Why "Jewishfarmer?"

Sharon December 1st, 2008

Every so often, I get an email enquiring about my email handle “Jewishfarmer.”  They want to know why it would matter that a farmer was Jewish, or (if they are Jewish) why I would want to advertise it.  More recently, I’ve gotten a lot more such queries, and I know I have a lot of new readers, so I thought it might be worth answering the question. 

I actually have a couple of answers, from the light to the serious.  One of them is “Well, it wasn’t taken.”  That is, there are sufficiently few agrarian Jews out there in the US (not none, and the agricultural history of Judaism in the US is quite fascinating) that being both Jewish and a farmer is something which spared me the necessity of choosing something like “Sharon22608″ as my email handle.

The more serious answer is that there are reasons why being a Jewish farmer is different than being another sort of farmer.  And I thought it would be worth talking about them because other Jews on farms outside of Israel probably have the same issues.  If there’s one thing we rural Jews need, it is solidarity.

The thing about Judaism is that it is a communal religion – that is, there are large chunks of Jewish observance that simply can’t be done outside of a reasonably dense population of other Jews.  Some of these are religious acts – one can’t, for example, say Kaddish (the prayer for the dead) for a family member or friend without 9 other adult Jews (in some denominations, but not mine, 10 adult, male Jews).  A minyan (a quorum of 10 adult Jews) is required for many, many major religious observances.  And since prayer in a minyan is performed multiple times daily, a minyan doesn’t just depend on 10 adult (or male) Jews, but on 10 Jews observant enough to want to be there, able to get there around their other obligations, etc… That is, you need a critical mass of observant Jews to achieve these goals.  Even settling for a Shabbos minyan only requires enough Jews that if some are on vacation or sick, you still can manage it.  Not to mention the costs of acquiring a Torah scroll and ritual objects – one can do without them if necessary, but no one wants to, and expensive projects work best if they costs can be borne on many backs.

Others are practical – kosher food is available where it is reasonably profitable to sell it.  The internet has made it easier to live out in the boonies and keep kosher, and if you are vegetarian, it gets easier still, but it is still hard without a certain population concentration.  The same is true of kosher restaurants, and stores that sell Judaica.  I live near enough Albany/Schenectady to take advantage of the reasonably dense Jewish population there, for a small pair of cities, but it is worth noting that when I told friends I was spending the week in Boston, and visiting the Little Israel neighborhood of Brookline, everyone had orders for things I should pick up for them – books not easily acquired in the neighborhood, kosher food not available in our region, etc…   They just don’t sell “Sofer:The Story of a Torah Scribe” at Barnes and Noble, nor ”The Comic Book Siddur” or the Yiddish version of ”The Cat in the Hat” come up at my local library sale.   All, however, are on my Chanukah gift list.

More importantly, maintaining Jewish culture requires a critical mass.  You have to be able to bring your children to participate in religious school.  You want your kids, ideally, to go to school in a culture where you won’t have to explain “No, Chanukah is not “Jewish Christmas” and “No, my child cannot sing songs about the birth of Christ” every single bloody year.  Experiencing Jewishness as an identity means immersion in that identity – and without that immersion, the attractions of secular cultures and identities can overwhelm one’s faith.  In New York City, the old Lenny Bruce joke goes “Even if you are black, you are Jewish.”  Up where I live, far, far above 125th St., Christianity (at least a relative version of it) is as assumed and central to the culture as Jewishness is in Brooklyn.  Now our neighbors and friends have been hugely supportive of us with our funny hats and odd holidays, but the assumptions of Christian culture as a whole are one of those things that you just have to deal with.

All which means that being a rural Jew in a place where there aren’t lots of other rural Jews (ie most places) is hard.  My kids attend synagogue 20 minutes away most Shabboses.  Before we moved here, we did not “ride” on Shabbat – that is, in accordance to Jewish law, we didn’t use our car on the Sabbath.  We looked for a long time for a rural area that would allow us to walk to a shul or college Hillel – and couldn’t find one with land we could afford, in a place Eric’s grandparents were willing to live.  So while our denomination technically permits riding on the Sabbath as preferable to not coming to shul at all, we made a compromise I’m still not comfortable with.  We still ride only to and from synagogue or to the homes of friends sharing our religious observance, and we do not engage in any kind of commerce – but something that makes the day distinctive and special is lost, and we look longingly at our friends who walk home, talking and pushing their strollers,  as we drive past.

