Going organic: new food co-op unveiled

BY ELIZABETH SLONIM MACANUFO, SPECIALTO THE JEWISH LIGHT

This fall, start planning your meals for next spring by joining the first Jewish Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) project in St. Louis for fresh, organic, local farm-grown goods.

The seeds of this project began a year ago when Rabbi Brad Horwitz, director of the Jewish Community Center’s Helene Mirowitz Department of Jewish Community Life, continued his search for innovative ideas for the Jewish community. Rabbi Horwitz discovered Hazon, a national organization dedicated to creating a healthy and sustainable Jewish community.

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One of Hazon’s core programs, Tuv Ha’Aretz caught Rabbi Horwitz’s attention. Tuv Ha’Aretz provides a platform for Jewish communities around the country to support local, sustainable agriculture.

In cooperation with Jewish Environmental Initiative, a project of the Jewish Community Relations Council, Rabbi Horwitz created a steering committee of professional and lay individuals to lead the project.

Generous charter members allowed Rabbi Horwitz to hire a staff person dedicated to Tuv Ha’Aretz. With their help, the Jewish Community Center applied to, and was accepted into, the Hazon network.

The next step for growing the project included finding a farmer.

Rabbi Horwitz and a key volunteer, Maxine Mirowitz, searched for a regional farmer who could provide food for members of the CSA.

They found their farm near Alton, Ill. The farmer at “R” Farm, according to Rabbi Horwitz, “has over 15 years of experience with CSA projects and was looking to expand. It seemed like a good match.” The Tuv Ha’Aretz program will include tours of the farm.

To participate, individuals must sign-up by Dec. 1, as there is limited space available. This deadline also dictates how much produce the farmer will plant for the growing season, which begins in May and lasts through October of 2009.

“Those who are involved will pre-purchase a share of the farmers produce for the entire growing season,” says Rabbi Horwitz. Participants will receive seven to 10 pounds of fresh, organic, local produce on a weekly basis during that time. The selection will vary.

“The farmer provides every kind of produce from asparagus to zucchini. There will be vegetables that people are familiar with such as tomatoes and lettuce, but also less common produce such as okra kohlrabi and kale. There will also be a small amount of fruit depending on crop yield,” Horwitz said. Recipes will accompany the lesser known ingredients.

There will be three locations across the community to pick up the weekly produce: Central Reform Congregation in the Central West End on Fridays, Jewish Family and Children’s Service in Creve Coeur near the Millstone campus on Tuesdays, and the JCC Marilyn Fox Building in Chesterfield also on Fridays.

The cost of a full share is $682.

The Tuv Ha’Aretz project, Rabbi Horwitz believes, aligns with the tenets of Judaism.

“It’s a Jewish value to be stewards of God’s creation and also to take care of our bodies and I hope this CSA project will encourage people to eat more healthy food while performing the important Jewish value of protecting the land where our food grows.”

“You’re getting access to fresh, organic produce for a good price that you would not have the access to by just going to the grocery store,” he said.

Tuv Ha’Aretz offers other benefits to the St. Louis Jewish community. “The organic food co-op is a way to mobilize and energize the community about protecting the environment. We’re planning potluck Shabbat dinners and special lectures about food and the environment to raise consciousness and awareness for Jews to learn about taking care of the environment.”

In addition to supporting the environment, Tuv Ha’Aretz will also support locally grown produce. Explains Rabbi Horwitz, “We make a commitment as a community to provide a predictable market for the farmer’s produce and by eating local produce we lessen the carbon footprint caused by all of the unnecessary packaging, storage and transportation costs of food that is not grown locally but appears on our grocery shelves.”

Tzedakah is also incorporated. Leftover produce will be donated to the Harvey Kornblum Jewish food pantry and donated to needy families. “Tuv Ha’Aretz is infused with Jewish values,” says Rabbi Horwitz.

As the Jewish community concludes celebrating Sukkot, Rabbi Horwitz suggests now is the perfect time to plan next year’s food supply. As he explains, “Sukkot is an agricultural holiday connected to the the Fall harvest. We live in our permanent homes, but without God’s creation, we cannot be sustained. Tuv Ha’Aretz is an extension of that thinking into our daily lives, not just during the holiday period.”

For more information about Tuv Ha’Aretz, please go to www.jccstl.com or contact Tuv Ha’Aretz staff coordinator Sara Winkelman at 314-442-3268 or [email protected]