing Team USA on the world’s biggest stage.

But the odds of becoming an Olympian are not high. Less than one percent of all Americans made the 2012 United States Olympic team. Of the 532 Americans representing Team USA in London, 208 could call themselves an Olympic medalist by the closing ceremony, according to the U.S. Olympic Committee (USOC) 2012 annual report.

The success of Team USA could lie within the grounds of the three Olympic Training Centers (OTC) across the country. Over half of the members of the 2012 team trained at one of the centers leading up to the games; 93 of those athletes won a medal, according to the report.

The road to the Olympic dream

Former San Diego State University track and field athlete, Whitney Ashley, moved to the Olympic Training Center in 2012 after becoming the NCAA champion in discus during her senior season.

Ashley made her USA team debut after finishing second in the discus at the USA outdoor championships. Her performance placed her on the World Championship team, where she finished 24th at the event in Moscow. For Ashley, this is just the start of her international athletic career, she said she hopes to be on the next Olympic team in Rio.

The U.S. Olympic Committee flag flies high above the visitor center

The U.S. Olympic Committee flag flies high above the visitor center. Photo by Livvi Sefton

The facility is seen to Ashley, and many of the other athletes, as a stepping stone from their collegiate to professional career.

“It’s kind of like being in college again,” Ashley said. “It’s just helping us get on our feet, and exposure, and making sure that we are taken care of because it’s very difficult to transition from collegiate to professional if you are not sponsored out of college.”

A typical day for Ashley begins with breakfast at 8 a.m. before heading to sports medicine for about two hours to get taped and warmed up. The next two to four hours are dedicated to her throwing. Between the weight room and the field, she is pushing herself each day by training, drilling and following her coach’s instructions, to make sure she achieves her Olympic dream.

When she isn’t training, Ashley said her biggest passion is sleep.

“Relaxation is my middle name,” Ashley said. “When you ask me to go relax or take a day off, you don’t have to ask twice or question it. It’s been done.”

For Ashley and fellow residents, living at the OTC provides them with a unique experience. Surrounded by people all with one common goal, to be the best in the world at their event, sets a culture around the complex that is like no other.

“It’s like the world’s biggest social experiment,” Jared Schuurmans, a USA discus thrower, said. “It’s like a college full of athletes. I like the culture, being around athletes even ones that have nothing to do with your sport.”

Ashley and shot put specialist, Joe Kovacs, believe that the OTC provides the best environment for them to reach the next step in their careers.

VIDEO: Athletes at Chula Vista OTC work to Rio and beyond.

An Olympian’s playground

The Lower Otay Reservoir and never-ending mountains sets the backdrop for the picturesque Chula Vista Olympic Training Center (CVOTC), which is dedicated to sculpting over 5,000 Olympic hopefuls into world-class Olympic athletes each year. The 155-acre complex provides support including:

  • Training facilities                                                     Untitled
  • Housing
  • Over 1,000 meals per day
  • Recreational facilities
  • Local transportation
  • Sports medicine and science
  • Athlete development programs.

As well as frequent users of the OTC, athletes from archery, rugby, and Olympic and Paralympic track and field reside at the center. According to the U.S. Olympic Committee, these athletes are selected to live and train there by their respective sports foundation or national governing body.

San Diego State’s current track and field assistant coach, Greg Garza, previously trained at the center and spent two years as an assistant coach there. He said that due to the training center not being openly publicized, he didn’t know of the opportunities he could have had until later in his athletic career.

Towards the end of his athletic career, that included two Olympic trial appearances, Garza said that he used the center occasionally for a few days at a time.

But, he added, having less publicity allows the center to be more elite. Even if an athlete has met the standards set by USA Track and Field, it doesn’t mean they will have a place at the OTC. Athletes are often hand selected by coaches to use the OTC’s if they see it will be a good fit. This keeps the center competitive and allows more focus to be on the athletes who are there.

The price of Olympic gold

Unlike many other countries, the USOC doesn’t receive any funding from the government and relies on the support of the American public, according to the USOC annual report. The three OTC’s receive almost $30 million from the USOC each year to support their athletes.

The transition from collegiate to professional is a huge factor in USA track and field, Ashley said.

“If you’re not sponsored out of college it’s very expensive to train yourself, get yourself to meets, buy equipment, and so on,” Ashley said. “It’s a huge cost. But what the training center does is alleviate those costs.”

But without access or sponsors, the road to become the world’s elite can be extremely difficult.

USA thrower, Joe Kovacs, lives and trains at the Chula Vista OTC

USA thrower, Joe Kovacs, lives and trains at the Chula Vista OTC


“For those people who can take advantage of these facilities it’s a huge, huge gain,” Kovacs said. “But other countries do have other advantages too that we would definitely appreciate, like the lottery system in the UK.”

Like the USOC, the British Olympic Association doesn’t receive any government funding. But according to UK Sport, the national lottery funds a World Class Performance program that gives support to athletes by:

  1. Providing funds to each sport’s governing body to provide program support services
  2. Providing qualified athletes personal awards to contribute to living and sporting costs. For some athletes, this is enough to fully support them financially

Each country has a different method to place their athletes on top of the podium, and the journey for most of these athletes starts from the grassroots.

Putting the Olympic spirit into Chula Vista youth

It’s not just the world’s elite athletes who take advantage of the state-of-the-art facilities. The training complex extends its facilities to benefit groups within Chula Vista and San Diego.

CVOTC media relations coordinator, Emily Cox, said that it’s important to share the facilities beyond the athletes who train there. This allows kids to go and try out different sports and use what they learn there in their day to day lives.

“For some kids it’s a way to get them out here and keep them healthy and active,” Cox said. “But for others they realize they have the drive to want to compete and improve. It gives them a way in and they may keep going in the sport and make the national team one day.”

Pro BMX racer and founder of Chula Vista BMX, Tyler Brown, hopes that he is able to inspire the next BMX great. With his 11 years of professional experience, including two World Cup titles, Brown is more than qualified to put the passion of BMX into children as young as 4.

The intermediate riders get racing tips from Tyler Brown

The intermediate riders get racing tips from Tyler Brown. Photo by Livvi Sefton

 “I’ve travelled the world, raced my bike, and loved everything that this sport has to offer,” Brown said.

Each Thursday, Brown holds clinics for beginners, intermediate and advanced riders. When 5 p.m. rolls around, about a dozen youngsters have already started to fly around the track as Brown fits the first time rider with his helmet and bike. The next hour consists of tiny faces looking up at Brown in awe through their helmets as he takes them through games, drills and races.

Before the beginners are off the track, the intermediate riders are already at the start line, begging Brown to let them take to the track. With their matching racing suits on and having already mastered the basics, they can’t wait to practice their skills.

SLIDESHOW: Professional BMX racer, Tyler Brown, inspires Chula Vista youth to suit up and take to the track.

As well as the Thursday clinics, open practices are held each Tuesday. Brown said that this is the night where the youngsters get to be out on the track with their idols. On Saturdays, the riders use what they learned during the week to race against each other.

Having fun is the main objective for the young riders. But for some, they have already set their sights on winning national titles and representing Team USA.

Kids in a cage: Mixed martial arts attracts young fighters

A young boy trains inside Alliance Training Center in Chula Vista, Calif. on Monday, April 21, 2013.

A young boy trains inside Brazilian jiu-jitsu at Alliance Training Center in Chula Vista. Photo by Kristian Ibarra

Some kids grow up playing football. Others grow up playing soccer. Eight-year-old Tyler Casillas isn’t a typical kid, though – he’s been training to be a cage-fighter for the last two years.

Tyler’s father, Eric Casillas, said cage fighting creates a healthy lifestyle because the required discipline is greater than in other martial arts practices.

“You’re training everyday, so you’re in good shape,” Eric Casillas said. “Your coaches are teaching you how to eat, what to drink and what to stay away from.”

Mixed martial arts, a sport that combines several different types of individual combat sports – such as boxing, Brazilian jiu-jitsu, judo, karate, and muay thai kickboxing, to name a few – has, by many accounts, become the fastest growing sport in the world.