There are other compromises, some ecological in nature - this year, my two older sons became old enough to go to Hebrew school two days a week – in a year, this should increase to three.  Do we drive that extra day?  I’m not sure – I think we will ask to compromise and do the work at home on those days, and they will accomodate us, I’m sure.  But it does mean separating my kids from their peers.  Our faith is one of the reasons we homeschool – my kids get their religion and culture integrated into their lives.  But we find ourselves separated from many local homeschool groups, that are Christian in nature.  We can and do share math and anatomy lessons with our Christian homeschooling neighbors – but we can’t join the nearest homeschool group, because it includes Christian focused activities.  We’re incredibly fortunate – a Rabbi friend of mine is homeschooling her kindergarten aged daughter and preschool son, and we get together weekly to work on Jewish projects, but eventually they will go on to the local Jewish day school, and we already are sad in anticipation of the end of such a fruitful and fun collaboration.

Don’t mistake me –  we’re reasonably content with our choices.   My point is, rather,  that the pressure of Jewish culture pushes us strongly towards dense concentrations of other Jews – not just dense in a suburban sense, but because most observant Jews don’t drive at all, walkably Jewish neighborhoods. In many ways, this is good – observant Jews eschew commerce once a week, they do not drive on the Sabbath, they tend to congregate in tight knit commities, usually walkable.  These are good things for the future and the environment.  But they do come with a price – a level of decreased access to land, and loss of agarian elements in Jewish culture.

The other force pushing Jews towards urbanization is historical – Jews have lost their land in every place they lived in for thousands of years.  As a minority, diaspora population, Jews have always been vulnerable and anti-semitism always prevalent - taking Jewish land was something of a hobby of most governments through most of Christian history, in large part because it was hugely profitable.  Jews would settle on a farm, improve the land, and then, when the next round of scapegoating came about – and it always did – the powers that be would displace Jews and take over their land and wealth.  For thousands of years, Jews were taught, over and over and over again that land in the diaspora was tenuous, that other forms of wealth, the kinds you can take with you in hard times in the forms of coinage or metals, were far more valuable and secure than land. 

The memory lives in Jewish culture in deep and profound ways – my husband’s grandfather, Ali, had a farm on the German-Danish border in the 1930s, and in the way of things, that farm might have come down to my husband, but it was taken from them.  Once, years ago, when travelling in Europe I suggested we attempt to find the farm – but husband’s reply was that he didn’t want to see it, preferred not to think about what his family lost.   (The deep irony and grief that some Jews are so willing to displace Palestinians by force and justify it with their history seems to me one of the saddest and most troubling results of our disrupted agrarian ties). 

Jews are not merely urban people because they need urban population densities – thriving Jewish agrarian cultures all over the world have been systematically destroyed, and with it, the faith of Jews in their relationship with the land.  Thus, most American Jews feel stronger ties to Israeli soil than they do to the soil of their foodshed.

If it is so damned hard to be a Jewish farmer, why do it?  What on earth does it mean to be a “Jewish farmer?”  In our case, we do it for several reasons.  The first is that Judaism is an agrarian religion, one that prescribes ways of living ecologically and in relationship to the land.  We believe those ways have value for us now and that it is no accident that so much of the Torah deals agricultural life – for us a sustainable agriculture isn’t just a good idea, it is an idea integral to our beliefs.  Farming Jewishly is an expression of our faith. 

We also believe that eating and living Jewishly require ties to the land – it means that Jewish farmers are needed to grow Jewish food, and Jewish eaters need to be connected to those farmers.  Our first agricultural venture was our CSA, which may have been the only “Jewish themed” CSA in the US.  Every Thursday evening, we delivered our customers (many of them not Jewish) not just food, but what we thought of as sustainable tools for Jewish observance.  Our Sabbath begins on Friday nights, so on Thursday evenings we would provide our customers with a basket of fresh fruits and vegetables, fulfilling the obligation that the freshest, best and most special foods be served for the Sabbath.  Thus, the first strawberries, or first arugula would be eaten on Shabbos.

