Ode to the Potato Pancake (Happy Chanukah)!

Ode to the Potato Pancake
By: Risa Alyson Cooper 

       Risa and her harvest

Solanum tuberosum, has a rich history you know.
The mighty potato was domesticated 7000 years ago.
Yes, ancestors to the Incas, grew these gems in the Andes up high,
Over 3000 varieties, says Wikepedia and I. 

In the late fifteen hundreds, Spanish ships from New World carried this amazing new food
But alas, in Europe, the potato was greeted with a reception quite rude.
Europeans were skeptical, some say because the potato was not mentioned in the bible
They feared eating it would turn them into lepers, so they did not warmly greet its arrival.

But the Irish, to the potato they opened their arms and hearts widely,
Planting it in abundance, celebrating a vegetable so hearty
And over time the rest of Europe, the potato they planted and praised,
But not so fully as the Irish, who became completely dependent on the potatoes they raised.  

In 1845 a fungus wiped out Ireland’s potato stores,
1 in 8 died of starvation according to Irish lore. 
Ireland’s great potato famine offers proof of monoculture’s folly,
And do humans learn from their mistakes?  No, I say with melancholy.

I digress…

The potato grew in popularity, making its way back across the Atlantic,
In the 1700s it arrived in North America, where settlers became potato fanatics.
In fact, in 1801, when Jefferson was the American president,
He served French fries in the White House, to the surprise of its noble residents. 

Potato farming is now big industry in our country
Today, the potato is Ontario’s largest fresh vegetable crop, but not without controversy.
In 2011, American-financed Highland Companies bought thousands of acres to start a potato farm,
That they didn’t clearly state their intention to first mine for limestone, made locals very alarmed.

The MegaQuarry as it was called, was highly contested,
Ontario farmers and food activitists thought building the second largest mine in North America in their backyard should be protested,
Thanks to high-profile advocacy, the MegaQuarry application has been withdrawn,
But there is still the bigger question, was this all a giant case of “Not in my back lawn”

The only way to remove the threat of mining entirely,
Is to make changes to the lifestyle choices we make, so we are not dependent upon mining products so direly.
Again I digress from my ode to the might tater,
Big picture environmental sustainability we should talk about later.

So, you see my dear friends, the potato has a rich and complex history,
And frying it in oil seems like the most logical way to celebrate the Maccabees unlikely military victory,
And the miracle of the oil lasting for eight days and eight nights,
There are so many layers of meaning to this tasty delight.

So with profound Kavanah, let’s enjoy this most wonderful of treats,
As a celebratory food, the potato latka cannot be beat.

My Journey to Bela Farm

By Bluth (aka Rachel Rosenbluth)

It's only an hour away from the city, but instantly we felt more calm as we began the day long brainstorming session at Bela Farm. The Shoresh staff and interns went up for a lovely day of wondering and pondering. We began with a walking tour of the Farm site, where we learned about its history, plants and animal species, structures, water sources, neighbours, and topography.

A Beautiful Bela Farm Moment

Bela Farm's Dream Catcher (formerly a trampoline base)

As we walked, we noticed some amazing creations that exist on the land, and drew them onto a poster Board with the passage from Psalms 104:2:  "Mah Rabu Maasecha Hashem Kulam Bechachmah Asita Malah Haaretz Kinyanecha – How great/many are Your deeds Hashem, All of them You have made with wisdom –the earth is full of Your creations." We settled down in the grass accompanied by crickets and a warm breeze, for a small Torah study session. We explored the passage of the SHMA, discussing the profound interconnectedness which it illuminates, by connecting the awareness of the Oneness of HaShem with rains and agricultural bounty.

Team Shoresh 2012

Brainstorming and Visioning the Possible

Feeling connected to Jewish teachings and the land, we enjoyed our lunches, and then began a brainstorming session for Bela Farm. We came up with some great ideas including: bees, horticultural therapy workshops, brick ovens to make matzah, drum circles and music festivals!   To end off the visit, we discussed the shift between Elul and Tishrei, and spent some individual alone time connecting with the majesty of the world, in preparation for the high holidays. We left excited and energized, and cannot wait until the next time we visit Bela Farm in October for Sukkot!