Popularized by the Ultimate Fighting Championship, the sport’s most successful promotion, people of all ages have begun participating in the sport.

The rules of MMA

Screen Shot 2014-04-30 at 10.55.42 AM

The rules are fairly simple – two fighters of equal weight enter an enclosed ring and compete against each other. Fights are typically either three or five five-minute rounds.

A fight can end when:

  • Time expires. In which case, three judges submit scorecards to determine the winner.
  • A fighter physically or verbally taps out due to a submission hold or strikes.
  • A fighter is knocked unconscious.
  • A referee, official ring physician, the fighter’s corner team or the fighter decides that a fighter cannot safely continue to fight.

As per the unified set of rules, not every type of strike is allowed.

Depending on age, the rules are slightly altered for children who participate in competitive MMA.

Starting cage-fighters off early

Located in Chula Vista, Calif., Alliance Training Center is home to some of the best mixed martial artists in the world – such as former UFC Bantamweight Champion Dominick Cruz and UFC light heavyweight title contender Phil Davis. Looking to find the best bang for his buck, it wasn’t difficult for Eric Casillas to find a gym for Tyler, he said.

“The team we have here and the coaches we have here – these kids get the best,” Eric Casillas said. “They get the best coaching there is in San Diego, for sure.”

Raised by a father who once dabbled at a boxing gym in Westminster, Calif. and a mother who used be a high school wrestler and now works as a personal trainer, Tyler’s interest in MMA stemmed from his parents, his father said.

Tyler Casillas, 8, awaits instruction from coach Danny Martinez on Monday, April 21, 2014.

Tyler Casillas awaits instruction from coach Danny Martinez. Photo by Kristian Ibarra

Tyler’s mother, Brandi Casillas, has no issue with allowing her son to participate in MMA. She often attends her son’s practices as an expression of her support.

Depending on whether or not Tyler’s scheduled to fight, he trains anywhere from four to six times per week for two to three hours. He doesn’t mind spending all that time in the gym, though.

“What I like most about it is how much fun I have,” Tyler said.

The amount of fun he has is imperative to Tyler’s dedication, his father said.

“Being a parent, your kids are going to let you know when they don’t want to do something,” Casillas said. “Who’s going to drag their kids here four, five, six days a week when they don’t want to do it?”

After two dedicated years of training, Tyler and his parents don’t necessarily have their sights set on pursuing a professional career in fighting. His training has hardly altered what many parents typically want for their children – an education.

“I want to keep fighting until I’m done with college,” Tyler said.

At 8 years old, Tyler isn’t even the youngest kid to train in MMA at Alliance. Kids as young as 3 are welcomed to come in and train, said Juan Luis Miranda, kids MMA trainer at Alliance.

“We can show the kids the martial arts and the movements with no real contact,” Miranda said. “Once they start moving up a little bit in weight we start letting them become a little more active and start engaging.”

Kids are allowed to increase contact once they’re equipped with sparring gear ­– such as shin guards and gloves. Once they’re geared up, it’s up to the coaches to determine whether or not they’re ready for minimal contact, said Miranda – who’s been coaching kids for the last six years.

Though they’re being taught how to throw a proper jab, or how to perform a proper double-leg takedown, Miranda is confident in knowing his students won’t take their newly-learned techniques outside of the cage.

“They know they’re not supposed to go home and practice with their siblings or friends from the block,” Miranda said. “They’re only supposed to do that here (in the gym).”

Creating a new breed of fighter

Reaching the professional level of any sport is and always will be a difficult challenge. Most athletes who make it to the pinnacle of their respective sport started at a very young age. Professional MMA – relatively young compared to the NFL, NBA or MLB – is not one of those sports.

In fact, many of the sport’s most famed fighters were either grapplers who learned how to strike or strikers who learned to grapple. Either way, many of today’s fighters continue to lack skills in at least one facet of the game. Now, with many young athletes leaning toward MMA, the sport and its fighters are evolving.

“It really, really excites me,” Miranda said. “I know that pretty soon it’s going to be nothing but MMA fighters. They’re not going to be going into the big show labeled as a grappler, or as a striker. Pretty soon, it’s all going to be washed away and MMA is going to take its pure form.”

Fighters like 11-year-old Nahdia Barrientos are a prime example of this new breed.

MULTIMEDIA: Nahdia Barrientos trains for her championship fight at Alliance Training Center.
Miranda is confident he’ll see some of the kids he coaches, like Nadhia, make it to the UFC – if they want to, that is.

“I think anybody here (at Alliance) can make it (in the UFC) if they pursue it and stay consistent with it,” Miranda said. “The opportunities will come, and if they’re ready for it, it’s theirs.”

While some kids have their eyes on making it big, others just want to learn how to protect themselves and others.

“I wanted to train in self-defense to protect my family,” said 11-year-old Abigail Alvarez, Tyler’s sparring partner. “If there was ever any harm, I would want to protect them.”

The medical concerns with youth MMA

Regardless of how transparent of a picture MMA supporters like Eric Casillas and Miranda try to paint, some parents simply cannot approve of allowing children to participate.

Carolina Leverette, mother of two, is one of those parents.

“I would never allow my children to participate in this ‘sport,’” Leverette said.

Some medical professionals frown upon the sport, too. The American Academy of Pediatrics took a stance against combat sports back in 2011.
Screen Shot 2014-02-28 at 7.43.48 PM
“Parents should not be allowing their children to participate in mixed martial arts or boxing due to significant risk of head and facial injuries,” said Dr. Michelle Dern, treasurer of the American Academy of Pediatrics in San Diego and Imperial Counties. “Children are more susceptible to concussions, which may be sustained from punches or kicks to the face or head.”

Though the children competing in MMA aren’t allowed to strike each other in the face or head, they – akin to the professional athletes who train in MMA – expose themselves to grappling injuries, as well.

Approximately 46.5 million kids in the United States participate in organized sports. Of those children, 1.35 million sought medical attention for a sports related injury in 2011, according to a study conducted by Safe Kids Worldwide – a non-profit advocacy group for youth health.

Ensuring fighter safety: The rules of kids MMA

While professional fighting is sanctioned by individual state athletic commissions, youth MMA is not – it’s currently illegal to host youth fighting tournaments in California. In an effort to allow the sport to continue to flourish, the United States Fight League – an organization that oversees youth combat sports in California – hosts its tournaments on Native American reservations.

According to the USFL, fighters are separated between two classes – “C” Class and “B” Class.

The “C” Class consists of kids from all ages. General rules set in place for this group are as follows:

  • Grappling only – no strikes are allowed.
  • Matches cannot end with malicious intent to cause injury.
  • Dangerous takedowns and submissions are prohibited.
  • Matches can only be won by scorecard or safe submissions.
  • Fighters must wear padded shin guards and gloves.

The “B” Class is only for children ages 8 and up. The rules are fairly similar to the “C” Class, with a few minor differences. Major differences are as follows:

  • Limited strikes are allowed. Strikes above the collarbone are prohibited.
  • Fights cannot be won by knockout.

Weight class also separates fighters, where kids as light as 45 pounds are allowed to fight.

Two boys play around in between jiu-jitsu practice at Alliance Training Center in Chula Vista, Calif. on Monday, April 21, 2014.

Two boys play around in between jiu-jitsu practice at Alliance Training Center. Photo by Kristian Ibarra

Per the USFL rules, no child can be more than a single year older than his or her opponent. The possible age difference doesn’t bother Tyler or Eric Casillas, though.

“My son is confident, I’m confident in him,” Eric Casillas said. “He trains with kids who are a lot older, bigger and stronger. They push him every day, so going against a kid who’s a year older but weighs the same – it’s not really a big deal.”

As expected, allowing such young, and light children to physically compete against one another has drawn some negative attention from some parents.

“Two kids can go wrestle for a competition and that’s okay,” Eric Casillas said. “Two kids can go to a jiu-jitsu match and armbar and triangle (choke) each other and that’s okay. But as soon as they’re inside of a cage they’re perceived as vicious pit bulls. That’s not the case.”