Besides the produce, there was a bouquet of flowers, some cultivated, some wild.  We are commanded to make our Sabbath table into an altar, and to beautify it.  But how could we make a beautiful observance with flowers, sprayed with chemicals by inadequately protected laborers, then flown from Ecuador or Columbia to table?  Instead, we gave our customer truly beautiful and natural local flowers, never sprayed.  One week it was  a huge bouquet of Peonies, later in the season, zinnias, baby’s breath, sunflowers and roses.  Then came eggs from our chickens, and two loaves of Challah, made each week by my husband – much of what is needed to make the Sabbath both beautiful and celebratory, as we are commanded.

Sadly, the CSA came to an end when I became a professional writer – I simply couldn’t do both.  I’ve still got hopes of putting up hoop houses and running a winter CSA, and taking up beekeeping and perhaps raising herbs for medicine and tea that like our moist soil and woodland areas.  In the meantime, we’re livestock farming – raising kosher pastured, organic chicken and turkey, exploring sheep raising with a friend, and hoping to expand our goat project to help other people get small sized dairying going on in suburban neighborhoods.   For the rest, we subsistence farm, concentrating on producing as much as we can of what we need in a place, reducing the amount of money we need to earn from our work and our soil.  

For now, I’m recognizing that with young kids, producing a lot of our food, and writing, I can’t farm on the scale I’d like to.  I’m not always sure whether it would be better for me to grow more food, to do more and talk less about it, but right now it feels more urgent to help other people get started on their journeys. But we’re still a Jewish farm.  We still leave a portion of our ground fallow, still feed our animals before we feed ourselves, still glean our own garden and donate to local food pantries.

The other reason we’re Jewish farmers is this – we are especially concerned about Jews and food security in the coming years.  Because Jewish culture is so urban, so disconnected from its agricultural traditions, Jews face a particularly hard transition in a food-insecure society.  Our disconnection from our food system already has a price – as we have seen in the slaughterhouse scandals.  Elderly Jews and those on a low income are already struggling in large numbers, because a kosher diet that includes traditional meats is generally much more costly than a typical American diet – I’ve heard anecdotal reports from Jewish neighborhoods of rapidly increasing claims for food stamps and WIC. 

But if this is the beginning of a larger crisis, Jewish people are deeply vulnerable, both to scapegoating (as has happened many times in our history) but also to difficulty in adaptation.  If, for example, urban food production becomes, as I think it is likely to, central to urban food security, most Jews are fairly far removed from their old country memories of gardens.  And with few Jews in rural areas, and comparatively few farmers who care enough about Jewish urban neighborhoods (because of a shared cultural identity) to come into densely populated Jewish areas, access to food may be seriously challenging.  In a transportation-tight society, Jewish populations will need access to kosher foods nearby – not shipped from thousands of miles away. 

And while many Jews are highly ecologically literate and concerned about environmental issues, I personally have not found that many quite grasp how tenuous our present stability is.  In the past, Jews have faced their crises best with a passport, leaving the dangerous lands for less dangerous ones.  But a worldwide climate, fiscal and ecological crisis means that passports aren’t as useful a solution anymore.  In the past, the way out of poverty and towards security have been the pursuit of education, and the high paying careers it could provide.  The self-sufficiency of days when immigrant and European Jews were poorer has been left behind, as money has ensured our security better than land.  But those things too may be changing – and yet, comparatively few Jews are preparing their children for self sufficiency. 

Now I don’t have a crystal ball, and it may be that relying on old patterns may serve the Jews of today better than I anticipate.  But one of the reason I’m a Jewish farmer is this – because I fear that if Jews don’t grow food, despite the inconveniences, difficulties and moral compromises required to be observant and agrarian, there will be real and serious Jewish hunger in the US.  I wish very much that my rural corner of upstate New York could support a shul instead of an occasional minyan, that I could walk to Jewish stores and restaurants, have my kids go to school with other Jewish children, while also raising my chickens and eggs to sell to my Jewish neighbors, and sharing gardening projects together.  And I’m sure there are some places where that is possible.  But if I can’t have those things, I’ll content myself with connecting with rural Jews in other places who are just as alone, with my occasional minyan and the tiny group of Jewish homeschoolers who support one another.  Because Jewish food security depends on Jewish farmers.

