Hazon CSA at Kaplen JCC brings veggies to the people, income to local farmers

Hazon CSA at Kaplen JCC brings veggies to the people, income to local farmers

Farmer Ted Stephens arrives at the Kaplen JCC on the Palisades in Tenafly on Wednesdays from his farm in Sussex County, carrying loads of freshly picked vegetables.

Rabbi Steve Golden, the JCC’s Judaic director, sorts the produce before members of the JCC’s Special Services department arrive to bag the crops.

That evening, some 60 people arrive to pick up their shares of the harvest.

Welcome to the Hazon CSA at the JCC.

“Since the Bible and rabbinic tradition puts stewardship over the land as a central task for God’s servants,” said Golden, the program’s co-coordinator, “our participation in the Hazon CSA provides an opportunity for any member of the community to preserve, advocate for, and enjoy the blessings of the land.”

Hazon, an organization dedicated to creating a healthier and sustainable Jewish way of life, began its Community Supported Agriculture program in 2004. Thirty-two Hazon CSAs in North America and Israel contributed more than $900,000 to farmers and received more than 305,000 pounds of food in 2009. The JCC joined the program last summer to support the Stephens Farm through good times and bad and bring local, organic vegetables to the community.

Annemarie and Ted Stephens, left, on their Sussex County farm with members of the Kaplen JCC’s Hazon CSA Courtesy Kaplen JCC on the Palisades

“It enables the farmer to count on a determined amount of income so he can buy his seed, fix his tractor, whatever he needs to do to get his crops in the ground and growing,” said Golden, co-director with Shelley Levy of the JCC’s CSA. “It’s a group of people who want to support local, sustainable agriculture.”

Each week, about 20 members of JCC’s Special Services program, in their 20s and 30s, bag the vegetables before they are picked up. The JCC Association, the national umbrella group for the JCC movement, honored the JCC with one of its biennial awards in the spring because of the collaboration the CSA has created between the Judaic and Special Services departments.

“It is a way of helping them practice skills they’ve learned and feel good about accomplishing a job well done,” said Levy, who is director of the JCC’s Special Services department. “It’s been a wonderful experience for us to be part of this.”

Stephens, who runs the Wantage Township farm with his wife Annemarie, said the CSA has “worked out well in every way you can imagine.”

The group has 62 shareholders who own 48 shares between them. Some members have only half shares, some have full shares, while others split full shares. The CSA charges $550 for a full share – between 7 and 10 pounds of produce a week – and $330 for a half share – 3 to 5 pounds of produce a week. Food not picked up on Wednesdays is donated to Englewood’s Center for Food Action on Thursdays, which Golden said helps make the CSA Jewish.

“It’s not just eating organic or eating local,” he said, “but we’re also supporting people who are hungry and doing it in a Jewish context.”

CSA member Marty Kasdan makes a weekly pick-up during the 2009 season. Courtesy Kaplen JCC on the Palisades.

Of the $550 for a full share, $535 goes toward the farm, Golden said. Last season was particularly bad for farmers and the money from the CSA helped the Stephens Farm stay afloat, said CSA member Jonathan King of Englewood.

“It’s putting the importance on what this is doing rather than what do I get,” he said.

Getting local vegetables is important to King, who is in his second year in the CSA with his wife, Kathleen Mullally.

“My wife and I are both strong believers that we should try to buy locally,” he said. “We believe we’re eating healthier, as well as keeping our carbon footprint down.”

“It’s nice to be part of a community that supports a farming family,” said CSA participant Iris Mayer of Tenafly. “It just feels good to give back to someone who’s doing something for the environment, and certainly the Garden State of New Jersey. It’s nice to have local vegetables and they taste delicious.”

A small group of CSA members visited the farm earlier this month and another trip is planned during Sukkot. Members will set up a sukkah on the farm, eat, do some planting, and then go apple-picking.

“It’s great to see the people,” Stephens said. “It’s great to be able to show people how the stuff grows and educate them. I love having people come out to the farm.”

Not just veggies
The Hazon CSA at the Kaplen JCC offers more than just vegetables. Members can also get organic kosher chickens from Grow and Behold Foods. For more information on the CSA at the JCC, call Rabbi Steve Golden at (201) 569-7900 ext.1426.
read more: