Friday, August 17, 2007

Support Your Local Farmer

Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) is a growing phenomenon, thanks in part to local congregations like the one featured in this article excerpted from the San Mateo County Journal.
On Wednesday evenings, faith and produce mingle at Atlanta’s Congregation Shearith Israel synagogue.
As parents gather to collect their children from Hebrew school or attend lectures, many also pass through the social hall, where they collect boxes of tomatoes, peaches, spinach and other organic produce.
It’s a blending of physical and spiritual sustenance that Rabbi Hillel Norry calls the best of Jewish values in action, and it’s just one of a growing number of faith-based community supported agriculture (or CSA) programs nationwide.
“We’re taking Jewish ideals of justice, economics, health, ecology, well-being and responsibility and putting them to work in the real world in a way that makes our lives and the life of the farmer better,” Norry says.
Fueled by growing interest in local food, CSAs have gone from just a few during the 1980s to about 2,000 today. They operate on the simple premise of enlisting community support for area farms, then rewarding that support with food.
In most cases, people buy shares in participating farms, paying a set amount upfront. For the Atlanta group, it’s $700, though most CSAs cost between $400 and $600. In exchange, the farmer delivers to them a weekly share of the crops, usually for 20 weeks or more. Consumers get good, local food; farmers get guaranteed income.
Of course, interest is contingent on caring about where one’s food comes from. But for some faiths, that concern is built in. Many Jews and Muslims follow kosher and halal tenets, which detail how foods can be raised, processed and stored.
For others, it’s a natural extension of existing concerns about the ethics and values of food and eating, issues important to groups such as the Iowa-based National Catholic Rural Life Conference.
Under the group’s leadership, several organic farms with CSAs have been established on or are planned for church-owned land in Illinois, Indiana, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York and Ohio, many of them operated by orders of monks and nuns.
“We’re still at the beginning of this ethical food system revolution,” says Brother David Andrews, the conference’s executive director. “Only a small percentage of our institutions and dioceses are doing this, but as consciousness of things like global warming, the obesity epidemic and diabetes grow, support for this will continue to grow.”
Launched this spring, Shearith Israel’s program is one of 10 Jewish CSAs created during the past three years as part of a project called Tuv Ha’aretz, Hebrew for both “the best of the land” and “good for the land.”
Under the auspices of Hazon, a New York-based nonprofit that also runs Jewish environmental bike rides and a blog on Jews, food and contemporary issues, Tuv Ha’aretz was started at New York’s Congregation Ansche Chesed.
“We needed 40 families to start, and we had 80 sign up,” says Nigel Savage, Hazon’s founder and director.
And interest elsewhere is strong, too. Tuv Ha’aretz coordinator Leah Koenig says she frequently gets e-mails from people around the country asking for information on starting a CSA in their synagogue or Jewish community center.
In Atlanta, Aaron Marks, a law student, said he and his wife joined the CSA for their 16-month-old son. “We’d heard a lot of scary reports about growth hormones and pesticides and wanted to try to keep his diet as chemical-free as possible,” he said. “We’re both concerned about the environment, and the fact that we’re doing something that might have a direct effect is good.”
Frieda Socol, a member of Shearith Israel since before her wedding 57 years ago, says the fresh CSA produce has started to take center stage at her Friday night dinners, when her family comes together to celebrate the Jewish Sabbath.
“I’ve learned a lot, finding out just exactly what can be done with some of these sometimes rather strange vegetables we have,” she said. “They’ve made Friday night dinner more interesting.”
Tuv Ha’aretz also runs CSA programs in St. Paul, Minn., Houston, Berkeley, Calif., Philadelphia and Washington, and even provides them with relevant biblical passages and other Jewish texts for inclusion in weekly CSA newsletters.
Hazon hopes to share its CSA model with other faiths and is seeking funding to launch joint efforts with the National Catholic Rural Life Conference and Faith In Place, an ecumenical environmental group in Chicago.

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