In this territory, I was long preceeded by a remarkable couple at my synagogue, Rose and Paul Westheimer.  They live out in rural Schoharie County, and for many years, they grew carrots and parsnips on a 700 acre farm (they were Farmers with a capital “F,” as opposed to small “f” me) , sold out of a building everyone knows as “The Carrot Barn.”  Paul and Rose have retired now, and the farm was sold to another couple, who have expanded it and its offerings.  But the ties to the Carrot Barn still remain.  The synagogue’s annual harvest festival, our “Carrot Festival” was founded by the Westheimers.  Every year our synagogue hosts a farmer’s market, music, kids activities and a craft fair, and people come and buy vegetables on the lawn of our shul.  The produce came from the Carrot barn, and Rose and Paul and I and others stood out and sold vegetables until nearly everything was emptied.  This year, the Westheimers helped bring a speaker who talked about the ethics of eating both ecologically and Jewishly, and a luncheon rife with local food, again mostly brought in from their former farm.  

The ties that they created between a piece of land away from the city and the Jews who live in Schenectady and suburban Niskayuna are deeply important to our whole community and congregation.  They are felt every year when I go in to buy decorative corn, and RB, proprietor of the Carrot Barn grins and says “Sukkot, huh?”  Yup, sukkot.   They are important to me, because there exists, embedded in our community, a Jewish agricultural tradition that can be revitalized – we can invoke the past as a way of getting back to the future.

I don’t know what will come top pass, but I admit, despite the difficulties, I have hope for the day that someday someone emails me and mentions “Oh, I’m [email protected].”  ;-) .

 Sharon

46 Responses to “Why "Jewishfarmer?"”

  1. d.a. says:

    Thank you for taking time out of your busy schedule to write this up. Informative and inspiring. Be well.

  2. Interesting insight, thanks. Picked you up out of Google Alerts on the terms “Albany” and “Schenectady.” Non-farmer, non-Jewish Latham resident here. Looks like you’ve got quite an archive of blog entries, is any of that stuff local-centric?

  3. Ani says:

    So when you were in Brookline this past week, you didn’t happen to stop at the bakery on Harvard Street that sells the bagels and 3 million varieties of flavoured cream cheese did you :) ?? When I lived down there that was my personal definition of heaven- well after I finished standing on that long line that is- but their awesome bagels and cream cheese spreads……sigh….. nothing like that out here……

  4. Elizabeth (aka heathenmom) says:

    Sharon, thank you so very much for this post. My husband and I are working diligently to build a life based on our pre-Christian ancestral faith, and I see many parallels between what we are trying to do and what you’ve described here (I hope that doesn’t offend …). Our faith, too, is a communal one, and we struggle with the distance between our chosen homestead (my family’s home for over 200 years) and where most of our heathen friends – and their children! – live. We, too, would love to join a local homeschooling group, but they seem to all have a religious component that we aren’t willing to expose our children to. I especially love your description of how your CSA served your local Jewish community. We do have some heathen neighbors within a reasonable distance. It would bring us great pride and joy to provide local produce, meat, herbs & flowers to them for our religious observances.

  5. YiddisheMama says:

    Shalom Ya’ll
    As one Jewish farmer to another…thank you for expressing the joys and challanges of being a “rural” Jew. While we are still in a mid-sized city, in east TN we are urban homesteading the best we can with a couple of goats a garden and some bees (maybe a chicken or two in the spring) and are lucky enough to be about 3 Miles from shul, and have kosher food in the Kroger. While our shul does have a recycling program (people bring their recyclables in the shul) when I tell folks what I do they tend to look at me as if lobsters are coming out of my ears. I would love to run a Jewish themed CSA one day when we are a bit further a long. While I think most folks think it odd that I farm, I think those same people would be thrilled with a basket of fresh fruits/veggies and challah every week.