San Diego River: Local governments and environmentalist groups share a vision of unifying parks and open spaces

ThingLink for the San Diego River

Click on the image above for an interactive look at the San Diego River, with videos and recordings about the history, current state and future of the river.


San Diego is a city known for its iconic landmarks, such as the Hotel Del Coronado, the skyline seen across the San Diego Bay and the entrance to the Gaslamp Quarter across from the Convention Center. However, one of the city’s most important distinguishing features—the San Diego River—is rarely discussed or featured in promotional materials to attract tourists.

Today, the river is drier, less hospitable and more neglected than when it was the heart of the region. Efforts to create a series of interconnected parks, with biking and walking trails and protection of the natural habitat are underway. However, the river cuts through the jurisdiction of various local government agencies, private owners and nonprofit foundations, which has posed a challenge.


A geographic cornerstone


San Diego River at Ocean Beach

The San Diego River empties out into the Pacific Ocean along the Ocean Beach Dog Beach.

The San Diego River begins near Julian, and is surrounded by state and county parks. From there, it snakes its way southwest through Santee and across the Mission Trails Regional Park, turning west at the junction between interstates 8 and 15 near Qualcomm Stadium. The body of water then travels parallel to the I-8, cutting across Mission Valley and eventually emptying into San Diego Bay, between Mission Beach and Ocean Beach.

For the majority of the region’s history, the river was central to the local population, earning it the nickname the “Birthplace of California” because Father Junipero Serra’s missionary expedition first established what became Old Town San Diego along the banks of the river.

“The San Diego River was invaluable to the early settlers of San Diego,” said Matthew Schiss, marketing director for the San Diego History Center. “It dictated where they lived, it dictated the early paradigms the Kumeyaay, the Spanish and the Mexican periods existed within.”

When the San Diego region became part of the United States, the residents decided that instead of going to the river, they would bring the river to them. According to Schiss, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers moved the mouth of the river from the San Diego Bay to where it empties now, into the Pacific Ocean in Mission Bay.

“The San Diego River was invaluable to the early settlers of San Diego,” said Matthew Schiss, marketing director for the San Diego History Center.

As San Diego grows, the river shrinks


Trash picked up in the San Diego watershed in 2010

The San Diego River is filled with trash, debris and sediment from the surrounding urban development

Since then, San Diego’s development has taken its toll on the river. According to the San Diego River Park Master Plan—a planning document adopted by the City of San Diego to guide development along the river—mining has stripped the river of sand and gravel, and encroaching development threatens its natural habitat.

The river has also been dammed extensively, creating reservoirs key to San Diego’s water supply.

“What pretty much flows through the San Diego River is largely runoff and small trickles from what isn’t being diverted for human use,” Schiss said.

The City of San Diego isn’t the only agency drafting a master plan to create a clear guide for the future of the river. According to Robin Shifflet, evelopment project manager at the San Diego City Planning Commission, each jurisdiction the river crosses on its way from Santa Ysabel to the Pacific Ocean makes its own master plan.

Even within their jurisdiction, local governments are limited with what they can accomplish. According to Shifflet, of the 17 miles of river in San Diego City, two thirds of the area is privately owned. The city itself only owns Mission Bay from the ocean to Interstate 5, the area around Qualcomm Stadium, and Mission Trails in the east.

That means that a comprehensive plan for the river’s 52 total miles must reconcile the needs of private owners and several agencies and organizations, including:

Photo of the San Diego River in Santee

Santee has begun the process of creating parks and open space along the San Diego River. Volunteers planted 2,000 trees earlier this year. Photo by Leonardo Castaneda.

  • Fifteen different community planning groups.
  • The City of Santee: On Jan. 20 it planted 2,000 trees along the river as part of an effort to develop parks and open space alongside it.
  • San Diego County: It has plans for a series of trails in the Lakeside part of the river.
  • San Diego River Park Foundation: Its Conceptual Plan is a detailed blueprint for the future of the river commission from California State Polytechnic University Pomona’s Department of Landscape Architecture 606 Studio.
  • San Diego Coastkeeper: The organization monitors the quality of water in the region and recently awarded San Diego’s watershed a rating of “good.”
  • San Diego River Conservancy: This independent government agency seeks to accomplish many of the same goals as San Diego City and the San Diego River Park Foundation, and it’s mission including acquiring land to do so.


Working together


Despite the potential for overlap and conflict, the agencies tend to agree on the overall vision for the river, emphasizing open spaces, parks, and walking and biking trails.

The City of San Diego Master Plan crosses several existing community planning groups and parks, making cooperation across organizations key to successful development. From the San Diego River Master Plan.

The City of San Diego Master Plan crosses several existing community planning groups and parks, making cooperation across organizations key to successful development. From the San Diego River Master Plan.

“In the City of San Diego we see an open space along the river where you can walk from Ocean Beach all the way to Mission Trails Park and along this pathway, the San Diego River Pathway, would be a series of parks,” Shifflet said. “As you travel along you could pull off and go into a park and recreate, or meet up with friends. We see it as a beautiful regional park going through the center of the city

That vision is nearly identical to what Santee plans for its part of the river, which matches the San Diego River Park Foundation’s overall countywide vision. Those agencies, plus the San Diego River Conservancy, also emphasize the protection of natural watersheds. This would help protect the river’s natural habitat, which in turn protects the areas alongside the river from floods such as the one in 2010 that closed down Fashion Valley’s parking and stranded tourists staying in Mission Valley.

The only local government agency without an in-depth plan to build riverside parks and recreational areas is San Diego County. However, most of the section of the river it oversees is already in rural areas and in existing parks.


Private doesn’t mean anti-improvement


In the City of San Diego, unlike the county, most of the river is developed and privately owned. However, according to Schifflet, community workshops held during the course of five to six years—plus an economic impact study showing a positive impact on home prices if the river park system was established—have led to community support for river development in the City of San Diego.

Precedent does exist in the city for that kind of public-private partnership. In the 1990s, landowners and public agencies of the City of San Diego collaborated in creating a plan to revitalize the San Diego River in Mission Valley. Concentrated in the area between State Route 163 and Interstate 805, the plan was to restore the natural wetland of the river, with flood-control segments and recreational areas such as bike trails and fishing areas.

Known as the “First San Diego River Improvement Project,” the lead designers were Wimmer Yamada and Caughey, with San Diego State hydraulic engineering professor Howard Chang as a special consultant. Improvements to the Mission Valley part of the San Diego River were first envisioned in the 1980s. However, the project didn’t actually came about until, after years of waiting, a public-private partnership was created.  In 2011, the project was awarded a Landmark Award of Excellence by the American Society of Landscape Architects. It stands as an example of how successfully the river can be revitalized when stakeholders work together.


Food desert: Southeastern San Diegans strive to bring healthier eating choices to the region

Photo by Amber McKinney.

Grocery stores exist as mirages in Southeastern San Diego.

In a three-minute drive down the main street of Euclid Avenue in Lincoln Park, there are three liquor stores, five taco shops and seven fast-food chains.

A map of southeastern San Diego.

Click image. Map of Southeastern San Diego. By Amber McKinney.

McDonalds, Jack in the Box and Popeyes operate a crosswalk away from one another.

There are even drive-through liquor stores.

Two supermarkets, Food for Less and Ralph’s, serve the nine neighborhood region. However, Food 4 Less fails to meet state standards and Ralph’s straddles the southernmost edge of the area, making it difficult to reach by foot for most residents.

The United States Department of Agriculture labeled Southeastern San Diego as a food desert in 2013. A food desert is a low-income community with limited access to affordable and quality produce. But in the heart of District 4, people push for change.

VIDEO: Master gardener, Charles Robinson, made the change from fast-food to eating mainly what he grows in his backyard.

Giving Southeast a new name

Across from Food 4 Less is the Tubman-Chavez Multicultural Center, where District 4 Councilwoman Myrtle Cole sat in her office and explained her plans to change the food landscape of Southeastern San Diego.

District four councilwoman, Myrtle Cole, holds walk-in meetings with the public at the Tubman-Chavez Multicultural Center every Friday starting at 10 a.m.

