Growing My Identity and My Feminism Through Jewish Farming
Like most teenagers, I’m still coming into myself and my identity. I’ve found that exposure to the new movement of Jewish agricultural and regenerative farming has been particularly defining in the development of my identity. The day-to-day practices of working on a farm (or, in my case with Shomrei Adamah, interning), allowed me to connect with myself on a level I’d never previously. As I weeded, seeded, and harvested, I experienced moments of personal introspection while simultaneously connecting to the earth under my feet and the plants that sprung from her lively soil.
Small Jewish farms like Adamah Farm in Falls Village, Connecticut are pulling from biblical texts and ancient agricultural traditions, and focusing on the practices of shmita, pa'eh, and ma'aser (various forms of redistribution and rest practiced throughout Jewish history). In my time with Shomrei Adamah, in addition to doing the farm work itself, the other interns and I learned about, analyzed, and engaged in discussions about these key concepts: shmita, pa'eh, and ma'aser. During our hours in the half-acre field, we would mull over these new ideas and assess our role in the intersections between Judaism, food, and land—not to mention the incredibly overwhelming landscape of agribusiness, unjust farming labor practices, and the generally fucked American food system.
In addition to our daily farming work, our pre-Shabbat meals provided some of the most poignant experiences of community-building among the interns and staff. Each Friday, after a busy, work-filled week of tending to the farm stand, we’d spend the morning harvesting and then sectioned off into trios to transform the fruits of our labor into a meal for us all to enjoy, as we transitioned from our week of work into the Jewish day of rest. This process allowed us to explore the practice of radical homemaking: detaching from corporations for our basic needs and, instead, providing for our own community through non-gender-specific roles in our households. This revolutionary practice not only attempts to outsource capitalism and all the surrounding “-isms” that it perpetuates; it also directly addresses the needs of those who've historically carried the burdens of homemaking (cooking, cleaning, and childcare) and instead enables the entire community to share these responsibilities.
In our traditions at the farm, we also underlined conscientiousness regarding individual capacity; in other words, for participants to give what we each could and take what we each needed, especially in regards to respecting our bodies and the labor we could or could not contribute. Our radical homemaking encouraged people of all genders to participate, and therefore more evenly distributed the work. These collaborative, equitable practices provided me with the hands-on experience of building on Judaism’s rich matriarchal history.
In addition to the meal-prep we did for Shabbat meals, we also learned about the homemaking practices of our deeply matriarchal and earth-grounded history. We learned how to lacto-ferment, or pickle, the vegetables we harvested. We learned how to reclaim tallitot, challah covers, and the clothes on our bodies by using natural dyeing techniques. We learned how radical it is to dedicate land to beauty by creating flower gardens that can then accompany our Jewish rituals. Engaging in these practices of radical homemaking felt like steps towards undoing the heteronormativity within our homes, communities, and society at large. Yet, I also recognize that the opportunity to explore societal themes from a conceptual level or to engage in manual labor from a space of catharsis, and want rather than necessity is a privilege in it of itself.
The difficulty with the plastic nature of modern religion, social movements and/or political identities is that they tend to be viewed overly admirably, to the point where it can be hard to “live up” to our own perceptions of ourselves. Through my experiences on the farm, I connected to the earth through nature and my own efforts—and I felt more spiritually sound and connected to something “larger.” Even practices of radical homemaking, like making my own pickles or creatively working in my backyard, made me feel close to the wholeness of the earth and its cycles. To me, this connection is what Judaism is all about and what it tries to explain or replicate in its own cycles of harvest, time, and celebration. I’ve realized that. although these personal experiences of utopian community building were touching and formative for me, I can’t expect for these wholesome moments to be the norm amidst the crushing realities of oppressive systems like capitalism and patriarchy. Rather, these ways of living and connecting with each other are a utopia to work towards, and personal ideals that I’ve continued to carry with me beyond the farm. In the present tense, I can challenge heteronormativity and strive for gender equality by asking questions and further implementing change in myself and my communities at home.
The connectivity I felt when I harvested snap peas, brewed my own herbal tea, or engaged in deep philosophical discussions at the farm on a rainy summer day is the same wholeness that I’ve received from prayer, strong intergenerational womanhood, and mass protests throughout my life. While the jury’s still out on whether or not individualism is effective in social movements and broader change, the altering of our own behavior can certainly be symbolic of communal and even societal growth. I’ve found this to be true in my own feminism, how my female and gender nonconforming friends and I approach our futures, and the evolving goals I have in my own expression of Judaism.
This piece was written as part of JWA’s Rising Voices Fellowship.