Jewish farmers gather to ignite the field of community agriculture

For the first time, a group of leading Jewish Community Farmers from the U.S., Israel and Canada convened in Encinitas recently for an in-depth field development workshop.

They chose Encinitas for two reasons: We at the Leichtag Foundation invited them, and because they are an integral part of what we are creating here.

These passionate farmers and educators are continuously inspiring the work the Leichtag Foundation is doing.

The primary goal of this gathering was to assess the state of Jewish Community Farming and share challenges and opportunities that can accelerate its growth.

One might ask — what is a Jewish community farm?

It is essentially a farm rooted in Jewish values that grows food to serve people in need and provides a venue for experiential learning and community building for people of all ages, abilities and faiths.

Over the course of three long days we brainstormed, ate and played music together as we shared visions for the field and for what this unique farm in Encinitas could do to help the field.

Each of 11 organizations shared their ideas, experiences and opportunities for the future. Together, we came to unanimous consensus that working together collaboratively will make all of us stronger and increase the impact and sustainability of our collective efforts.

The design input we received from this group helped us better understand how our land can be developed to provide meaningful and safe experiences for people of all ages, faiths and abilities.

Some of the nuggets that came out of this charrette included the need for open green space to begin and end programs, having an outdoor teaching kitchen in the heart of the garden, the importance of farm animals for engaging young people and building a culture of collaboration.

Judaism has a deep agricultural heritage with unique farming practices, social values and celebrations tied to the cycles of farming. One such example is Pe’ah, which means “corners” and requires farmers to leave the corners of their fields for tithing to the poor. Our food forest trail and commitment to donating produce to local food banks is a reflection of this idea.

Jewish farming has deep roots that go back to Biblical times; however, the scattering of Jewish people around the world largely due to persecution across Europe has disconnected modern Jews from their agrarian past.

The Jewish Community Farming field grew out of a need to reconnect Jewish communities to the land and its rhythms, as well as to live out the social and environmental values that are so important to what it means to be Jewish.

In addition to the Jewish Farmers, we invited the Hub — nonprofit organizations located on the farm — as well as E3 (Encinitas Environmental Education) Cluster members to share ideas and explore opportunities for integrating their programs with the farm.

The energy and excitement that grew out of this week-long workshop has inspired us to continue engaging other local and national thought partners to further the vision for our work here. We will be building on the momentum of our field building work, developing an evaluation plan for the farm, mapping our local food shed and continuing discussion with organizations and individuals in the community to strengthen the vision and plans for the farm.

Through these conversations and design sessions, we will also be identifying priority projects for the farm that will have the most impact, especially in areas related to the Leichtag Foundation’s strategic areas: self-sufficiency, vibrant Jewish life and a connection to Israel.

As part of this gathering, we also launched our Israeli Farmer Residency program where the leaders of Kaima, an Israeli CSA (community supported agriculture) farm that employs at-risk high school youth in organic farming. They stayed with us on the farm for a few weeks and visited local farmers here in North County.

The farmers, hub members and E3 Cluster leaders helped inform our farm planning process for the launch of Encinitas’ first Jewish Community Farm initiative.

A nationally known farmer, Daron Joffe relocated to Encinitas last year to serve as the development director of the Leichtag Foundation’s 67-acre property on Saxony Road.

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