This Week in Jewish Farming: Planting new seeds

firstseedsKristin Kimball learned the meaning of commitment from a cow.

Delia, a fawn-colored Jersey, came to live with Kimball and her husband Mark soon after the couple moved to Essex Farm in upstate New York. Like me, Kimball is a former New York City journalist, once accustomed to a full menu of urban pleasures and free of the encumbrances that might prevent her taking healthy advantage of them. Now, she was tethered to Delia’s twice-daily milking schedule, the boundaries of her life fixed to places she could get to and back within a 12-hour window. On her farm south of Plattsburgh, that isn’t much.

I had a similar kind of feeling when I put the first onion, kale and collard seeds into trays last week at the farm I am starting in Coventry, Conn. Though not nearly as demanding as a dairy cow, the seeds still require regular care. Each day I’d drive out to the farm from my new home in the suburbs to water them and whisper a little prayer. In the blustery subfreezing temperatures last week, I fretted over their well-being like they were babies, racing back to the farm to drape them with a protective layer of plastic sheeting.


Right now, those babies idle quietly in utero. In their infancy, their demands will only grow. And in the adolescence of high summer, they will require multiple daily greenhouse waterings, every day, seven days a week, holidays included, from now until early September, when the last of them are transplanted to the field. There will be no impulsive weekend in California this year. Getting to the multiple weddings I need to attend this summer will be challenging enough.

In some ways, this sort of binding was exactly what I was after when, in February, I left JTA after nearly seven years and moved back to my hometown to start Root Down Farm. After getting my first taste of farm life in Vermont a few years ago, the fleeting, almost ephemeral nature of my Brooklyn lifestyle had come to seem hollow. I wanted to be anchored to something real and lasting — not those fragile little seedlings, of course, whose lives will have run their course well before the next winter falls. But maybe — hopefully — the experience of growing them and placing them on someone’s dinner table.

There are lots of other reasons I made this change, and I will aim to describe them in the coming months in a new weekly blog feature, This Week in Jewish Farming. The blog will touch on larger themes related to sustainability and our country’s profoundly broken relationship with food. But mostly it will be a chronicle of birth — of a new business, a new suburban life and, with nature’s help, lots of beautiful plants — and all the pangs and pleasures thereof. Stay tuned.

From the annals of Jewish farming: In 1934, new Jewish agricultural cooperatives were being formed in the Carpatho-Russian region of Czechoslovakia, with their representatives purchasing hundreds of cattle and thousands of fruit trees, JTA reported.

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Ben Harris is JTA’s news editor. In his seven years with JTA, he has reported from more than 15 countries. His writing has appeared in the Wall Street Journal, the Boston Globe, New York magazine, among other publications.