  6. Fern says:

    Lenny Bruce was right. Recently I needed a skin tag removed, went to a surgeon and asked to have it done in the office right then, it’s not compicated. Pointed out that my son’s circumcision was done in my living room, with family, cats, and dust bunnies in attendence. The surgeon – an African-American woman raised in NYC who did college and medical school in Albany – replied that she wasn’t a mohel and this wasn’t a bris. She did what I wanted anyway, mind you, but she knows her Yiddish medical terms!

  7. Rebecca says:

    Sharon, I second what Elizabeth said. I may not be Jewish, but I can understand where you’re coming from because the parallels with my religion are so similar. Thanks for the good post!

  8. Sharon,
    Your handle “jewishfarmer” is part of why i started following your blog! As a Jewish hopeful future farmer of America (haha) I have been searching desparately for people from whom I can learn. I need role models to help me learn how it’s possible to be a Jew (especially an observant Jew – shomer shabbos and kashrus, etc) in a rural environment. I need information about subsistence farming and self-sufficient living. I need to know if it’s possible to be who I am as a religious Jew and raise kids who have Jewish knowledge and pride, in an environment with very few other Jews. I need to know I’m not the only Jewish person out there with these interests. I need to talk to others about how to handle anti-semitism in rural areas and farming communities. (I grew up in the country and experienced lots of it). About the intersection of Jewish law and agriculture. I am always seeking new ideas about raising children and how to integrate sustainability and Jewish values in our families. And of course, most of all, I just want to connect with similarly minded folks! Because you raise your family with Judaism as a central part of it, and because it seems like Judaism (among other things) informs your sense of responsibility and commitment to environmental and economic sustainability, I think being a Jew is SO very relevant to the work you do! It’s important for people to know that minorities are part of their communities by making ourselves visible, holding people accountable for prejudice, and continuing to connect our own culture and faith with the cultures of energy independence, sustainable agriculture (etc).

    My great-grandmother was a fresh-off-the-boat Jewish farmer in Renssalaer County back in the day. My grandma grew up in the Catskills of Ulster County. I grew up in the country. I have rural roots and want to learn more about the rich history of Jewish farmers, especially in the Catskills and Capital Region. I also want to pursue growing my own food on a larger scale. But when I first became interested in (very small-scale) farming I googled “jewish farms” and “jewish farmers” and “rural Jews”… I found almost nothing. No organization, no list-serve, nothing. Just a few educational farms here and there, one hard-to-find book on Jewish farmers at the turn of the last century, and that’s it. Things are changing, as documented on sites like JCarrot. The Jewish interest in agriculture is growing again. We need visibility as well as infrastructure to support this nascent Jewish back-to-the-land movement.

    You know there’s a couple of Jewish-themed CSA’s now, right? Hopefully this is a sign of change!

  9. Lance says:

    Thank you for this wonderful post, Sharon. I understand many things better than I did before. It was such a great post that I sent it to my former major professor back in Iowa, who is a Jewish anthropologist in a very agrarian landscape. We have been good friends for almost 20 years now (his was the first and only Seder I ever attended!) but I am currently trying to introduce him to the coming food crisis so that he can distribute the info further to his friends and family there in Iowa. Again, thank you :-)

  10. Theresa says:

    Thanks so much for posting this Sharon. The integration you describe between your faith and your life is inspirational. May all of humanity come to remember its ties to the earth soon.

  11. Armando says:

    Well, How funny that you all think their are no jews in the fields.
    The largest agricultural irrigation companies in the world are all Israeli companies. First and foremost Netafim Irrigation, based in Hazerim and Magal kibbutz in Israel. It is true however that there very few rural jes in the USA which is a shame because it would result in such a more efficient ag.

  12. Lisa Z says:

    As a “quieter” Christian (I’m Lutheran), I can relate to the quiet but powerfully active faith you have. I love how your Jewishness informs everything you do. Thanks for this wonderful essay on that.

    Christians read the Old Testament, too, and in fact it is often my favorite part of the Bible. I love the two creation stories in Gen. 1 and 2, the command of the Jubilee year, the God who always forgives Her/His people, the Psalmists’ songs, and the prophets with their calls for justice. I named my son, Elijah, after the greatest one. Besides all that, Jesus was a Jew. We have a lot in common and Christians would do well to remember that.