Shoresh Staff: Risa Alyson Cooper and Sabrina Malach

We're Having a Party

You are invited to join Shoresh for a community gathering, picnic-extravanza at the beautiful Bela Farm, a rural centre for land-based Judaism in southern Ontario.  

Together we will eat, learn, play and work.  

We will provide vegetarian soup cooked over a fire.

Please bring a bowl, spoon, picnic lunch, sun-protection and swim gear.

Date: Sunday August 12, 2012
Time: 12AM-6 PM
Location: Bela Farm, 5726 Sixth Line, Hillsburgh, Ontario (directions attached)
For more info, check us out on Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/events/172421266225173/
Registration required. Please contact sabrina@shoresh.ca to RSVP.

Check out this fabulous schedule: 

Picnic and stone soup
Official welcome and overview of the day
Farm tour


Kabbalah and mysticism


Dream Catching



Nature Walk

The Jewish Food Movement What is it?

Farm tour

Shoresh's Spring Festival at the Kavanah Garden

Last Sunday we celebrated the season of spring at Shoresh's Kavanah Garden.  The Kavanah Garden is an organic educational garden at UJA's Joseph and Wolf Lebovic Jewish Community Campus in Vaughan.  Shoresh’s flagship programming space, the Kavanah Garden seeks to model and inspire Jewish social and environmental responsibility.

On Sunday June 10th, over 100 people of different ages and backgrounds came out to the garden to learn, laugh and play at our Spring Festival. We made pesto on our bicycle-powered blender, made necklaces that will sprout, read The Lorax under some trees, watered our plants, continued to build relationships and community and enjoyed the beauty of the garden.

Making pesto via la bicicleta!

Wild Green Petso!

This was the last spring Festival at the current site.  It has been amazing to witness the growth of the Kavanah Garden community over the past four years. After four years at our current site (18 Lebovic Campus), we are planning a big move across the Don river. In the fall of 2012, we will begin designing a permanent home for the Kavanah Garden on the Lebovic Campus. We are sad to leave our beloved garden behind and all the wonderful species that live there and look forward to building a  new home, new relationships and a new and beautiful oasis in Vaughan.
Hunting for bugs is fun!
Look what I found!
 2012 will be filled with events and celebrations at the Kavanah Garden. Check out our calendar of events for a list of festivals, workshops and other great opportunities. If you have never been to the garden before, make sure to come this year and if you have been before, come again.

From gloom to gladness: The future of environmentalism

Reposted from The Toronto Star
Sun Jun 17 2012
By Stephen Bede Scharper

There were no brilliant lightning flashes, no deafening thunder claps, and the earth did not tremble, but a seismic shift in the environmental movement was nonetheless on display last week in downtown Toronto.

David Suzuki, the dean of Canadian environmentalism, was joined last Thursday by U.S. journalist Richard Louv, author of the bestselling book, Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature Deficit Disorder, for a public conversation at the Art Gallery of Ontario.
David Suzuki

As these two environmental pioneers parleyed, it became clear that an environmental agenda centering chiefly on conservation, government policy and an urgent, doom-laden, sword-of-Damocles advocacy was quietly morphing into one focused on relationships, children, education, wonder, joy and the healing power of nature.

In both our private interview and the public colloquy, Suzuki and Louv reflected on the milestones and missteps of the environmental movement, which, as Suzuki notes, is this year celebrating its 50th anniversary, having been spawned by Rachel Carson’s watershed 1962 publication Silent Spring, which sounded the alarm on the pernicious proliferation of pesticides.

While Suzuki noted that the first 30 years of the movement saw many successes, with DDT banned, clean air and water legislation passed, critical wildlands preserved and a global awareness raised about eco-concerns, he also noted that certain proposed pipelines and dams, defeated decades ago, are again back on the table.

