The Fitness of My Food
This is my first summer joining a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) Co-op. For those who aren’t so familiar with local food production, a CSA consists of individuals who commit to sharing the benefits and risks of local farming, and enjoy several months of fresh vegetables at a great value. As a CSA Co-op member, I buy a “share” of the farm’s produce which helps cover costs of the farm operation and pays the farmer a living wage. In return for delicious organic food, I participate directly in work on the farm—harvesting, planting, soiling, etc.—which helps build a more local and equitable agricultural system. It’s a pretty great model.
Every Thursday, I have the delight of picking up an abundance of fresh vegetables (you never know what you’ll get, so it’s somewhat suspenseful!) delivered from the Heirloom Harvest Community Farm in Westborough, MA. Anyone who’s a CSA member knows how exciting this blissful vegetable-overload can be. Though initially overwhelmed, I’ve come to appreciate my fridge and pantry overflowing with arugula, kale, beets, zucchini, elegant garlic scapes, patty pan squash and kohlrabi (both of which I’d never even heard of), and enough sugar peas to feed all of Boston. On a CSA pick-up day, the quiet order of my kitchen spirals into cathartic vegetable anarchy. Were Emma Goldman still alive, I suspect that she, too, would be a CSA member, tantalized by beet juice dribbling down the surface of her kitchen table, and by garlic scapes violently crackling in olive oil on a flaming stove.
I don’t know whether it’s coincidence or a no-brainer that the vast majority of the CSA members of my co-op are Jewish. What’s clear, however, is that segments of the Jewish community are captivated by the CSA food production model. Synagogues and havurahs in different parts of the country have shown support for local, organic agriculture by either joining or, in some cases, starting their own CSAs. Eve Kaplan-Walbrecht is a Jewish CSA pioneer. In 2001, she and her husband founded Garden of Eve, a partner farm for Tuv Ha’aretz (“Good for the Land”), the first Jewish CSA project in North America—founded by Hazon—with nine participating cities nation-wide.
So I asked myself: what’s Jewish about a CSA? The Jewish tradition has a long history of defining what is Kosher—literally “fit”—for us to eat. As someone who does not keep Kosher in the strictest sense, a CSA offers me an opportunity to re-examine and possibly redefine what it means for food to be “fit,” not only for my body, but for my community, and for the earth. To know that I’m eating lettuce free of toxic pesticides and synthetic herbicides, and to know that my turnips are grown in organic (not chemical!) fertilizer, is an important part of food “fitness.” These distinctions are not identified in traditional Jewish dietary laws, but for me, they elevate the ethical intention and fundamental “fitness” of my food consumption far more compellingly than the appearance of a hechsher (the Kosher certification symbol) on a bag of spinach from the supermarket.
The best part of being a CSA member is that I now have a strong incentive to cook elaborate veggie meals for Shabbat. Come Monday, I have a week’s worth of leftovers to enjoy in the JWA lunch room.