Kavanah Garden Grand Opening Address to the Community

So, welcome to the forever home of Shoresh’s Kavanah Garden on UJA’s Lebovic Jewish Community Campus!

 My name is Risa Alyson Cooper and I am the Executive Director of Shoresh Jewish Environmental Programs, the organization that founded and coordinates the Kavanah Garden.

For the last four years, we have operated our pilot phase of the Kavanah Garden on a small plot of land on the other side of this ravine.  When we began, there was nothing here.  No houses, no schools, no rush hour traffic.  And at the time, in what seemed to be the middle of nowhere, we started growing.  On about ¼ acre, we built a small greenhouse, planted a few seedlings, walked a pathway down to the stream.  We invited schools to come visit the garden, and when they said yes, we quickly developed some curriculum, some activities to engage their students.  We began hosting a free family drop-in program every Thursday afternoon and with the influx of families and volunteers who visited during those hours, we carved out more growing spaces, began exploring the meadow surrounding the garden, identifying the turkey vultures, the great blue herons, the leopard frogs, even the wild turkeys who shared our space.  We began harvesting and formed some amazing partnerships with Ve’Ahavta and the North York Harvest Food Bank so that the food we produced would get to the most vulnerable in our community.  And each season, we got bigger – we added more growing spaces, we hosted more programs, we logged more volunteer hours.  We developed materials, activities, curriculum, that highlight the rich ecological wisdom inherent within our Jewish tradition.  We developed programs that highlight the agricultural significance of the Jewish holidays, that teach Jewish ethics (like tzedakah and bal tashchit/not wasting), that incorporate Hebrew language, that actively engage community members from across the many spectrums that make up our vibrant and diverse community, and that offer participants hands-on, meaningful ways of exploring their Jewish identity.  By 2012 (our fourth season), we were hosting over 1500 individuals each season, donating over 500 pounds of fresh, local, organic produce to community members in need a year, logging over 1600 volunteer hours, and were listed in Slingshot’s Resource Guide to Jewish Innovation as one of the 50 most inspiring and innovative Jewish projects in North America, the only Canadian initiative listed in that year’s edition.

Over the last four years, as the community around us has grown and developed, the garden has undergone changes that reflect the vibrancy and diversity of the community members who come to our programs, who see the Kavanah Garden as a feature of their neighbourhood.  While there is a bit of sadness in leaving the site that rooted us, literally, to the Vaughan community, we are overwhelmed with gratitude to be establishing ourselves on the east side of the ravine, in our new and permanent home on UJA’s Lebovic Jewish Community Campus.  I will share with you a bit about our full vision for this space in a moment, but before I do, I would like to acknowledge the incredible number of partners and people who played a formative role in creating this space, the Kavanah Garden, to serve as a resource for our community for years to come.

