La Mesa News Briefs – Feb. 26, 2016

‘MasterChef’ holding open calls in March

Can lightning strike twice for another La Mesa home cook?

Last year, La Mesa’s own Claudia Sandoval was crowned the winner of the television cooking competition “MasterChef.” And on March 5, home cooks from around the San Diego region will again have their own opportunity to compete for the top honor.

The open casting call will be held from 10 a.m. – 6 p.m. at an unreleased location in San Diego. Applicants must bring one prepared dish to be served to the judges. Each cook will be given three minutes to plate their dish at the casting call location, but there will not be a kitchen to cook or warm the dish. Also, no dishes or utensils will be provided.

Interested applicants are encouraged to pre-register, although if you do not pre-register, you can just show up with your signature dish.

For more information on pre-registration and to download the application form, visit

New healthy menu for Cuyamaca Child Development Center

Curried chicken salad. Roasted garlic and rosemary bean soup. Roasted turmeric cauliflower.

Menu selections from a hot, new restaurant? Guess again.

These are dishes on February’s menu for the preschoolers at Cuyamaca College’s Child Development Center, which recently contracted for food services through the Neighborhood House Association, a multi-purpose human services agency and the local administrators of the federal Head Start program. NHA prepares and delivers thousands of made-from-scratch meals daily to preschools like the facility at Cuyamaca College.

With an eye toward moving away from the carb-heavy, light-on-veggies dishes previously served the 2- to 5-year-olds, the child development center switched to NHA’s natural and organic meals featuring fresh produce from local farmers. After the first week, reviews for the meals provided free to the children have been great from the often-finicky little ones, said center coordinator Denise Blaha.

“We compost with the children and measure our food waste, and our waste was significantly lower this week,” Blaha said in a statement. “The children simply didn’t find the food previously served very appetizing.”

The Child Development Center recently adopted a farm-to-preschool curriculum developed by the Urban and Environmental Policy Institute at Occidental College. The new food program fits in nicely with the center’s efforts to teach good nutrition to a generation accustomed to diets heavy on processed foods.

The center also partnered with the county’s Aging and Independent Services in 2012 to develop an intergenerational garden, a 1/3-acre plot between the Child Development Center and the Water Conservation Garden that produces a bountiful crop of produce planted and grown by the children with the help of senior volunteers affectionately called “Gardening Grandmas.”

“We finally have a menu that reflects the learning that takes place in our garden and our classrooms,” Blaha said.

The fresh, whole foods are ethnically diverse and kid-tested. They arrive each day from NHA’s central kitchen and are served three times daily, along with a dash of nutrition education.

“NHA has a Harvest of the Month program for the menus so that every month a new and seasonal produce is featured,” Blaha said. “Our Intergenerational Garden volunteers use this curriculum with our children. The families are able to take home our harvest and prepare food that the children have grown.”

Food for thought for the youngest of Cuyamaca College’s population.

Scholarship for conservation

Conservation-minded high school seniors are encouraged to apply for one of five $1,000 college scholarships offered by the Resource Conservation District of Greater San Diego County (RCD). The RCD Conservation Scholarship Program encourages students who are interested in conservation, agriculture, environmental science, natural resources or biology to attend college and pursue careers in resource conservation or agriculture.

Applicants must be high school seniors who are planning to attend college in the fall of 2016. The complete application packet can be found on the RCD website at Submissions must be received by April 11.

“These scholarships are ideal for students who have a real passion about resource conservation or agriculture,” said Sheryl Landrum, RCD district manager, in a press release. “They are not strictly academic scholarships, but also take into account the applicant’s original essay, relevant experience, and letters of recommendation.”

For more information about RCD and its programs, contact Sheryl Landrum at 619-562-0096 or Or visit

La Mesa church completes solar conversion project

Journey Community Church in La Mesa reports it has completed one of East County’s largest solar conversions.

The church said Precision Electric Solar of Lakeside recently completed a $512,000 contract to install a 207 kW system featuring 658 solar panels measuring 39-by-66 inches. The system is expected to save about $100,000 annually in utility costs and reduce carbon emissions by about 80 million pounds per year, according to church officials.

“We looked at the possibility of solar a year ago and the benefits to us and the community were clear,” said lead pastor at Journey Ed Noble in a statement. “We want to do what we can to connect to our community, serve the region and be good neighbors.”

“It is awesome to see what God gives us freely on a daily basis with the sun and be able to harvest it and create electricity,” said Greg Abell, president of Precision Electric Solar. “We are proud to work with a church that supports the community like Journey does. In less than five years they will have their return on investment.”

In 2015, the church launched a campaign and churchgoers pledged more than $3 million to install the system and make other needed capital improvements to the buildings.

The church at 8363 Center Drive in La Mesa owns a 7-acre campus of buildings, including offices, meeting rooms, classrooms, a thrift store, and a food bank, as well as commercial businesses that rent space. About 2,500 people attend three services each week.

20th annual bird festival

Bird lovers of all ages will celebrate 20 years of birds and local bird habitats at the “Sea, Sage, and Sand” Bird Festival from March 3-6 at locations throughout San Diego County.

San Diego Audubon invites the public to spend four days celebrating the region’s abundant collection of bird species –– one of the most diverse in the country –– and to foster an appreciation of San Diego’s extraordinary bird population.

The festival comes packed with a variety of dynamic activities, including more than 40 field trips around San Diego County to spot hundreds of bird species; bird photography and art workshops; an optics fair to test top-tier bird-watching equipment; and rare opportunities to bird watch in untraditional locations, such as on a sport-fishing boat, a bike or on horseback.

On the final day of the festival, Audubon presents an expanded Family Day with bird-friendly fun for all ages. Parents and children will learn about San Diego’s bird populations with hands-on activities that include building birdhouses, exploring guided nature walks and more.

In addition to a full lineup of interactive activities, the festival also includes educational seminars with expert presenters, including keynote speaker, environmental author and president of the American Birding Association, Jeffrey Gordon.

For a full schedule of activities and to register, visit Registration is available for individual tours, workshops and single activities. For more information on the San Diego Audubon Society, visit

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