“When we started the Suzuki Foundation in 1990,” Suzuki recalled, “we thought we had only 10 years.” Influenced by data provided by the Worldwatch Institute, which publishes a much-cited annual State of the World report, Suzuki rebuffed suggestions that the foundation focus on schools, deeming there was “no time” given the grave and imminent threats to our ecosystems.

He now calls his decision quite candidly a “fundamental error.”

Louv echoed Suzuki’s sentiment, recounting a recent meeting with a group of U.S. university students, all focusing on environmental studies, but none connecting with any mainline environmental organizations. One factor was age — the average member’s age of the Nature Conservancy is 68 — but a second reason was articulated poignantly by one of the students. “I’m 20 years old. All my life I have heard we’re finished. The planet is doomed.” Such eco-nihilism is rarely an effective recruitment tool.

Happily, Louv’s work is decidedly non-apocalyptic. Last Child in the Woods helped inspire a growing movement reconnecting children with nature.

Richard Louv

Harvesting clinical research showing that children suffering from attention-deficit disorder, depression and suicidal tendencies are often greatly helped by exposure to nature, Louv co-founded the Children & Nature Network, whose vision is to foster “a world in which all children play, learn and grow with nature in their everyday lives.”

In 2010, Louv was invited to address 5,000 pediatricians at the American Academy of Pediatrics annual meeting. They not only warmly received his words, but in some cases have begun to give “nature prescriptions” to children, recommending taking in nature rather than just taking pills to get well. In Portland, Ore., Louv reports, an urban park has become a veritable wellness centre for children, with park staff seeing themselves as “para-health professionals.” Adopting a “climb two maples and call me in the morning” approach, park staff sign off on doctors’ health prescriptions after children have taken their recommended dose of nature.

His most recent book, The Nature Principle, is a cogent plea for a newly imagined future — one that eschews obsession with ecological armageddon and instead focuses on the restorative powers of the planet.

Citing Martin Luther King, Louv states, “Any cultural movement will fail if it can’t paint a picture of a world where people want to go to.” Louv is gravely concerned about the rash of popular, post-apocalyptic cultural images of the future. If, when we think of the future, we only envision some “Blade Runner-Mad Max-Hunger Games scenario,” Louv comments, “we are in real trouble.” Such a post-apocalyptic framing of the future, he fears, is almost as great a threat as climate change.

As these seasoned environmental leaders are seeing, their movement is not ultimately a protest movement against government and corporate policies, but primarily a movement that strives to embrace with joy the sanguine mystery and beauty of life.

Stephen Bede Scharper teaches at the Centre for Environment, University of Toronto, and is author of the forthcoming book, For Earth’s Sake: Toward a Compassionate Ecology (Novalis).

On the Relationship Between Flour and Torah

By guest blogger, Daniel Joseph:

אם אין קמח, אין תורה; אם אין תורה, אין קמח
Without flour there is no Torah. Without Torah, there is no flour.  (Pirkei Avot 3:17)

Flour makes yummy challah, but I'm pretty sure you don't need flour to write a Torah. However, you may have needed bread to fuel your all-night Shavuot learning session (or part-night!) this past weekend. In this passage, flour is a codeword for physical sustenance.

“Without flour there is no Torah”

We need physical sustenance so we have energy to put into our spiritual growth.  Without physical sustenance to fuel us, we cannot engage in or receive the fruits of spiritual endeavours.

But, what can you do for physical sustenance if you're gluten free?! How about chicken? Ok, but what if I am a vegetarian? Cheese! Ok, but not that type of vegetarian...if only our sages knew of our tribulations! Ancient Israel was an agrarian society, where people grew their own food. They needed to use their land to grow food that would meet all their needs – lots of energy and easy to store are two that come to mind. Bread fits the bill. Going on a long journey to Tzfat from Jerusalem? Bring some bread (perhaps find some olive oil on the way)! Bread is known as the staff of life for a good reason! For our ancestors bread was ubiquitous with physical sustenance. So much so, that our sages used it to indicate physical sustenance in this Mishnah..