District four Councilwoman, Myrtle Cole, holds Friday office hours for community members. Photo by Amber McKinney.

She has a vision of locals being able to dine on their doorsteps and work for better wages.

“Everybody that knows me knows that I want a ‘Gaslamp East’,” Cole said.

Cole plans to transform the Encanto section of Imperial Avenue into a corridor of locally owned, quality restaurants with urban housing on top of the buildings.

“I will not be at another opening for a fast-food place when people can make up to $24 an hour, with tips, at a local restaurant,” Cole said.

‘Gaslamp East’ would attract other districts and encourage residents to invest in their own community, Cole said.

Another problem hurting the area is that most residents spend their money in other districts.  Locals say they travel outside of District 4 to do their shopping.

Food 4 Less is the main supermarket in the area, but people aren’t satisfied with the store’s quality.

Food 4 Less is the main supermarket in the area, but many aren’t satisfied with the store’s quality. Photo by Amber McKinney.

Lincoln Park resident Sean Donnell said he prefers to drive to the Lemon Grove Food 4 Less because he says it is cleaner than the one closer to home.

‘Southeast’ is a term that Cole wants to lay to rest. She says it casts a bad shadow over the region. That shadow has deterred quality supermarkets from setting up shop, lifelong resident Guy Preuss said.

The food situation in District 4 is an issue that is being tackled from multiple standpoints.

Cole is working on erasing the ‘southeast’ stigma, by working to bring in better companies that will provide jobs with good wages and encourage investment within the community.

Lifelong resident, Diane Moss, is working on another aspect of defeating the food desert.

Localizing the produce

Nestled between the fast-food triad on Euclid is the non-profit Moss founded in 2012,

Click image. Map of fast-food restaurants near Euclid Avenue and Federal Boulevard.

Click image. Map of fast-food restaurants near Euclid Avenue and Federal Boulevard. Map by Amber McKinney.

Project New Village. Project New Village promotes community wellness in Southeastern San Diego and focuses specifically on local produce.

As a part of the project, Moss opened the area’s only farmers market in 2010 and followed up with Mount Hope Community Garden in 2011.

The farmers market is located near Food 4 Less, in a small corner at Market Creek Plaza. The event hosts roughly 12 vendors who gather to sell their goods every Saturday from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m.

Second Chance adolescents gather every Saturday near Food 4 Less and sell goods to the southeastern community.

Second Chance adolescents gather every Saturday near Food 4 Less to sell natural produce to the Southeastern community. Photo by Amber McKinney.

Earlajah Miller and Baylee Paredes, both 18 and residents of the district, sell produce at the market. They volunteer at the Second Chance Community Garden, which opened in 2013.

“The food we grow tastes completely different from the food at Food 4 Less,” Paredes said.

Moss would like to see more residents buy food from the farmers market. Without customers, vendors don’t make enough money to continue selling in the area.

“The farmers market isn’t where we need it to be, but we’re working on it,” Moss said.

Despite doubling the purchasing power for welfare recipients and seniors by giving out $5 coupons for every $5 spent, people still don’t seem to visit.

At Project New Village, Diane Moss organizes her next farmer’s market event.

At Project New Village, Diane Moss organizes her next farmers market event. Photo by Amber McKinney.


Moss hopes to pitch local produce to the restaurants that Cole plans to attract. She says that if the eateries purchase produce locally, farmers will have an incentive  to stay in the area and provide more food for the farmers market.

Restaurants using local produce will also increase the community’s trust in locally grown food, Moss said.

Part of the reason is that some aren’t aware of the market, but others are worried that the food is not safe.

She said that people have this visual that the produce at the farmers market is grown at home, behind closed doors, so they think that the food isn’t handled appropriately.

“They don’t know that the food here is grown from certified farmers, who are held to even stricter regulations than the grocery stores,” Moss said.

More food swamp than food desert

Geographer Pascale Marcelli-Jossart is the first to conduct research on food deserts in the area.

“Southeastern San Diego is a food desert, but a more detailed analysis of food retailers in the area reveals that the neighborhood is better described as a food swamp,” Marcelli-Jossart said.

A food swamp is an area that lacks access to healthy food one can find at foodora.ca/chain/cx7rt/basil-box, but has an abundance of fast-food restaurants.

In a 24-page research report that Marcelli-Jossart released in April, she details the uneven access to quality food and higher food prices in the region.

Moss hopes to gain the favor of political leaders with the report that Marcelli-Jossart has produced. She organized a Cesar Chavez Day event to bring political leaders and activists together to share their ideas about what should be done.

VIDEO: Community residents describe their frustration with Southeastern San Diego’s food situation.

Moss is currently focused on the Healthy Food Finance Initiative that the state legislature recently passed.

Infographic of trends in southeastern San Diego.

Click image. Trends in Southeastern San Diego. By Amber McKinney.

The bill brings hope to  Moss because the initiative allocates money to food deserts and disadvantaged farmers in California, but calls for a Food Abundance Index in the area.

The index is more in-depth than food desert research, Moss said. Food desert research considers the ratio of food outlets to population, but the index will look at the amount of food groups represented in each outlet.

The law makes it harder for liquor stores to disguise themselves as food outlets.

“Gas stations putting a basket of food next to liquor will be weeded out,” Moss said.

Moss smiled as she talked of future plans, which includes selling produce to a booming microbrewery industry.

“I think you go through some funny periods to have an appreciation for this,” Moss said. “How can you truly appreciate this if you never went through some stupid stuff?”


San Diegans go green at community gardens

Gardening has always played a role in our food system, but with shifts to highly-concentrated urban landscapes, traditional gardens have been slowly phased out in favor of increased infrastructure.

A variety of vegetables are grown in the beds of the Olivewood Garden and Learning Center. Photo by Hannah Beausang.

A variety of vegetables are grown in the beds of local community gardens. Photo by Hannah Beausang.

In San Diego, urban community gardens have began to develop shallow roots in the city, but not without a struggle for space and permits. These gardens are plots of private or public land tended collaboratively.

Judy Jacoby, executive director of San Diego Community Garden Network, has been working to increase awareness about community gardens, and incorporate them into neighborhoods.

“It’s challenging to empower people to make them feel like they can actually accomplish things on their own,” Jacoby said. “To me, that’s one of the great powers of community gardens if you’re successful – it’s a self-contained little world where you can practice taking something into your own hands and making it happen.”

Educators and public officials are using community gardens to promote better nutrition in some of San Diego’s impoverished neighborhoods, teaching adults and children about the perks of healthy eating.

Bringing nutrition to National City

National City has high rates of chronic diseases, according to San Diego County’s Department of Health & Human Services. National City data also shows the mortality rate is 2.3 times greater than the county average and the median household income is 39 percent below California’s median.

To help turn these statistics around, Olivewood Gardens and Learning Center, a non-profit located in National City, houses a community garden and educational facility catered to locals. Nestled in a residential community, the nearly 7-acre property provides access to gardening, science and cooking classes for both children and adults.

The grounds of Olivewood Gardens feature space to grow a variety of fruits and vegetables.

The grounds of Olivewood Gardens feature space to grow a variety of fruits and vegetables. Photo by Hannah Beausang.

Olivewood Gardens Program Director Diana Bergman addressed the growing health needs of National City residents.  She said kids may have more access to junk food than nutritious food, which could contribute to negative eating habits.

“One of the things were trying to do here is get them more aware of different types of fruits and vegetables and how they can prepare them in a healthy way,” Bergman said. “Just like when you plant a garden, you’re in it for the long haul. Olivewood Gardens is in it for the long haul with seeing the positive impacts on health in National City.”

Olivewood partners with three National City schools to organize three visits annually. The organization provides a step-by-step curriculum for third, fourth and fifth graders, educating them about gardening and healthy eating, Volunteer Coordinator Ally Wellborn said.

School field trips to the garden feature cooking lessons showcasing common recipes made with home-grown ingredients substituted for other, less healthy options, Wellborn said.

