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Slow Food Russian River’s Heritage Turkey Project

By Slow Food Russian River

The Heritage Turkey Project of Sonoma County, co-sponsored by Slow Food Russian River, just completed its 15th season of connecting youth to a future in agriculture. 

You might first ask ‘what is a heritage turkey’? Nearly all commercially sold turkeys in this country are the same Butterball breed – the Broad Breasted White. They have been selectively bred to mature quickly, for their white feathers (so they appear cleaner when you cook them), and for their huge breasts. These poor birds can’t fly, walk, or even breed naturally. Raised in confinement with no exercise, industrial turkeys have weak immune systems and often require antibiotics.  When they are harvested, their meat is so bland that they are often injected with saline solution and vegetable oil to improve their taste. The global Slow Food movement remains committed to preserving biodiversity, especially through the Ark of Taste project. Many of the varieties raised by youth in the project are boarded on the Ark, including the American BronzeBourbon RedNarragansett, and Royal Palm varieties.

Narragansett Tom “Bubba” from Thode Family Farm
The Narragansett Turkey will be featured in a series of USPS stamps next year of Heritage Breeds.

The project averages between 12 to 16 4-H and Future Farmers of America (FFA) youth each year, growing a total of approximately 200 turkeys. The youth raise our heritage turkeys from 6-7 months from poult to maturity, which is twice the duration for commercial Broad Breasted Whites. Our project leaders, Catherine and Chuck Thode, are themselves active breeders of heritage turkeys. Some of the young farmers are now raising breeding pairs and hatching their own birds. Each project member raises their small flock of birds on their own property and shoulders the responsibility of providing their care and all-organic feed.

During the week and weekend before Thanksgiving, the birds are carefully collected from the youth’s farms and brought to their harvest and transformation. The nearest CDFA-approved facility which can support our unique youth-to-table operation is a six hour round trip. This enables us through the entirety of the project to know which youth raised a particular bird and its variety.

Given uncertainties from the COVID-19 pandemic on how people would be able to gather and with more birds raised this year than ever, we reached out through Slow Food California to Slow Food East Bay, Slow Food South Bay, and Slow Food Santa Cruz. East Bay leader Willow Blish organized and brought 22 turkeys from Sebastopol to Bay Area eaters, whom raved about their flavor. MB from Berkeley said, “It was by far our best turkey we’ve ever had, and it was perfectly sized for our family. We had roast turkey with persimmons and red onions, pasta with a garlic turkey sauce, turkey sandwiches, turkey salad sandwiches and then finally turkey stew! Thanks again for putting this together!  Please let the 4H kids know how much we appreciated it!” South Bay Vice Chair Jessica Campbell and her family enjoyed one of our heritage turkeys for the first time, noting, “The turkey was beautiful, and we ate every part. The liver was the healthiest organ I’ve ever seen in poultry, and the neck made an amazing broth for our leftover turkey soup. We felt so grateful to the family that raised such a fine specimen.

This project continues to bring awareness to Sonoma County and beyond to Northern California communities, our farmers, and our future farmers about the preservation of heritage breeds, sustainable farming, and responsible animal husbandry. The Heritage Turkey Project offers our young growers valuable, hands-on involvement in a viable, real-world market setting, with the proceeds from each sale at $9.50/lb going directly to the youth that raised it. It is truly a labor of love for all involved.

You can read more about the Heritage Turkey Project on Slow Food Russian River’s website at http://www.slowfoodrr.org/projects/heritage-turkeys/ and contact Project Coordinator Catherine Thode at heritageturkeyproject@gmail.com.

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Slow Food California Statement on 2020 Propositions

The Slow Food California Legislative Policy Committee has reviewed all twelve propositions on the 2020 ballot. The Committee has unanimously agreed to not take a position for or against on any of the propositions on the ballot. The rationale for this decision is that none of the propositions deal in a relevant way with Slow Food’s ethos of “good, clean, and fair food”.   