Lets delve a little deeper. The twist comes in through the second section:

“Without Torah, there is no flour”

Torah represents both our spiritual endeavours and spiritual fruits. Without our spiritual endeavours/fruits, physical sustenance cannot be received or cannot exist. Perhaps more accurately, physicality is meaningless without a spiritual context. Another interpretation: without the laws of the Torah for living harmoniously with the environment, we will lose the ability to produce physical sustenance.

In summary: the first section says, without physical sustenance, we cannot engage in or receive spirituality. The second section is saying, without spirituality we cannot receive physical sustenance. So what comes first the physical or spiritual?

I believe our sages have created this contradiction to show us that neither comes first or last. Rather, they arise mutually. Physicality implies spirituality, and vice versa. Through physicality, spirituality is regulated; through spirituality, physicality is regulated. Can you think of examples for both situations?

I think the recent holiday of Shavuot encapsulates the lesson of this passage. Shavuot is known both as the 'Time of the Giving of our Torah' and also as the 'Day of First Fruits'. Both names indicate the receiving of one type of sustenance. The Torah represents our spiritual endeavours and is the source of our spiritual sustenance. Shavuot is called the 'Day of First Fruits' because it is the day of the first barley harvest. Barley flour can make bread, physical sustenance in ancient Israel and the western world. Through both of these names, we can see how Shavuot celebrates and emphasizes harmony between the physical and spiritual gifts we receive.

Jewish Educational Gardens Are Sprouting in the GTA

 Written by teacher, Andrea Schaffer:
טו וַיִּקַּח יְהוָה אֱלֹהִים, אֶת-הָאָדָם; וַיַּנִּחֵהוּ בְגַן-עֵדֶן, לְעָבְדָהּ וּלְשָׁמְרָהּ.
15 And the LORD God took the man, and put him into the garden of Eden to work it and to keep it.

“And the teacher took the student to the garden, and put him in the garden, to touch, to see, to smell and to hear, and the child learned and understood.”
Sabrina Malach,
Director of Outreach and Development for Shoresh 
As I crouched in the soil of a garden bed of the Toronto Heschel school garden, on that first sunny Sunday in May, weeding with my two year old nephew, a few of my grade two students and a future JK student, I was taken by the joy that each child of every age and each parent and teacher, was experiencing as they worked together to prepare the garden for the growing season.  It quickly became very clear to me that the Heschel community, teachers, parents and students alike, truly value what the garden provides for the school. This first Sunday in May also marked Heschel’s famous Mitzvah Day where the community comes out in masses to support numerous projects to help the Toronto Jewish Community. Students learn about tikun olum by experiencing the joy we get from actually doing it. Part of Mitzvah Day includes parents, children and teachers volunteering their time and tools to work together to weed, till the soil and build new garden beds. This year was my first time participating in this day of giving and I was amazed and inspired by the sheer ruach that the Heschel community brings to their garden; parents, children, and even families from the neighborhood, worked for hours in the sun, shleping and digging away with smiles on their faces. Some children were even working with parents to prepare a salad to share with the hard workers; an authentic way to foreshadow the results of the work that was being done.