“We have things here that some people have never had before, like kale or Swiss chard,” Wellborne said. “We’re certainly not expecting a fourth grader to go out and buy those things, but we are hoping when they’re in the grocery store and they see an option with veggies, it’s not going to be as intimidating to them.”

During each visit, students work on different recipes and skill , such as cracking eggs or sautéing vegetables, and will ultimately leave with a full spectrum set of skills to cook nutritious meals with minimal supervision.

SLIDESHOW: Children on a field trip to Olivewood Gardens spent the morning in the kitchen making pizza from home-grown ingredients.

Food security: The growing need for gardens

Communities create gardens to combat the concept of food deserts, which refers to areas with a lack of grocery stores providing fresh, nutritious food within convenient traveling distance, according to James Murren, who teaches a food justice and security class at San Diego State University. Food security means having guaranteed access to healthy food.

Nearly all of the plots at the Mosaic Garden were filled at opening day.

Nearly all of the plots at the Mosaic Garden were filled at opening day. Photo by Hannah Beausang.

The lack of available nutritious food is one reason obesity rates and health issues remain prevalent in neighborhoods such as National City. In the past 30 years, statewide obesity rates in children have more than doubled, and teen obesity rates have more than quadrupled, according to The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Murren said community gardens are just one possible solution to the food security problem.

“Community gardens could contribute to addressing food security situations experienced by impoverished populations through being a source of nutritious food,” Murren said. “However, a garden alone will not completely solve the myriad challenges in overcoming food insecurity.”

Researchers have also found community gardens create collective efficacy and strengthen neighborhood bonds, according to research published in a Health & Place journal article. The same study showed urban gardens promote health with physical activity, improved nutrition as well as mental health.

The challenges of community gardening

Establishing a network of community gardens was challenging for Jacoby, who began working on the project about four years ago.

“Up until a few years ago, there wasn’t a lot related to community gardens here,” Jacoby said. “We thought ‘Where are the community gardens? Why are there none in San Diego?’”

The San Diego community pooled its resources and established several networks and groups to support community gardens. The idea of community gardening became a national phenomenon with Michelle Obama’s backing. The First Lady visited a City Heights community garden in 2010 to promote her healthy eating initiative.

During the last few years,  the City of San Diego has tailored its laws to become more lax about the establishment of urban gardens, making it easier for upstarts, Jacoby said. In addition, smaller municipalities and unincorporated areas have began to welcome the gardens as well.

“It’s still a struggle, but at least now it doesn’t feel like an impossibility,” Jacoby said.

On April 19, Chula Vista residents gathered to celebrate the opening of the Mosaic Community Garden, tucked behind a local church. Before the opening ceremony, Farm Educator Paul Maschka administered a class about the basics of cultivating a successful garden.

VIDEO: Maschka walks both children and adults through the steps of sowing seeds, planting seedlings and maintaining a garden.

Sewing seeds: Establishing a community garden

For community gardens such as Olivewood that are on private property, owners must acquire liability

Community gardens give San Diegans a chance to try out their skills at growing everything from vegetables to flowers. Photo by Hannah Beausang.

insurance. For those on public land, city or county permits are required.

Those permits, however, are issued on a case-by-case basis, and can be sometimes difficult to obtain, according to National City’s Planning Technician Michael Fellows.

He said there are issues with both liability and available space, which can clutter the application process.

Many local gardens are established on church property, which is already insured and has developed communities, Jacoby said.

In order to establish a community garden, access to water and appropriate framework is vital. In addition, committed gardeners must back the project.

“You have to have people with enthusiasm who are willing to dedicate a lot of time, especially in the beginning, when it’s not easy,” Jacoby said.  “Even when you have the garden, the issue is finding enough community and getting enough people there to keep it going.”

Who’s who in the San Diego gardening jungle

San Diego has several networks to provide support and collaboration for local community gardens. These organizations and societies attempt to bolster accessibility and boost the success of startup gardens.

The history of a people on pillars: Chicano Park murals restored

An outside view of Chicano Park

Click this image to see an interactive view of Chicano Park. Photo credit: Amanda Quintana

The streets of Barrio Logan are full of  traditional sounds and smells as residents play Mexican music, cook traditional food, rev the engines of their low riders and celebrate lavish Quinceaneras. What connects all these people lies in the heart of the barrio: Chicano Park.

Chicano Park is a 7.9 acre park located beneath the San Diego-Coronado bridge. It is home to more than 80 outdoor murals and other architectural pieces that explore the heritage of the predominantly Chicano community.

The land is a representation of civic empowerment, fought for and built by resident volunteers over three decades ago.


The history of the Chicano Park takeover

After World War II, big changes were made in Barrio Logan. The neighborhood full of Chicano families was rezoned and junkyards and metal shops took over the area. Soon, Interstate 5 and the Coronado bridge were built in the middle, separating the neighborhood that was once a community. A huge asphalt freeway with 40 foot high cement walls was constructed, forcing families out of their homes.

Residents asked policy makers for a public park in exchange, but instead construction workers tried to build a parking lot. Local activists, students and families rebelled and congregated in front of the bulldozers, stopping the construction and taking over the land that is now Chicano Park.

“The creation of Chicano Park was an important chapter in the history of the Chicano movement in San Diego and nationally,” said Isidro Ortiz, a Chicano Studies professor at San Diego State University.

But locals continued to make it their own. Muralists formed a committee to organize their ideas and negotiated with public officials to use the pylons of the bridge as art space.

“Chicano Park is like sacred ground here. It is rare to see any destruction of the murals,” said Sera Galarza, a visitor picnicking with relatives. “They’re enjoyed by many generations of my family.”

The "All the Way to the Bay" mural is one of the original artworks done at Chicano Park. Hector Villegas helped restore it in 2012.

The “All the Way to the Bay” mural is one of the original artworks done in 1970. Hector Villegas helped the original artists restore it in 2012. Photo credit: Amanda Quintana

What started as street art turned into massive murals depicting the issues surrounding the park and history of Chicano culture.

“The park is basically telling the story of a people for thousands and thousands of years,” said Hector Villegas, a Barrio Logan native.

Villegas is one of few artists entrusted to restore the original murals that cover the pillars intersecting the park and also create murals of his own.

But, similar to the creation of the park, it wasn’t easy to get the resources to repair the historic murals.


The Chicano Park Steering Committee proposes mural restoration

The Chicano Park Steering Committee, a grassroots organization made up of volunteers who that want to preserve the initial meaning of the park, took on the project to redo some of the murals originally done in 1973. Weather conditions and the retrofitting of the bridge destroyed some of the artwork and the group’s goal was to uphold the vision of the first artists.

Tommie Camarillo, the current chairperson for the Chicano Park Steering Committee, says the original artists were not paid to create the murals so they used whatever they could find. This meant paint from under their kitchen sink or mixed in a garage.

She has been part of the committee since the takeover and is passionate about the mural restoration project.

“Everything is community based,” she said. “We are all volunteers. We are not funded.”

The committee petitioned the Public Arts Advisory Board to recommend to the city of San Diego the preservation and expansion of the murals. This required the agreement of the Parks and Recreation department, which owns the land, and CALTRANS, which owns the pillars.

Both the directors of the Parks and Recreation department and CALTRANS agreed that the murals deserved restoring, but wanted the maintenance and finances to be the responsibility of the Barrio Logan community.

The Chicano Park Steering Committee then wrote up a 10 point plan to ask the city for help, trying to convince officials that the murals mean something to the community. After 13 years of proposal writing and convincing, the Commission for Arts and Culture decided to donate $60,000 to the project.

This money was used to buy materials, pay artists, and even bring some of the original artists back to San Diego.

“Not just anybody can go and restore a mural. It had to be the original artists,” Camarillo said. “They’re all stories. Stories of different issues. Not just issues in the park but issues of the Chicano community all over the south west, the history of Mexico.”

Villegas was chosen to help Victor Ochoa, one of the original artists, go over their murals with brand new paint and clear sealer.

The money was able to help restore 20 of the murals in just one year, but the committee wants to continue to add history to the park through continued restoration and the addition of new murals.


