JCC fields a ‘farm team’

JCC fields a ‘farm team’

The latest program offering at the Kaplen JCC on the Palisades in Tenafly is not a fitness class or a lecture series. It’s the chance to buy shares in a local farm and get weekly deliveries of mostly organic produce at competitive prices.

Tuv Ha’Aretz (literally “good for the land” and “best of the land”) was started in 2004 by Hazon (“Vision”), a Jewish healthful-living non-profit, as the first Jewish Community Supported Agriculture program in North America. It now has 32 sites internationally, including the first CSA in Israel.

Rabbi Steve Golden, director of the JCC’s Judaic Department, had long been looking for a practical way to involve the center in Tuv Ha’Aretz.

“The JCC of MetroWest [in West Orange] joined it four years ago, so I knew it could work in New Jersey and I thought it sounded like something we should do here,” said Golden. “But it took some time to figure out how best to manage the program because it’s quite significant in terms of time, volunteers to weigh out shares, and weekly distribution.”

The problem was solved by involving clients of the center’s Guttenberg Center for Special Services. These disabled adults will prepare the boxes, which provides them with opportunities to learn math and social skills.

“If we could generate enough money, we could even pay them a wage,” said Golden, who is coordinating the project together with Special Services Director Shelley Levy.

After attending a Tuv Ha’Aretz training conference in December in Monterey, Calif., Golden negotiated a contract with an appropriate farm in Sussex County, about an hour northwest of the JCC.

“The owner, Ted Stephens, liked the idea that it’s a Jewish program, although he’s not Jewish,” said Golden. “He is interested in the biblical idea of stewardship.”

Community Supported Agriculture shareholders from the Kaplen JCC on the Palisades will get weekly packages of food grown at the Stephens Farm in Sussex County.

Within a week of announcing the project at the center, seven and a half shares were sold; the project requires a minimum of 35 and a maximum of 50 shares. A full share costs $540; limited half shares are available at $310. A full share will average seven to 10 kinds of vegetables each week. Stephens Farm expects to grow 28 varieties this year, ranging from beets and broccoli to tomatillos and turnips.

Pick-up will take place at the JCC on Wednesdays from 4 to 8 p.m., from June through October. A weekly shareholder bulletin will include harvest updates and relevant Jewish educational articles by Golden, plus a recipe using one of the vegetables in that week’s box.

“Tuv Ha’Aretz provides members with exciting opportunities to engage in Jewishly focused education and community-building experiences that convey a connection between Jewish values and food ethics,” said Golden. “This is a great program for us as a center for Jewish programming.”

“The Jewish community is waking up to the notion of sustainable agriculture, local foods, and healthy eating,” said Judith Belasco, Tuv Ha’Aretz CSA Coordinator at Hazon. “This project puts Jewish purchasing power behind sustainable, local agriculture. We want to challenge and inspire participants to think deeply and broadly about their own food choices.”

Hazon’s other projects include Min Ha’Aretz, a day-school food curriculum for children and parents on issues of food, health, and Jewish life; Jewish environmental bike rides in Israel and in New York; Challah for Hunger, where chapters bake and sell challah to raise awareness of and money for poverty and disaster relief; and The Jew & The Carrot (jcarrot.org), a blog on Jews and contemporary food issues.

The JCC will host a Meet the Farmer night on Monday at 7:30. Registration deadline for shares is April 28. Contact Golden at (201) 569-7900, ext. 253, or sgolden@jccotp.org.

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