 Students in the Heschel School Garden
I am thrilled to have learned that school gardens are blossoming all around the GTA, including among the Jewish Day Schools, as administrators and teachers are learning the value of providing students with authentic learning experiences and time well spent in our natural environment. The Toronto Heschel School prioritizes this kind of authentic education while also working hard to be a leading Eco School among the Jewish Day School network.  Ellen Kessler, the legend behind the Heschel garden’s inception, once said, “In order to teach our children to protect our environment we need to first nurture their relationship with it.” Through her hard work and dedication, the Heschel garden has blossomed and curriculum that includes outdoor education has continuously been developed. Today, the garden enhances our students learning about plants and soil, and animals and insects. It provides authentic opportunities to practice measuring area and perimeter and of course, allows children to literally taste the fruits of their labor. However, even more importantly for our Jewish Day Schools, the school garden allows students to practice many of the teachings of the Torah genuinely and practically. To learn about the sweetness of honey on Rosh Hashannah students get to run about in the garden, observing the honey bees at work. To prepare for the harvest festival of Succot students reap the last remnants of the Heschel garden’s veggies. To understand the brachot we say upon eating fruit of the ground students get to see the amazing feat of a seed’s transformation in to a plant and to more impressively, taste the result of this seeds achievement. Authentic experiences such as these lead to real learning and real understanding. It cannot be overstated just how much a school garden can help teachers teach for understanding, and at Heschel this is a goal in every subject, in every lesson. As this school year comes to an end Heschel’s grade three students are busy preparing their famous salad project where students, as a part of a math unit, plant and harvest vegetables to serve an end of year  salad to the entire student body. This of course, comes after spending weeks estimating the mass and quantity of veggies needed to feed more than two hundred students and teachers. These students are applying their math skills while also learning the value of having a sustainable natural source of food that can provide for its community; an important lesson for young city dwellers.
In its early years, Shoresh worked closely with Heschel to design and to develop the garden. Today, the successful Kavannah Garden and the Heschel school garden are forerunners in providing Jewish students with opportunities to explore our rich Jewish connection to the environment. Toronto is privileged to have these urban gardens to enhance the established Jewish education that our community is fortunate to have and it is wonderful to know that other schools in the GTA are succeeding at doing the same. The fact that the Heschel students just can’t wait for Mitzvah Day to arrive so that they can participate in preparing the garden for its growing season, and the fact that during recess students run to the garden to chase the butterflies and walk around the new garden beds, is a testimony to the contribution that the garden brings to the school’s community. Just as Sabrina, the director of outreach for Shoresh, so passionately expresses, take the students to the garden to play with soil and they will learn about soil. Show the students bees at work and the complex process of pollination can be understood. In essence, keep us in the garden where we began, to work and protect the land, and of course, from a teacher’s perspective, bring the children outside, to smell, to touch, to see and to truly understand the wonders of our natural world. 

Shoresh Staff Training: Getting in touch with that inner child

Written by Shoresh Intern, Deb Cole

One of the key components to any staff training is to engage in activities that will allow one to better understand who they are working with. In the case of gardening and outdoor education, it is best to participate in interactive children’s games that teach youth how plants grow and the importance of both working and protecting the land. And what better way to learn to teach than becoming children ourselves? Staff training included learning about the connection between Jewish holidays and plants through a scavenger hunt, and learning about competing habitats through salamander tag where everyone has a “tail” and if it gets pulled then you are out for a period of time. And as much as we were trying to get into the heads of children, we also realized that we were not so different. We asked similar questions such as “where does the water from the stream flow from,” we loved getting our hands dirty in the soil, and enjoyed dancing in the rain.
Our team finding shelter in the greenhouse
Staff training included a dynamic group of 9 individuals from all walks of life. Some of us are undergraduate students wanting to pursue a career in Jewish education; others are parents who want to dedicate their time to volunteering their skills. What lured me to Kavanah Garden was the desire to be outdoors combined with gaining a better understanding of food sustainability and sharing this knowledge with others.

Growing up in an urban city, it can be difficult to understand and appreciate how connected we are to the land. Many children do not understand where their food originates from, and may conclude that Loblaws is the source of it all.  Shoresh Kavanah Gardens provides an opportunity for these city slickers to get outside and gain hands on learning to grow fruits and vegetables and value the hard work that it entails. What may appear to be a small garden, soon becomes an intricate and complex ecosystem containing a variety of different plants and animals. After three days of learning about the wealth of the land, I already feel more appreciative of its beauty and more aware of the nature that surrounds me on a daily basis.

This year’s staff includes:
Our amazing director – Risa Alyson Cooper
Our director of development – Sabrina Malach
Two educators – Rachel Rosenbluth and Daniel Joseph
And 6 interns: Tamar Krauss, Nora Bergman, Deb Cole, Simone Weinstein,                                                                 Elysa Keshen, Amalia Wolf

Staff training was a great kick off to what will an amazing summer filled with learning, dirty hands, big smiles, and raspberry covered faces!