VIDEO:Every year the birth of the park is celebrated at Chicano Park day. People from around the country come to see the murals and commemorate the take over of the park.

The story of the park is important to the Chicano community.

“It was a successful struggle by Chicanos to implement one of the major principles of the Chicano Movement, the principle of self-determination and the strategy of community control,” said Ortiz.


Downtown Chula Vista small businesses continue thriving, farmers market takes economic hit

Luisa Correa edited image

Entrance traffic to Third Avenue Village businesses. Photo: Luisa Correa


Despite the national recession that began in 2007, businesses in downtown Chula Vista have managed to succeed after more than 20 years. Business owners in the iconic Third Avenue village area say their longevity, quality customer service and unique niches have kept them in business. These aspects have kept customers coming back and acquiring the services for years.

Chula Vista was affected by the nation’s economic downfall about 7 years ago. Although many businesses were affected and suffered a decrease in sales, that didn’t apply to the shops in downtown Chula Vista.

VIDEO: Business owners talk about the growth and success of their business.
They share how they’ve managed to stay open for so many years.

Leslie Doyle, a long-time Chula Vista resident and downtown Chula Vista shopper, said she’s always thought of the businesses as having what it takes to run a successful business.

“These stores know how to talk to people. I’ve always been satisfied with my purchases in the 40 years of shopping here,” Doyle said.

Exterior of Harper’s Music, one of Chula Vista’s oldest music stores. This business has been open since 1962. Photo: Luisa Correa

Some business owners in the Third Avenue village say a lot of clients have great memories of  certain businesses, and the customers continue going back because of a previous positive experience.

Adam Sparks, owner of Mangia Italiano on Third, says the key to staying successful is having something to offer the customers and staying involved in the community, also using online technologies, such as Leads Market service – so that more potential clients find out about the shop.

Sparks says the community events he holds at his restaurant help him establish relationships with customers and provide a reputation for quality customer service.

Also, Luanne Hulsizer, executive director of Third Avenue Village Association, said the downtown businesses continue to show an increase in sales because they have been around for so long.

“They have been able to survive, because they have longevity. When you have longevity like that in your community, usually you can sustain it,” Hulsizer said.

Hulsizer says in the years she’s been working with the village shops, she has seen an increase in foot traffic, which she believes has boosted the businesses’ sales.

Michael Meacham, director of economic development  for Chula Vista, also says the location of the businesses in the area have had an increase in traffic in the last couple of months. He says these changes have helped businesses strive through economic times.

Backside of entrance sign to Chula Vista streets. Traffic driving through downtown businesses. Photo: Luisa Correa

Meacham says the convenient location of these businesses has helped them continue to stay actively running. With more than 250,000 residents, Meacham says Chula Vista’s E street through H street area get a fair amount of traffic, leading to the businesses’ success. He also said Chula Vista is one of the top cities for small businesses.

Sales have moderately increased for specialty stores by 5.8% from 2012 to 2013, according to the city of Chula Vista’s 2013 sales tax records.

Meacham said another reason for the gradual increase in business revenue is the rise in household units, income and population since 2010. Meachan said although the profits might be increasing slowly, it’s still making a difference.

In general, Chula Vista’s sales have increased in many areas: general consumer goods, restaurants and hotels, autos and transportation and business and industry from 2012.

Hulsizer says many of the businesses specialize in one thing and that is something people continually look for. She says specialty items such as vacuums, sewing machines or trophies have definitely played a big role in the businesses success.

Dale Gonzalez, a long-time employee at Burdick’s who specializes in vacuums and sewing machines, said although they’ve been somewhat affected by the recession in the last five years, their quality customer service and specialization in vacuums and sewing machines has helped them stay afloat.

“The customer service is what’s kept us going,” Gonzalez said. ”Most people also keep coming back to get their sewing machines repaired.”

Exterior of Burdick’s Sew and Vacuum store. Started the business more than 20 years ago. Photo: Luisa Correa

Chung Tae Young, owner of Ray’s shoe repair, has been operating the store since 1950 and believes the reason he’s still in businesses is because they provide a service that has been harder to attain in recent years.

“People keep coming back because we are knowledgeable and know how to fix their problem,” Young said. “There aren’t many places in Chula Vista that do what we do.”

Young says he even remembers former mayors coming into his store, requesting shoe repairs. He says he believes his store is different than many other new ones, and he feels it will continue to be successful in the future.

Downtown farmers market still searching for customers

Unlike the established business owners, vendors at the weekly farmers market have felt the effect of the economic recession.

The long-time attraction has been operating for over 20 years and is also located in the Third Avenue village. The vendors at the market have been struggling in the past years and have been trying their best to make a profit.

Bob Teague, manager of the Chula Vista Farmer’s Market, said the market has experienced a gradual decline in customer and vendor attendance in the last 5 years.

Teague says one of the reasons for the decline is the decrease in vendors at the market. He says less vendors choose to sell at the farmers market because of the increase in gas prices. Teague says most vendors have to travel long distances to get to the farmers market. He also says many people choose to buy produce at grocery stores because of the lower prices, rather than at the farmers market.

Some vendors aren’t making much of a profit, and he believes it’s because people have been affected by the recession and are simply spending their money on priorities.

MULTIMEDIA: Farmers market manager and vendor talk about their experience struggling through the recession.

“It all came for the economic downturn that the whole country was experiencing,” Teague said.  “I hope there will be change soon.”

Teague said although there have been economic problems that began in recent years, there will always be a future for farmers market. He said the reason is they have a positive reputation in the community.

Caveman nutrition becomes trendy with Paleo diet

Fruits, vegetables and grass-fed meat: these are the three main food groups former San Diego high school science teacher and full-time Paleo blogger Stephanie Gaudreau uses to bring her readers a variety of meal options. Gaudreau’s blog, Stupid Easy Paleo, gets around 30,000 visits a day and just passed a million page views this past month,she says.

Alice Meagher, Level Up Meal community connector, sets up a booth at OB CrossFit to explain different Paleo meals.

Alice Meagher, Level Up Meal community connector, sets up a booth at OB CrossFit to explain different Paleo meals.

The buzz is no surprise considering the ever-growing popularity of the Paleolithic diet. The Paleo diet was listed as the most searched diet in 2013, according to Google trends. The premise of the Paleo diet is to eat as the hunter-gatherer ancestors did in the Paleolithic era, instead of consuming the processed and refined food that fill today’s grocery store aisles. Gaudreau says she has seen a drastic change in the way she feels since first starting the Paleo diet four years ago.

“I discovered I could have stable energy and stay full longer,” Gaudreau said. “It’s just a very satisfying way to eat.”

Before starting the Paleo diet, Gaudreau says she had swings in blood glucose, skin problems and trouble sleeping. After seeing improvement in these areas, she says she can only attribute it to her change in diet.

Like any diet, Paleo has a number of restrictions. The Paleo diet is dairy-free, grain-free and legume-free. These restrictions have caused a debate among many nutritionists on the healthiness and effectiveness of the diet.

Criticisms of Paleo


U.S News and World Report named Paleo diet last on the 2014 list of best diets overall. One of the main criticisms about this plan, also called a “caveman” diet, is the accuracy of the title and how misleading some consider it to be.

“There’s no science behind the Paleo diet,” San Diego dietician Peggy Korody said. “Anthropologists say that there is proof that cavemen ate grains and there just isn’t a science background to support what the Paleo diet claims.”

Critics also argue that eating the Paleo way is not convenient or practical. Eating like a caveman in a modern world requires a dieter to be conscious of the food they’re consuming. Eating out or even picking up food from the grocery store requires a person to be meticulous about the ingredients inside it. Korody says this aspect of the diet makes it extremely difficult to follow thoroughly. Those in favor of Paleo, however, say that eating this way simplifies a confusing subject like nutrition.

“I spent a long time counting calories,” Gaudreau said. “Now I eat intuitively and I know that the foods I’m eating are nutrient dense. I’m not just surviving. I’m thriving.”

Interpretation: What is considered Paleo-friendly?