    Let us hope that the Jews will never be the scapegoat again.

  13. Stephen B. says:

    Sharon,

    For some years I’ve wondered how a people historically so involved in agriculture could be so seemingly disconnected with it, basically opting for an urban life instead. As a non-Jew, nobody ever really explained these things too well either. Frankly, answers I got tended to be weigh in heavily on rather hateful, bigotted themes that I need not go into.

    As usual, you bring a refreshing clarity and wholisticness to the dialogue and explaination. Out of all your blog entries, this is such a keeper. While I am sure that your abilities to blend farming, Jewish or not, with CSA and other community considerations, in my opinion, it is clear to me, that writing is where you continue to make the BIG difference in this troubling world. Maybe it’s just because it’s easier for me to experience Sharon the writer through the printed and electronic page and that I’d feel different if I was a CSA shareholder of your’s living down the street, but I say you are doing the bigger work with the pen and keyboard.

  14. Stephen B. says:

    Sorry, MY writing obviously isn’t as good. I meant to say:

    “While I am sure that your abilities to blend farming, Jewish or not, with CSA and other community considerations *are considerable too*, in my opinion, it is clear to me, that writing is where you continue to make the BIG difference in this troubling world.”

  15. Sharon says:

    Armando, that’s why I said “outside of Israel” in my post. The reality is that there are lots of Jews in the diaspora world, and Jewish agriculture is rarely concentrated in those countries, as far as I know.

    Stephen, thank you – that’s nice to hear. I do sometimes wonder if I should write less and do more, if I’m becoming hypocritical making compromises when I can’t do it all. I’m glad the writing does seem valuable.

    Sharon

  16. Jenne Heise says:

    One of the consequences of the medieval banning of landowning by Jews in most European countries has been a tension between modern Jewish culture and the idea of farmers in diaspora culture. Farmers in Israel are ok, of course; that’s part of rebuilding Israel. But because of the tradition that farming was not an upper-middle class “professional” occupation, one does sometimes hear contempt expressed for farmers and farming as something left to those who aren’t very smart.

    Thank you for being a Jewish Farmer and for valuing the idea of small scale agriculture.

  17. Kerr says:

    I have wondered about your livestock… do you shecht them yourself?

    I ended up at your blog from the riot site and I stayed for your pragmatic wisdom, but my attention was certainly caught by your openness about your Jewishness. I’m a cultural hybrid, practicing Judaism at a very loose Renewal community and paganism in the fields. I have friends out here on the left coast integrated Jewishness and paganism, and either or both into an agrarian way of living. I even know people planning a land-based Jewish intentional community, if G-d is willing.

    This really excites and inspires me. I don’t tend to be motivated by fear; I easily get paralyzed. What motivates me more is the sense of the beauty and meaning available to those who integrate the cycle of the seasons and the direct connect with earth and food into their spiritual and practical lives. So thanks for talking a bit more about your experiences.

  18. leeb says:

    3 of the 5 major organic vegetable farmers in my area of Northern Vermont are Jews.

  19. [...] Casaubon’s Book » Blog Archive » Why “Jewishfarmer?” Every so often, I get an email enquiring about my email handle “Jewishfarmer.” They want to know why it would matter that a farmer was Jewish, or (if they are Jewish) why I would want to advertise it. More recently, I’ve gotten a lot more such queries, and I know I have a lot of new readers, so I thought it might be worth answering the question. [...]

  20. Vegan says:

    Thanks for sharing your story. As a member of a minority group (Cuban by birth), I can identify with the Jewish people’s fear of living in rural areas in the USA. When my family and I moved to rural SWFL 16 years ago, a fellow with an enormous confederate flag drove at 10 mph back and forth in front of our property (at least 10 times) while my husband, myself and our older son were installing a field fence. We got the message! Another time at a nearby intersection the words “No Nigger Allowed” were written on the road in large painted letters.

    I love the diversity and cosmopolitan feeling of New York, Boston, DC and other big cities, but I love the land as well.

    I recall Noam Chomsky saying in a talk that when he was a child his family was denied staying at a hotel in Western PA because they were Jews.