The Roots of Bela Farm.

“How did you end up with a farm?” people ask me. “Has it been in your family for a long time?” “Do you live on it?” “What do you grow?”

“Well,” I say, sheepishly. “We don’t. The farm is kind of like a cottage.”

But it’s not at all. Before the farm we had a cottage up on Sparrow Lake near Muskoka. It used to be a summer camp that was then left abandoned. We lived in one of the old cabins, which we shared with my aunt and uncle and cousins, and all of our relatives lived in other bungalows around the lake. Our two families would take turns coming up for the weekend since we couldn’t all fit at once. Even just our family was a tight squeeze. But I have only fond memories of my brothers and I nestling into bed with Grandma in one of the two bedrooms. Almost every time we arrived for a weekend, there would be a blank space where an appliance had once been, maybe the toaster or the fridge. It wasn’t hard for someone to get in. In fact, I don’t recall if there was even a lock on the door.

The cabins were falling apart, but as a kid I didn’t notice. I was too busy playing with snapping turtles and building things out of sticks and running down to the lake to catch up to my brothers. At some point, everyone started moving out of the bungalows and building houses. AC units were put in. Big screen TV’s and DVD collections. Motorboats replaced canoes and their engines ripped through the quiet. Some neighbors even built swimming pools.

When I was thirteen, my grandmother was diagnosed with colon cancer. While in the hospital waiting for surgery, Grandma kept talking about how all she wanted to do was to sit on the porch at the cottage, looking out onto Sparrow Lake, listening to the loons and the whistle of the train. She would then realize that the cottage wasn’t like that anymore. The lake was now polluted, the motorboats drowned out the loons, the view was disrupted by big fancy houses. And it took forever to get there because of all the traffic. It was a lost paradise. Sitting by Grandma’s side in the hospital, my mom promised herself that if Grandma got through this, she was going to find a place for her like the old cottage.

Grandma did get through the surgery. And Mom remembered what she’d promised herself. After she took Grandma to her first chemotherapy treatment, she drove to Georgetown to meet with a real estate agent. It was a cold, snowy day in February.

“I’m looking for a small, peaceful place, close to Toronto,” Mom said.

“I’m going to show you a few properties,” the agent replied. “The first one isn’t at all what you’re looking for, but I want you to see the different types of places that are close to the city.”

This first property was a 15-acre plot of land in County Wellington, just one hour outside of Toronto. The interior of the house was far from my mother’s simple tastes, but she knew that would be easy to fix. Mom fell in love with the land and the structures on it—the big hill, the pond, the stone wall, the stables, the barn, all of which were covered in snow. The next day she put in an offer and it was ours.

When Grandma was well into chemotherapy, Mom finally took her out to the farm. She settled Grandma in an easy chair on the wraparound porch with a view of the pond, covered her in a blanket, and went in the house to make her a cup of tea. By the time she returned, Grandma was fast asleep.

Grandma woke up an hour later a different person. Rejuvenated. They both felt that the farm had healing properties. Now every time Grandma goes out to the farm, she has her tradition: she lies down on the porch, Mom covers her in a blanket, goes in to make her a cup of tea, and comes out to find Grandma sleeping soundly like she never can in the city.

I’ll admit: I wasn’t happy when my mom told me she was selling the cottage and buying a farm. I thought it was a crazy idea. All I could think of was: no lake, no forest, no cousins next door. But now I wouldn’t give up the farm for anything. After many naps on the porch myself, I can attest that there is something in that country air which does us wonders. I see the vision my mom had, her foresight. She was looking for a sanctuary for her mother and recreated the bygone days at the cottage, but she also did more. My mom saw an opportunity to preserve a piece of beauty and sustenance and history in the changing Canadian landscape, a piece of something you cannot find in city or suburb.

Since we got the farm, we have dreamed of digging. We don’t want merely to enjoy the view. We want to get dirt under our nails. We want to go back to the basics, to live closer to how my grandparents lived in Hungary, my grandma who sewed all her clothes and my grandfather who owned a flourmill. We want to eat food we’ve grown, be cleansed by a swim in the pond, take pleasure in the sleep that comes so easily after a hard day’s work. When someone asks me what we grow on our farm, I want to hand them a homegrown tomato or apple or carrot and say, “Here, try this.”