Being dairy-free, grain-free and legume free can require a large amount of restriction. Just the word diet implies restricting different foods from a person’s nutritional regimen. How long can someone restrict their diet before falling off?

That question is a major concern for Paleo opponents, who argue that  being grain-free is not a sensible diet for the modern day consumer and is not meant for long-term use. San Diego dietitian Tara Coleman says that ultra strict attitude toward eating Paleo is not the best approach to have.

“My philosophy is no restriction because restriction is always short term,” Coleman said. “I think if you follow the diet the way it’s intended, it’s a really great plant-based diet with lots of protein.”

Paleo followers start business in San Diego

Despite the criticisms, the Paleo diet is so popular that one San Diego resident has developed Level Up Meals, a Paleo meal delivery service. Level Up Meals brings ready-to-eat Paleo meals to several gyms around San Diego.

Not So Fast! food truck displays a Paleo meal selection for customers on their menu Photo Credit: Melissa Porter

Not So Fast! food truck displays a Paleo meal selection for customers on their menu
Photo Credit: Melissa Porter

Owner Burtecin Sapta says most people he knows are not completely Paleo because it is unrealistic and can be expensive. He says most of what he eats is Paleo-friendly, but he does splurge with sweet treats every once in a while. Sapta looks at Paleo as a lifestyle rather than just a temporary way to eat.

“Some people interpret Paleo as just another diet and they think the flames will go out soon,” Sapta said. “No one in our company sees it as a diet. We just like to eat natural and organic.”

Bob Montgomery, owner of Not So Fast! food truck, shares this same attitude when whipping up meals in his Paleo food truck. Nearly two years after opening, Montgomery believes the idea of eating less processed food has gained in popularity.

Montgomery says San Diego is a great location for his Paleo food truck because, other than Austin, Texas, it has the largest Paleo following. He says the amount of personal trainers and nutritionists make it an ideal place for the Paleo diet to become more popular.

MULTIMEDIA: Owner of Not So Fast! food truck, Bob Montgomery, recalls his transition to the Paleo diet. Montgomery explains how he opened his food truck and how customers have reacted to Paleo meals. 


Athletes approach the Paleo diet differently

Some of Level Up Meals’ best customers are members of CrossFit gyms. Sapta has seen how the CrossFit community, which focuses on interval training and weightlifting, has embraced the Paleo diet in his business.

“It’s no shocker that CrossFit and the Paleo diet became popular at the same  time,” Coleman said. “It’s part of the culture at a lot of gyms but I think there is a fair amount of pressure that comes along with it.”

Many CrossFit gyms have Paleo challenges and the group setting of CrossFit serves as a Paleo support group. However, group pressure may cause CrossFitters to stay committed to a diet that doesn’t work for them.

“The sedimentary crowd does well with Paleo,” CrossFit trainer Randy Hill said. Hill says he didn’t find Paleo to be effective for him as an athlete.

The lack of grains restricts the amount of carbohydrates an athlete consumes. Hill says he consumed most of his carbs from sweet potatoes and a few other vegetables but didn’t find it to be enough to keep up with his workouts.

Gaudreau recognizes the problems with this diet for athletes on her blog and even has recipes for Paleo athletes. She recommends adapting Paleo to an athletic approach.

“Use the underpinnings of Paleo and customize it for an athlete because 50 grams of carbs or less might not be optimal for an athlete,” Gaudreau said.

MULTIMEDIA: CrossFit trainer Randy Hill demonstrates the intensity of Crossfit workouts and gives a look at the Paleo diet from an athlete’s perspective. Alice Meagher, community connector for Level Up Meals, explains how she became involved in the diet and how it has affected her as an athlete.


The diet culture

Korody says popular or fad diets rely heavily on the fact that people will fail and then spend more money on products. How Paleo stacks up to other diets, which continue the cycle of losing weight and then gaining it back, is a topic of debate.

Gaudreau says unlike other diets that may promise to lose seven pounds in seven days, Paleo diet focuses on food quality. Whether cutting out grains is appropriate for someone varies from person to person.

“There’s no one-size fits all diet,” Coleman said. “People need to calm down about food. Being fearful of certain food causes us to overeat and makes us look at different food as good or bad.”

Preserving and promoting: San Diego’s history and character attract locals and tourists

The Downtown San Diego skyline

The USS Midway is docked in front of the towering Downtown San Diego buildings. Millions of tourists flock to the region each year to experience ‘America’s Finest City.’ Aerial photo by Caitlin Johnson.

A recent campaign by tourism officials in San Diego will put $23 million toward enticing more vacationers to come to the jewel of the West Coast through TV and print advertising. More visitors equal more dollars spent, which naturally boosts the surrounding economy. A portion of the funds also goes toward promoting the city’s unique historical heritage and culture.

Candice Eley, public relations manager for the San Diego Tourism Authority, said the campaign aims to bring in visitors from across the nation by drawing interest to all San Diego has to offer.

“The goal with everything we do at the San Diego Tourism Authority is to drive visitors to San Diego,” Eley said. “So our marketing campaign is really based on trying to get people to think of San Diego when they’re planning their vacations for the upcoming year.”

The campaign is funded by SDTA’s parent company, the Tourism Marketing District, which is a nonprofit organization created by the City of San Diego in 2008 to specifically promote tourism within the region. Funds for marketing come from revenue as a result of a partnership between the TMD and 183 local hotels.

Tourism brings revenue

More outreach means more visitors to the city. As a premier vacation destination, San Diego’s economy is directly affected by tourism. It creates employment opportunities and generates direct revenue from visitor spending. According to Eley, more than 165,000 of the county’s residents are employed in the hospitality industry–one out of eight workers. Purchases by visitors, such as lodging, dining and shopping, are all funneled back into local businesses.

“It really has a spillover benefit, not just naturally to hotels and big attractions like the zoo and SeaWorld, but even into our neighborhoods,” Eley said. “More and more people when they travel … want to get out into the neighborhood and kind of discover the real character of San Diego.”

Gaslamp Quarter, Downtown San Diego

Downtown San Diego’s nightlife is a main driver of consumerism in the city. The historic Gaslamp Quarter is still a popular destination for locals and tourists, just as it was in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Photo by Caitlin Johnson.

This character is what separates San Diego from other popular destinations along the West Coast. Louise Torio lives in Sherman Heights, a neighborhood just outside of Downtown San Diego that has been in existence since the late 1800s. She runs a side business called Historic San Diego and gives walking tours of the area. She said heritage tourism is important for San Diego’s economy.

“If you’re a tourist, you may want to stay an extra day so you can see more than just Shamu when you come here,” Torio said. “The economic benefit ripples out, which is a really important thing that a lot of people don’t understand.”

Longer stays in the city mean more money spent at local businesses. Torio said restoring historic districts also creates jobs and draws visitors. She explained how revitalizing a historic neighborhood not only encourages outside tourism, but draws permanent residents to the area as well.

“As the neighborhood has gotten better and better, it’s gotten safer. It’s gotten more people to come back to the neighborhood and own buildings instead of having absentee landlords, so you’ve got an evolution of a neighborhood,” Torio said.

Culture defines San Diego’s character

Neighborhoods such as Sherman Heights create character, and San Diego’s character is a significant part of what makes it unique. Its proximity to the southern border also allows it to closely share Mexico’s rich heritage — Hispanics and Latinos make up 32 percent of the county’s residential population. Many of Mexico’s legacies have been brought over throughout the years, and acknowledging them is still important to residents and visitors alike.

Adobe Chapel in Old Town San Diego

The Adobe Chapel in Old Town San Diego was converted from a home to a church in 1858 by Don José Aguirre. The chapel, maintained by the Save Our Heritage Organisation, is still used today as a place for locals to gather and pray. Photo by Caitlin Johnson.

Cultural events also play a role in attracting visitors. Old Town is a popular everyday tourist destination, but during various holidays it becomes a central hub where long-standing traditions are shared and celebrated.