-Shoresh evolved from an older organization Torat HaTeva: The Jewish Nature Centre of Canada, started by Alexandra Kuperman.  Back in 2002, Alexandra, later followed by Shai Spetgang and Ahuva Goldschmit, was laying the foundation that would later support the creation of our pilot garden space in Quadrant C, and that would sustain Shoresh as it grew from organization running the Kavanah Garden to the organization running the Kavanah Garden, an annual downtown Jewish Food Conference at the Miles Nadal JCC, a network of Jewish Community Supported Agriculture Programs, and most recently Bela Farm, a centre for sustainable land-based Judaism in Hillsburgh, Ontario (just 50 minutes northwest of Toronto).  So, Alexandra, thank you….thank you for scouting the land and for preparing the soil.
-Thank you to our community partners.  To the UJA Federation of Greater Toronto which has been incredibly supportive of making the Kavanah Garden a permanent feature of the Lebovic Jewish Community Campus, and which has helped grow Shoresh as a young organization over the years with incredible capacity building and granting support.  Thank you in particular to our friends at UJA who have shared our vision and put their own time, energy, and resources into supporting this venture.  Ted Sokolsky, Bryan Keshen, David Sadowski (who I will say more about later), and Robin Gofine who has been a real mentor to me over the last four years, who has had unwaivering faith in the power of the Kavanah Garden and its programs to build a healthier, more sustainable, vibrant Jewish community, and who has been an advocate and cheerleader for this project every step of the way.  (We have certificates for all of you as well)
-Thank you to the City of Vaughan as well as the Toronto and Region Conservation Authority for being open to reimagining what a natural buffer zone between development and conservation land can look like.  And who helped us cultivate humility and patience through their permitting processes.
-Thank you to the members of the SixPoints Jewish Venture Philanthropy Fund, to its chairs Sam Mizrahi, Noah Godfrey, and Jonathan Bloomberg, to our committee members, Sam Mizrahi, Adam Beder, Michael Kuhl and Ari Silverberg.  Two years ago SixPoints put out a call to our community, looking for the next big idea that would radically change the Toronto Jewish community landscape.  It is with their generous support that we were able to build the infrastructure of our new and forever garden site and it is with their guidance and encouragement that we have developed not just this space, but Shoresh’s longterm vision for how we can help build a sustainable Jewish community while ensuring our own sustainability (We also have certificates for all of you).
-Thank you to our other funders and granting agencies.  The Ontario Trillium Foundation and the EcoAction Community Funding Program through Environment Canada for the grants that got us started…the Joshua Venture Group, the Natan Fund, and the Buckstein Family Foundation for helping us grow.
-Thank you to Mark Malinowicz from UJA for answering all logistics questions regarding the Lebovic Campus, thank you Stephanie Campbell for CosburnNauboris for helping us navigate permits and processes, for coordinating so many of the players and pieces that needed to come together in time for today, and for fielding my thousand and one phone calls and e-mails…always with a smile.  Thank you Michael Tiribelli and your crew from Toronto Landscape Design for getting everything done and more in time for today despite snow in April followed by three weeks of rain.  You have all been such a pleasure to work with and I am radically grateful for your patience and commitment.
-Thank you to the community of individuals that make up the Shoresh team.  Our Board of Directors: Michael Schecter, Alexandra Kuperman, Andrea Most, Len Kofman, Aaron Levy, Ilyse Glickman, David Sadowski and Sam Mizrahi.  Our core volunteers who have supported us with unwaivering commitment over the years: Neil Shore, Debra Anthony, and Marc Levy.  Our teams of interns and volunteers, past and present….none of this could happen without you.  And lastly, the Shoresh staff: Rachel Rosenbluth, our Director of Education, and Tamar Yunger, our Jewish Environmental Educator…who bring the garden and its spaces to life, who reveal the awe and wonder of the plants and creatures that call the Kavanah Garden home, who are helping to shape the future of Shoresh, the Kavanah Garden, and its programs through their creativity and deep belief in the absolute value of experiential Jewish education.  And Sabrina Malach, our Director of Community Outreach….who was one of the original group of Torontonians living in rural Connecticut who began visioning what a Jewish garden space could look like in our community, who joined the Shoresh staff two years ago and has been a powerful force, a source of inspiration and vision, a source of encouragement and energy, and a true partner and dear friend.  Thank you.
-And lastly, thank you to the thousands of community members that visited and animated our old site, that helped us grow hundreds of pounds of fresh, local, organic produce for the most vulnerable in our community, that shared with us their visions for what the new Kavanah Garden should be and how it could reflect the incredible diversity of our Jewish community.  And thank you to all those who will come through these gates, get their hands in this soil, and deepen their Jewish roots for (G!d willing) years to come.

Today is a milestone for Shoresh’s Kavanah Garden and as we celebrate our new home and look ahead, with our vision for this space five years from now, ten years from now, we understand and acknowledge that if our vision is to be sustained, we need to ensure we have the financial resources to support the Kavanah Garden’s transformative programs and initiatives moving forward.  And so, today, we are asking all of you to please consider making a donation to support the garden as it grows…so that the Kavanah Garden can continue to be a resource for our community in the future.  We are handing out donation cards – please take a moment before you leave to fill out the card…any amount helps.  As well, we have a donation jar set out on our information table beside the shed where we are gratefully accepting donations of cash or cheques.  In addition, for individuals interested in making a significant gift to support the Kavanah Garden, we have developed a listing of naming opportunities – opportunities to designate a gift in honour or memory of someone special…someone for whom the Kavanah Garden has/had/ or would have had a special place in their hearts.  These opportunities are listed in this shmancy booklet here – there are a few on our info table, please feel free to take one or to contact me directly about these naming opportunities.

In a few minutes we will move to the official “ribbon cutting” portion of today’s ceremony, afterwhich we invite you to stay and enjoy a tour of the garden, where we will highlight the different features that will ultimately make up the garden including our raised vegetable beds, massive native pollinator garden, outdoor classroom, outdoor kitchen, and perennial fruit trees and berries.  As well, we will have a station for making Havdallah herb sachets, using dried herbs from our old garden site and exploring some of the new herbs we have planted here, as well as a station for making seed balls so you can help us spread wild flower seed in a ridiculously fun and messy way to help attract native pollinators to our new garden space.

