Living on Earth’s Cynthia Graber reports on an Orthodox Jewish organic communal farm in western Massachusetts.
CURWOOD: The Torah, the Jewish bible, not only contains laws about ritual slaughter but it will also tell you that certain types of food can’t be planted together and that part of a farm’s output should be given to the poor. Jewish communities have many farms all over the world, but here in the United States the seeds of kosher farming are just being planted in western Massachusetts. Living on Earth’s Cynthia Graber reports.
GRABER: On a warm, rainy Sunday, musicians wearing yarmulkes welcome visitors to the Jewish Farm Festival in Sunderland, Massachusetts. Several hundred guests mill about the open field and check out farm stands of vegetables, and tables of Jewish crafts. This land is not only the grounds for the lively festival – it’s also home to Eretz HaChaim, the Living Land.
ADELMAN: Hi. Welcome.
GRABER: Rabbi Chaim Adelman works the crowd of curious guests and old friends. He got the idea to create, what he believes is, the country’s only Orthodox Jewish organic communal farm about three years ago, when he was thinking about how to ensure that his food was strictly kosher. Soon, though, he was inviting others to build a life together.
ADELMAN: Let's start from scratch. A lot of communities suffer today – there's problems and unhappiness in communities, people don't feel fulfilled. So I thought, let's live a perfect life now.
GRABER: A perfect life, according to Rabbi Adelman, includes raising children in a close-knit community, growing spiritually, and bringing agricultural laws in the Torah to life on the farm. Today, there are eight families who plan to live in a small area of the 70-acre grounds. Eventually they hope to expand to thirty families.
TAMAR HELFEN: You’re hopping on the farm tour? Great.
GRABER: Tamar Helfen leads a few dozen people around the property. Despite the heat and humidity, she’s wearing a full-length jean skirt, a long-sleeve gingham shirt, and a blue kerchief covering her hair – in keeping with traditional Jewish customs about women’s modesty. She points to a small meadow that will eventually house a community hall and study center.
TAMAR HELFEN: We want to be open for all people to come visit. Jews and non-Jews, to come and be educated about the things we're trying to teach about Torah and the earth. So we hope to hold classes and retreats.
GRABER: Tamar’s husband Tuvia is the official farmer of the community. He takes the farm tour to the land he planted and is harvesting.
TUVIA HELFEN: There’s cucumbers here, and where we picked out all the melons from here…
GRABER: The organic food from the three acres he farmed this summer went to Eretz Hachaim members and was sold to the local community. In keeping with Jewish law, he says that when he plants fruit trees, he’ll have to wait three years before picking the fruit. Tuvia sees his work as holy.
TUVIA HELFEN: It's good work for a Jew to do, is get his hands into the earth so that his mind can be free in order to learn God’s Torah. It was recommended, actually, to farm.
[MUSIC PLAYING, PEOPLE TALKING]
GRABER: Rabbi Adelman stands near the crowd, surveying the scene with obvious delight. Though eating organic food isn’t a primary concern of the mainstream Orthodox Jewish community, Adelman says it’s an important part of what Eretz Hachaim is doing.
ADELMAN: Clearly, part of eating is eating healthy foods, too. We can’t abuse our bodies, that’s also part of our service of God. So, clearly, what we eat is going to affect us, so certainly organic and clean is the best way to go.
GRABER: The rabbi hopes that community members will be able to move into newly constructed homes on the land by next year. For Living on Earth, I’m Cynthia Graber.
[MUSIC: The Beastie Boys “Eugene’s Lament” THE IN SOUND FROM WAY OUT! (Grand Royal - 1996)]
CURWOOD: You’re listening to Living on Earth.
ANNOUNCER: Funding for Living on Earth comes from The World Media Foundation. Major contributors include the Ford Foundation, for reporting on U.S. environment and development issues, and the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, for coverage of western issues. Support also comes from NPR member; and Bob Williams and Meg Caldwell, honoring NPR's coverage of environmental and natural resource issues, and in support of the NPR President's Council; and Paul and Marcia Ginsburg in support of excellence in public radio.
Living on Earth wants to hear from you!
P.O. Box 990007
Boston, MA, USA 02199
Donate to Living on Earth!
Living on Earth is an independent media program and relies entirely on contributions from listeners and institutions supporting public service. Please donate now to preserve an independent environmental voice.
Major funding for Living on Earth is provided by the National Science Foundation.
Kendeda Fund, furthering the values that contribute to a healthy planet.
The Grantham Foundation for the Protection of the Environment: Committed to protecting and improving the health of the global environment.
Contribute to Living on Earth and receive, as our gift to you, an archival print of one of Mark Seth Lender's extraordinary hummingbird photographs. Follow the link to see Mark's current collection of photographs.