    Sadly, racial, ethnic and religious discrimination is alive and well in our country. Will humans ever evolve collectively?

  21. Noelle says:

    fascinating post, and really interesting discussion in the comments. I’ve gotta say “thank you” for your aside about how jarring it is when Jews force Palestinians off of their ancestral farms, using the terrible persecution they’ve faced as an excuse. That has always struck me as painfully ironic. You mentioning both sides just gives me another reason to think highly of you.

  22. Lisa Z says:

    Kerr, I also combine a Christian faith with Pagan practices. I love to follow the Circle of the Year, sometimes from my ancestral Lutheran church practices (Advent is now and I love this season) and sometimes from another part of my ancestry, the Celtic and Nordic Pagan observances, i.e. Solstice.

    People have always combined different traditions, doing what works for them, and I think it makes for a rich life.

  23. Jennifer says:

    Thanks for this great post, Sharon! We don’t have a large Jewish following in my rural part of Tennessee, so it’s nice to get perspective on other religious beliefs. Your blog has opened my eyes to a great many things since I started reading it–keep up the good work!!

  24. Sharon says:

    Kerr, I schecht poultry for our use, and have been taught to do so, but I’m not a schochet by the standards of any orthodox community or kosher certifier (besides not being righteous enough, I’m a girl ;-) ), so at this stage, if we sell the meat off the farm, we have it butchered by a schochet. Occasionally we also have our own done, since some of my friends will eat my schechting, and some won’t – we like to be able to feed everyone. So only for home use, and not always that. When we’ve had larger mammals done, we’ve had them done by a butcher, because a. we were usually splitting them with someone and b. we’re not really set up to butcher anything larger than a very small goat or sheep. I’d like to learn to do our sheep and goats, though.

    Jenne, good point. I think some of it also derives from the notion that all Jews are supposed to live in Israel – there’s a school of thought that suggests we shouldn’t feel too attached to any other place. My own feeling is that that’s a potentially dangerous thought – ecologically, there is no way that Israel can support the world’s Jews, even if all of us felt we should live there.

    Sharon

  25. Rumor says:

    Your thoughtfulness continues to impress and inspire, Sharon. Thanks for the insight and for taking on a personal topic – I wasn’t one of the people asking but I found this piece rather enjoyable to read.

  26. Pony says:

    Thank you for the very interesting post. By coincidence, today I also read an article about the Jewish community in India at http://www.jewishworldreview.com/1208/indian_jewish.php3
    by a writer who moved from Germany to India in the 1930s and then to Israel in 1969.

  27. Megan says:

    What a wonderful description of the tension between urban and rural in Jewish life. Those are all the issues my family is struggling with as we think about moving to the country. I’m going to send this around. Thank you!

  28. Yael says:

    great post Sharon!

    I know I’ve emailed you before but I have the same conflicts with wanting to find land big enough for farming but close enough for walking to shul–and you are right it seems nearly impossible! I know exactly what you mean when you say that you are still not comfortable with riding to shul, but do it anyways–I know thats exactly how I would feel too.

    Thanks for the great list of the reasons why–I hope someday (in that not too distant future) I will be able to call myself a Jewish farmer as well!–and thanks for the shout-out to “Little Israel” haha–I live right up the street!

    I would be very interested in the resources you have of the history of Jewish farming in the U.S. if you wouldn’t mind sharing!

  29. Grandma Misi says:

    Wow, wonderful, informative post… and such incredible comments. I learned a lot from this Sharon, and I thank you. It’s also wonderful to see a little more into your “personal” side… not that sometimes I feel like I can picture Eric and the boys after reading your blog.
    Most of my “in-law” side of the family are Jewish… and I learn new things every day. I’m forwarding this article on to them as they will really appreciate it!
    Best to all of you, Misi

  30. [...] of Aristotle’s students, and in a wonderful post on—what else?—Jewish farming, she wrote this lovely paragraph: “For now, I’m recognizing that with young kids, producing a lot of our food, and writing, [...]