Rather than a ribbon cutting, today we are going to be affixing a mezuzah to our garden gateway.  A mezuzah lets people know that this is a Jewish space…that the Kavanah Garden is open to everyone and that our programs, activities, even decision making processes are guided by Jewish texts, teachings, and traditions.  A mezuzah is also a reminder…may it remind us every time we enter the garden of the intentions we have set for how we interact with the land, with the creatures that call the Kavanah garden home, with our extended community, and with our own selves.  The word Kavanah means intention….and our vision for this garden has always been that it reminds us to slow down, witness the radical beauty of the natural world, and act with Kavanah, intention.

And the honour of affixing our mezuzah goes to our dear friend David Sadowski.  David has been the Kavanah Garden’s biggest advocate since day one.  For the last five years, David has been the person who makes things happen…firsts at our original site across the ravine, and then by identifying this space for us on the Lebovic Jewish Community Campus, and bringing together all of the players and pieces necessary to get things moving on the ground (literally).  He has been a mobilizer, a teacher, and a friend, and we are radically grateful for all of the ways he has supported us over the years.  We feel there could be no better person to put up our mezuzah and symbolically welcome the Kavanah Garden community to its new home.

Thank you all again – please join us at the gateway, after which garden festivities will commence.

Risa Alyson Cooper
Executive Director, Shoresh Jewish Environmental Program

What Does Land Based Judaism Look Like?

After a few years of visioning, brainstorming and time on the land, the Bela Farm Creative Team is pleased to share the following details with you so that you can better understand the values and intentions that will inform, inspire and motivate the design, public programs and artisinal products that will make up Bela Farm.

Bela Farm Mission Statement
Bela Farm is a centre for sustainable, land-based Judaism located an hour northwest of Toronto in rural Ontario.  This one-hundred acre farm produces organic fruits, vegetables, and value-added products, offers a full season of public educational programs, merges nature-based art with experimental agriculture, and serves as a laboratory for creative responses to global environmental crisis. A project of Shoresh, the design, goals and activities of Bela Farm are rooted in Jewish values and practices and open to all.

Bela Farm Core Values
Through its landscape design, public programs, products, and working process, Bela Farm will model new ways of approaching longstanding Jewish and global concerns.  As Jews have throughout history, we emphasize the Jewish laws and ethical principles that help us to respond to the pressing problems of our time.

1.     Healing the Earth / Healing Ourselves:  Bela Farm offers a new interpretation of tikkun olam for the twenty-first century.  Using permaculture principles, we observe, respect, and encourage what grows in the particular soil and climate of our farm. We aim to nourish and heal the land and in turn reap sustenance for our bodies, minds, and souls and those of our larger community.   

2.     Wandering Home:  Bela Farm offers a new perspective on diaspora Jewish life in our contemporary context.  In the face of climate change, we recognize that all parts of creation are fundamentally interconnected and interdependent.  Bela Farm celebrates both the productive potential of wandering and the urgent importance of connecting to the land on which we live. 

3.     Holy Land / Sacred Table: Activities at Bela Farm model the organic connection between environmental ethics and the ways in which we grow, prepare, eat and share our food.   We explore biblical agricultural laws, unearthing ancient wisdom we can use to develop innovative twenty-first century farming practices and a land-based approach to tzedakah.  We produce food that is kosher, in the fullest meaning of this term. 

4.     Nature Time / Jewish Time:  At Bela Farm, we attend closely to the intersections between Jewish time – Shabbat, Rosh Chodesh, the holiday calendar – and “nature” time.  We plant both annual and perennial crops, animate our holiday rituals by recognizing their connections to the seasons and the land, and celebrate the phases of the moon and the sun.  Along with Jews around the world, we are working to restore the ancient cycle of shmitah (sabbatical) as a model for sustainable attitudes toward land-use and economy.

5.     Community:  At Bela Farm, we believe in the power of the shared meal. We aim to educate, nourish, and inspire a broad and inclusive community and to foster an effective multi-faith environmental and social justice movement. We encourage visitors and participants from diverse Jewish and non-Jewish backgrounds, consciously designing our programs to offer multiple ways of encountering both the land and Jewish values and practices. 

Bela Farm Activities
Bela Farm is a work-in-progress.  We plan to be fully operational by 2016.  In 2013, we will be planting the Perennial Meadow and expanding our series of public programs.