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Slow Food California Grant Winner: Tuna Harbor Dockside Market

Slow Food Urban San Diego and the Tuna Harbor Dockside Market were awarded a $500 grant from Slow Food California this past month.

San Diego has long been home to a seafood-centric industry. Its waters still provide for numerous fishing families who depend on the day’s catch for their livelihoods. The Tuna Harbor Dockside Market has worked alongside Slow Food Urban San Diego since its founding almost six years ago.  The market supports multi-generational families of fishermen in San Diego who harvest their fisheries sustainably.  Each family brings a variety of seafood to the market that often changes with the fishing seasons. 

During the COVID quarantine, the fishermen in San Diego lost much of their restaurant business, however, the community continued to rely on fresh seafood.  Since then, the market launched an online portal to take pre-orders on Thursday and Friday before opening on Saturday morning.  This allows visitors to practice safe social distancing while providing access to fresh, healthy seafood. Visitors can expect a variety of fresh shellfish, whole fish, and sea urchin. With the Slow Food California grant, the Tuna Harbor Dockside Market plans to continue to expand their online portal and help the consumer gain a better understanding of their seafood and who/where it is coming from. 

If you are interested in learning more about Slow Food Urban San Diego’s projects, visit them at slowfoodurbansandiego.org or reach out to their board at info@slowfoodurbansandiego.org

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Slow Food California Grant Winner: GEO Academy

By Brenda Ruiz, Slow Food California and Slow Food Sacramento Board Member

Slow Food Sacramento board member Chef Brenda Ruiz teaches high school students cooking and sustainability skills through her work with GEO Academy at Grant High School. The classes were moved online due to social distancing protocols.


To make sure that all students have the ingredients and tools they need to continue to learn and prepare healthy meals at home, Slow Food Sacramento teamed up with Produce Express to provide California food boxes and cooking kits for students in the program. On Monday, June 15, 100 food boxes & cooking kits were distributed to North Sacramento students — that’s more than 500 people who will enjoy multiple home cooked meals!


Thank you to YOU our members who support our work through your gifts and participation, to the amazing youth leaders of the Grant High community, to the Sacramento State Dietetic Internship Program and Slow Food California Governor, Lisa Frank, (for help with distribution), to Slow Food Sacramento for supporting a “Good Clean and Fair Food For All” mission, and to the Slow Food California Board for their vision to support California communities impacted by the pandemic.

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Slow Food California Grant Winner: Soup-er Heroes

In June local farmer, chef, and Slow Food advocate Becky Herbert was awarded a $500 micro-grant from Slow Food California for her “Soup-er Heroes” project.

The local chapter, Slow Food San Benito Bounty, encouraged Herbert to apply. Eat with the Seasons is the Herbert family’s CSA, a subscription-based service that has been providing customers in San Benito and the Bay Area boxes of locally-sourced, organic produce, pasture-raised meats, and artisanal products for decades.

According to Becky, when the coronavirus pandemic hit, her CSA subscribers wanted to donate to community members in need. Becky collaborated with chef Mike Fisher, a culinary teacher at San Benito High School, and Maria Lynn Thompson at the Community Food Bank, to make soup with fresh vegetables for distribution to vulnerable seniors.  

Herbert and Fisher launched a GoFundMe site in March which has raised funds allowing them to provide 300 servings of soup for local seniors every week.  The two meet at Herbert’s Farmhouse Café in Hollister on Tuesday evenings to cook and package the soup.

Says Becky, “While I enjoy having a restaurant to sell my soup, the product I’m most passionate about, I’ve always wanted to find a way to share it with people who don’t have access or the ability to buy a bowl.  For me this project is one I’ve been dreaming about for years. I’d love to have a full-time soup kitchen operation one day!”

“Soup-er Heroes” is certainly a project that fits the Slow Food motto: Good, clean, and fair food for all. Donate at GoFundMe. Learn more about Slow Food San Benito Bounty on Facebook or email sanbenitobountyca@slowfoodusa.org