  31. olympia says:

    leeb- yeah, I definitely notice a Jewish bent to the organic farming around here (Northwest Vermont). In addition, the rabbi of perhaps the biggest conservative synagogue in Vermont was a pioneer in urban chicken farming in Burlington (man, if I were a chicken, I’d be petitioning to join his flock, as it sounds like his chickens eat better- Sabbath leftovers?- than most any other chickens I’ve heard of).

    Great post, Sharon- you’ve really got a knack for history.

  32. Lauren says:

    I found this post fascinating and informative. I hope no one who asked you why you have that handle thought you didn’t have a very good reason. :)

  33. [...] interesting post by a woman claiming to have once established the first, and so far only, Jewish CSA contains this [...]

  34. Brandee says:

    Very insightful post, as always. I thought when you wrote recently that you’d be busy traveling for a while that your posts would be (necessarily) compromised, but each time you write something you inform and inspire many more people than you can imagine. I’m with Stephen B – as important as the farming work you do is, the world needs your voice. I know yours is the voice I turn to increasingly in these times, and I have so much to learn! Thank you.

  35. galacticsurfer says:

    I recall growing up cathoic and maybe eating fish on Fridays was maximum effort besides mass attendance and the idea of fasting in lent was sort of diminished from what earlier generations did. As a religious denomination minority in Alaska(non-protestant) one learned not to take much about the religion or non-religon of others for granted. So strict observance of things sort of goes by the wayside. Now I sort of have my religon of one(yoga) and don’t expect even my wife or kids to observe anything and would not really know much I could do myself besides setting up a statue in the corner for prayers and becoming vegetarian(where would I “go to church”?), although I don’t even do that as it is literally only my personal observance. I think this is pretty typical of “post religious” westerners, having an eclectic internal belief system nobody else knows about.

    I tried going to Catholic church with my kid for a bit as it seemed a good idea to influence the child in a positive moral manner but I just don’t believe and feel that my personal experiences in this area are so much deeper than what they teach or practice that I cannot relate. I worry that my kids get this scientific secular indoctrination at school/from society which denies the supernatural in fact, but at least I am encouraged that they simply believe in God as traditionally taught in school religious course here with bible stories (old and new testaments) and alternatively as a sort of Great Spirit of the universe as my wife prefers to see it. The practice of religion is definitely hard to change and/or maintain without support group or surrounding culture. Take Christmas with all surrounding musical and decorative traditions. Even if you don’t go to church once in your life these things are unavoidable in Europe / Americas.

    I wish you the best of luck in community building and tradition keeping. Your post was most informative. “Happy Holidays”.

  36. [...] also want to point you to this wonderful recent post that is, more or less, the best thesis of that Jewish agrarianism I can presently imagine.  [...]

  37. Sarah says:

    Is it possible to buy your meat in NYC? I’ve been trying to find a good source of Kosher ethical meat . . . Please let me know!

  38. Stephanie says:

    Dear Sharon–My mom just sent this to me since she knows my Jewish family just bought a share this summer in CSA of Easy Bean Farm (easybeanfarm.com) here in MN–the only Jewish organic farm in MN as far as we know. Thank you for your insights on all accounts; I am planning to be a regular blog reader. Your comments apply where I live as well, urban, but with a Christian influenced culture that doesn’t always understand our holidays. Best to you and your family as winter sets in. Stephanie

  39. Stephanie says:

    P.S. I am a teacher at a Jewish preschool and found a copy of The Farmer’s Alphabet at a library book sale. I carefully cut out the pages, laminated them, put them on the wall, and that is the alphabet my suburban Jewish children see in the classroom each day! I was glad to see it in your books for children section.

  40. Sharon says:

    Hi Stephanie – How wonderful, that’s great!

    Sarah, I’m afraid we don’t market in NYC – we’re a local producer and not on a scale that gets us that far away.

    Sharon

  41. Sarah: There is more than one source of ethical kosher meat in NYC. One is called MitzvahMeat which does deliveries throughout the NY metro area including NJ, Bronx, and Long Island (I think). The other has a name I can’t remember but a good place to look would be Jcarrot.org and you should contact Hazon.org as well

  42. Christopher Witmer says:

    All good and well; however, I can’t help noting that if I as a WASP blogged in a similar vein I would probably be called a bigot/racist/anti-semite for holding and expressing such views.

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