 This beautiful post comes to us from writer and photographer, Alisha Kaplan. For more info about Alisha, visit: http://alishakaplan.com/

Earth Day at the Kavanah Garden

About 20 volunteers came out to help us set up the Kavanah Garden for the 2012 growing season. Together, we re-built and beautified elements of the garden in preparation and anticipation for our last year at this site.

Yup, you heard me, 2012 will be our last year at this site. After four years at 18 Lebovic Campus Drive, we will be moving. The new Kavanah Garden will be directly east of the existing garden.  We will be at the new site for a very long time and are super excited about all the possibilities of growing there. A huge thank you to the UJA Federation of Greater Toronto for continuing to support us.

Back to our Earth Day accomplishments. Here is a list of some of the projects we worked on:

 1.We weeded, tilled and redefined the beds

2. We built new raised beds

 3. We added a shade component to our pergola

4. We painted signs

5.We re-built our rainwater catchment system
6.We built a community information board
7. We cleaned up garbage

8. Most importantly, we appreciated and gave thanks for the beauty and wonder of creation

A special shout out goes to the UJA kind folks that came out for the One Spring Day volunteer event.

Stay tuned for regular updates from the garden! Until then, get ready to plant your peas, spinach, radishes and greens!

Bela Farm Update

During Chol HaMoed, a group of visionaries travelled west from Toronto to Hillsburgh, Ontario to participate in a leadership retreat at Bela Farm. Bela Farm is (will be) a rural centre for sustainable, land-based Judaism in southern Ontario.

Aerial view: Bela Farm

Our intention was to gather information through observing the land that will eventually be incorporated into a map that will guide our planning process.

Our Crew.
Photo credit: Marc Levy

We looked at existing structures and imagined what they might become, we noted prevailing wind directions and how the sun hit the land, we found a spring, we talked to the animals and to the lovely Farmer Cox who has been stewarding the land for decades.

We daydreamed about creating sculptures, orchards, forests, swimming ponds, signs, art installations, chicken coops, a commercial kitchen and even a farm-stand! There is so much potential! And yet, we are committed to taking a "permaculture" approach to the planning, designing and implementation of Bela Farm. Permaculture is a design system based on ethics and design principles which can be used to guide efforts made by individuals, households and communities towards a sustainable future" (http://permacultureprinciples.com/).

Farmer Cox, his donkey and Jill.
Photo credit: Marc Levy

As such, we are going to spend a few years observing the site before we doing anything drastic. Our hope is that we get to intimately know the natural features of the land and only then design the farm to honour and nurture the inherent qualities of the site. We are committed to improving the environment and producing food and biodiversity and in that, becoming producers of nature rather than solely consumers.

Panorama of Bela Farm.
Photo credit: Marc Levy

Measuring Our Impact

In life, it is often challenging to measure the impact of our actions. Did it really make a difference that I held the door open for that woman? Did my smile brighten someone's day? Did the Shoresh Food Conference really begin to transform the way members of our community think about their food choices? Most of the time, we can only assume that our good deeds bring more goodness into the world. Other times, we get tangible feedback that shows us that our work is really making a difference.

Today we received this amazing email from a Food Conference participant. We hope it makes you as smiley as it made us at the Shoresh Headquarters:

"After the food conference my wife and I decided that by Pesach we would have chickens for our back yard. After many conversations with T.O Chickens on the in’s and outs of raising chickens, this past Monday the first day of Chol Ha’moed, my family traveled 2 hours outside of Toronto to a small family farm and each of my children selected their own chicken.

Over Chol Ha’moed all of the kids on our block (approx. 100) came over feeding the chickens matzah and playing with them. I overheard one of the children saying to another child “dogs and cats are boring, chickens are cool”

Thank you shoresh for having this conference, it has really affected our family for the good.

All the blessings....