Food boxes good for the land, good for Jews

Bulgarian frittata with zucchini, feta and dill; dill zucchini pancakes with mint; zucchini in yogurt; zucchini sauté.

And then there was the entry from young Bayla Polston: Zucchini Noah’s Ark, which wasn’t edible (the zucchini was a bit past its prime, her father explained) and was tied together, with toy animals precariously perched on top.

These were some of the entries in a July 25 cook-off at Chochmat HaLev in Berkeley, featuring the ubiquitous summer squash. The contest was held in conjunction with the congregation’s participation in a national program that promotes Community Supported Agriculture (CSA).

Hazon, an organization headquartered in New York, is trying to make Jews think about more than just kashrut when it comes to the food they buy. According to Hazon, organic, local and seasonal are all Jewish values.

Hazon first became known for its environmental bike rides in Israel and the United States. And last year, it began Tuv Ha’Aretz — meaning both “good to the land” and “good for the land” — by enlisting synagogues to support local organic farming. Ten synagogues are participating. By joining a CSA, members pay a farm in advance, and get a box of produce delivered every week. The farm benefits by having steady support and the consumer benefits by knowing where the food is grown.

Moreover, statistics show that the average food item has traveled more than 1,500 miles from farm to consumer, meaning that it has to be picked before its optimal ripeness and peak nutritional value. CSA members know their food has generally been picked the day before, has been grown without pesticides and has traveled fewer than 100 miles.

In this case, they know that their food has traveled exactly 58 miles, from Eatwell Farm in Dixon to Berkeley, and it was transported in a vegetable oil-fueled truck, no less.

Nigel Walker, the British-born farmer who owns Eatwell, said he “used to ship my heirloom tomatoes to New York. It cost me $1,000 to ship a ton of tomatoes. That is so cheap, but it didn’t feel good, so I stopped.”

While Eatwell has a presence at the S.F. Ferry Plaza Farmers Market, the CSA has all but taken over, much to his benefit.. “I have seven guys who work for me full time. They aren’t hired and fired, they can work all year.”

Adam Edell, who not only teaches children about farming at an elementary school in Hayward, but grows much of his own food in his Oakland backyard, was responsible for bringing Tuv Ha’Aretz to Berkeley.

“I reconnected to Judaism through my relationship with this food,” he said recently, gesturing to the contents of a box that included heirloom tomatoes, sweet corn, an English cucumber, and, of course, zucchini. “Farming encourages me to show others how spirituality can take on a different dimension.”

Chochmat’s CSA began at Shavuot in May and will continue through Sukkot, in October. While most of those participating belong to Chochmat, not all do, but all seem to like the sense of community the CSA brings.

“I love that when I come to get my box, I see my friends and all the kids running around,” said Angela Fixler of Oakland, who added that she also enjoys swapping recipes. “It’s a great benefit to the yummy veggies.”

Said Shulamit Fairman of Oakland: “One of the things I like best is that I can say to my friends, ‘Oh my God, aren’t the tomatoes great this week?’ Or I can ask them if they want to trade something for my zucchini, which usually they don’t.”

The winner of the contest, by the way, was Zelig Golden of Berkeley, whose zucchini pancakes with mint were a major hit.

“I make these all the time,” he said, “to use up all the zucchini.”

To receive a box of vegetables to be picked up at Chochmat HaLev, email [email protected] or call Adam Edell at (510) 506-6410. The deadline to join the second half of the CSA is Aug. 8.

Alix Wall
Alix Wall

Alix Wall is a contributing editor to J. She is also the founder of the Illuminoshi: The Not-So-Secret Society of Bay Area Jewish Food Professionals and is writer/producer of a documentary-in-progress called "The Lonely Child."