Ashley Christensen is the events and outreach coordinator for the Save Our Heritage Organisation. According to her, last November’s two-day Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) celebration drew 50,000 local and out-of-town visitors to Old Town and its surrounding small businesses. The event is a long-standing tradition in Mexico, where those who have died are remembered and honored. In Old Town, the pinnacle of the festival is the candlelit procession that snakes its way down the length of San Diego Avenue and ends in the El Campo Santo Cemetery.

“Last year I got to watch the procession go by,” Christensen said. “It was amazing, just jam-packed with people and their candles … it was just so cool to see people getting it. And a lot of people just stumbled onto it.”

San Diego’s history, beyond the books

El Cortez Apartment Hotel

The El Cortez Apartment Hotel. Opened in 1927, what once was a popular hotel has been transformed into a residential condominium building. Past visitors to the hotel include former U.S. president Dwight D. Eisenhower and famous singer Elvis Presley. Photo by Caitlin Johnson.

Many historic landmarks hide in plain sight and tell a story much deeper than even most residents know. The city’s rich history dates back to the late 1700s, and evidence of this time long passed can still be found if tourists know where to look. Many structures built decades ago still stand among the skyscrapers and freeways today, overshadowed but not forgotten.

Janet O’Dea is co-creator of the Mission Hills Historic District and a former board member for the Save Our Heritage Organisation. She said historic tourism is just as important for locals as it is for attracting tourists to San Diego.

“A sense of place is really important,” O’Dea said. “It’s really about creating a sense of identity and having meaning for a longer term, not just for the generation but for multiple generations and sharing that together.”

However, maintaining historic sites is not an easy task. Most operations in San Diego are independent nonprofits, and restoration and revitalization of areas and structures costs quite a bit of money and manpower.

“(Preservationists) do understand the value of tourism as far as helping to retain these historic places,” O’Dea said. “They have the understanding that the historic place may not exist if it’s not recognized as a site where people want to go. Without that recognition and shining the light on it, who would ever know?”

MULTIMEDIA: Preservationists work to promote historic tourism

The trend of fitness: New gym-goers give extreme exercise a try

Going to the gym or starting an intense workout program sounds like a good opportunity to get more fit and to be a part of a San Diego trend. But it can be challenging in the long run, especially for the first time without the proper knowledge and the right motivation. Local trainers say what you don’t know when it comes to fitness can hurt.


CrossFit member stretches out with his trainer before he starts working out. Photo by: Johana Hernandez

People who are not ready to start a heavy exercise routine will start working out to an extreme without proper dieting to avoid gaining fat, said Katherine Turner, a professor of abnormal psychology at San Diego State University.

“They need to educate themselves first when they start working out,” Turner said. “It’s not about the more you work out, the better the results. It’s not about just looking skinny. It’s a combination of proper dieting and proper training to be healthy.”

Injury costs tracked by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in 2009 range from $650 million to $100 billion dollars from instances of damaged shoulders, lower back and knees.

Who is responsible for staying safe?

San Diego chiropractor, Keith Jeffers, who calls himself “the Running Doctor,” said the fitness trend of extreme exercise can be dangerous if you’re trying it out for the first time, particularly for women.

“I don’t think you should have a 40-year-old woman doing lunges and squats,” Jeffers said. “They are more likely to get hurt than others younger than 40.” According to him, proper training is a combination of both the program and the participant.

“People need to know their ability but also educate themselves about the program they are doing,” Jeffers said. “Is the program certified? Are the trainers well-educated? These are concerns everyone should consider.”


CrossFit gym list rules to motivate its members and follow the exercise routines in a proper way. Photo by: Johana Hernandez

Certified Trainer, Ricardo Guzman, from the American College of Sports Medicine, said the trainers of Crossfit and other programs such as Insanity and P90X are used to training experienced athletes, therefore, they can be a little too tough for the average gym member.

“That is why first timers should be aware of what they are getting themselves into when they work with these intense trainers,” said Guzman. “The trainers can go hard sometimes and forget people have different levels of strength so the trainers also have to be aware.”

Not only are the programs hardcore, but they are also easy to access. Just go on YouTube and type an Insanity or P90X workout you’re looking for and you’ll instantly have the workouts on your screen. This does add convenience for the person to workout in their home, but because of the easy access, this leads to more potential injuries since there is no supervision, Guzman said. On top of no supervision, these programs are aggressive and beginners need expertise.


Exercise to get fit or to fit in?

Jeffers said he sees a number of patients who get injured from overdoing programs such as CrossFit, a popular fitness program that combines the mixture of gymnastics and body building. Most of the time, these patients are women who are new to working out.

People are in such a hurry that they will find an easy way to get to their goal, which includes overworking out or finding a video on YouTube, Guzman says.

According to BodyBuilding representative, Brandon Huls, CrossFit has grown to more than 2,000 gyms nationwide. The program’s popularity though, has spurred controversy.

“I think because there are so many CrossFit gyms, it gives individuals who are new to exercise an easy access to the program,” Huls said. “This can lead to potential injuries. It’s impossible for an unskilled person to participate in a system like CrossFit without injuring themselves.”

Huls said that most of these injured participants could be the ones going into the program for the first time because of the trend.

“I remember this new guy joining the program like if it was going to be a simple task,” Huls said. “He was doing one pull-up and jumped up, carrying the bar with him to the next level above him and unfortunately he did not make it and the bar almost fell on him.”

Mission Gorge CrossFit gym owner and trainer, Ian McHugh, agrees that the popularity of the program can lead to attracting some of the wrong participants.

“If you are here for the trend of it, you’re here for the wrong reason,” McHugh said. “Most likely you will get injured.”

For Maximiliano Garcia, a CrossFit member from the Los Angeles area, the results come from the way the program handles its members in the end.

“I feel there are a lot of people joining because it’s a new thing,” Garcia said. “There are a lot of them who don’t know much but it really depends on the coach and how they teach their students.”

Guzman also recognizes the trend aspect, that has been fueled through social media. He said he does support people getting out there and doing something, although he knows there are some who have hidden intentions.

“I know people can’t wait to get to the gym just to take that selfie,” Guzman said. “They want to take a picture and make sure to post it on Instagram. It’s a social media thing.”

                                A CrossFit member explains her reasons for joining the fitness trend and what the CrossFit gym has to offer.

The CrossFit Community

Despite the risks of the program, CrossFit is popular among professional athletes, but because they are more experienced, they know how to avoid injury, Huls said.

Although these fitness programs are favorites among professional athletes, they are open to the public and therefore, they can be modified for the all types of participants. CrossFit is an example of a modified program despite it’s reputation as an extreme workout.

By collecting scores and keeping track of the members’ performance, the workouts are modified based on each member’s ability. When you walk into the Mission Gorge CrossFit gym, you see many motivational posters and banners that stand out in order to catch the members’ attention and make each of them feel comfortable. One of the banners screams “leave your pride at home.”

Due to the community aspect of the program, people are driven to join and start a new lifestyle, McHugh said.

Garcia got into CrossFit once he noticed how much his brother was enjoying it.

“He said it was fun and he had never felt so fit,” Garcia said. “So I joined but also because I wanted to be a part of the community.” Garcia has also worked hard enough to not get injured by following his trainer’s instructions. “The trainers don’t allow us to lift heavy if we have bad form so we can prevent an injury,” Garcia said.

McHugh said the program is intense but it is modified as well when it comes to its members.

“By knowing each individual, the trainers work them out based on their ability,” McHugh said. “Even if you are new, we start from the bottom with you.”

Do it for you but don’t do it alone

In order to get satisfying, lasting results, it’s best to avoid the trend because you will get skinny then gain weight, Guzman said. “Do it with a friend. It’s motivating and you’ll get something worked out, and release stress.”


CrossFit members’ scores are written down after their workout class to see the progress for their next class. Photo by: Johana Hernandez

Stress-relief reduces gaining fat because of cortisol which is a stress hormone, Guzman said.

When coming into this new lifestyle, Jeffers had some advice for new gym goers. “First understand why you want to do it,” Jeffers said. “Don’t just join because others are doing it, too.”

Huls said one shouldn’t decide to join a workout program or the gym just because of its reputation and “word of mouth.” It’s a lifestyle, not just a phase.