The Perennial Meadow:  This beautiful two-acre meadow will be a demonstration site for innovative agriculture, an art installation, and a space for wandering, discovery, and education about the core values of Bela Farm.  The spiritual, ethical, and aesthetic heart of the property, it will serve as a space of revelation which opens out on to the practical spaces of work.  At one end is the restored barn, which will include offices and workshop space for farm development.  At the other end is a gateway to the farm proper.

The Farm:  The 100-acre farm will include fruit trees, berry patches, grain crops, a varied market garden, chickens (for eggs and meat), goats (for dairy), beehives, fields for hay and pasture, and a few fields for rental to neighboring farmers.  We are committed to restoration of native forest and grasslands on the property where possible.  In addition to the necessary outbuildings to support these activities, the farm will also include a commercial kitchen, a house for the farm manager, offices for Bela Farm staff, housing for interns, and various spaces for programming. 

Farm Internship: We intend to offer a seasonal internship program for those interested in pursuing in-depth learning about sustainable agriculture, artisanal food production, and intentional Jewish living and learning, while deepening their commitment to the core values of Bela Farm.  

Community Programs:  We offer an annual calendar of events open to the community.  These will include programs such as our annual Sukkot harvest festival, learning sessions throughout the year, and multi-day retreats (for work and study).   

Artisanal Kosher Products:  We intend to produce a line of value-added products from the crops and livestock of Bela Farm.  These will include baked goods, jams and preserves, pickles, and goat milk yogurt and cheese.  All products will be produced according to laws of kashrut.  Our kitchen will be regularly open for inspection for those interested in understanding more about our kosher process.  These products will be distributed through farmers’ markets, specialized retail outlets, and through a CSA program described below.

Holiday CSA:  We envision a CSA subscription program that will follow and support the Jewish holiday cycle.  This CSA will be offered as a supplement to the Jewish CSAs already operating in the city, and will also be offered as a stand-alone option for congregations, JCCs and Day Schools in the Greater Toronto Area.

Bela Farm Creative Team

Mati Cooper:  Mati is currently teaching at Montessori Jewish Day School in Toronto, where he helps organize greening initiatives such as their sensorial and mixed vegetable gardens.   Mati is a former Educator and Program Coordinator at the Teva Learning Alliance.  In Israel, Mati apprenticed at Chava v'Adam Educational Farm and participated in the Eco-Activist Beit Midrash at Yeshivat Simchat Shlomo. 
Risa Alyson Cooper: Risa completed her B.A. Honours at Queen’s University in Comparative Religious Studies, and her M.A. at the Centre for the Study of Religion at the University of Toronto, focusing on Contemporary Jewish Environmental Ethics.  Upon graduating, Risa moved to rural Connecticut where she worked as a Jewish environmental educator at the Teva Learning Centre for three years.  She then transitioned into small-scale organic farming as a member of the Adamah Jewish Farming Fellowship where she grew vegetables on a four-acre farm, worked in a raw goat-milk dairy, and dabbled in the art of fermentation.  In 2008, Risa returned to her native Toronto to work as the Executive Director of Shoresh and to establish the Kavanah Garden, bringing together her experience in Jewish outdoor education with her love for Canadian soil and the plants and people that it sustains. 
 Sabrina Malach: Sabrina is Director of Community Outreach for Shoresh.  She participated in the Adamah Fellowship in 2005, graduated from the Eco-Activist Beit Midrash in Jerusalem in 2006, and worked as the program assistant for Hazon from 2006-2007.  Upon returning to Toronto, she helped to create and grow food for the Kavanah CSA as a farming intern at the Cutting Veg Organic Farm and founded The Pollinators Festival at Evergreen Brick Works before taking up her current position with Shoresh. 
Andrea Most: Andrea is Associate Professor of American Literature and Jewish Studies at the University of Toronto.  A local food activist, Andrea headed the Core Group for the Everdale Community Supported Agriculture program at the First Narayever Congregation for six years.  She has been Co-Chair of the Narayever Food Committee and the lead organizer of the First Narayever’s Sustainable Food Initiative since 2009, and has served as a member of the Hazon Food Council since 2011.  She is a founding Board member of Shoresh and one of the main organizers of Shoresh’s Jewish Food Conference.  Her current research project, Holy Lands, focusses on the pastoral dreams of diaspora Jews in the 20th and 21st century.     
Rochelle Rubinstein: Rochelle is the owner of the two adjacent properties that make up Bela Farm.  A Toronto-based printmaker, painter, fabric and book artist, Rochelle is also a community arts facilitator and curator of Mon Ton Window Gallery.

Bela Farm Friends and Advisors
Fred Cox: Fred has farmed one of the two properties that make up Bela Farm for the last 40 years.  He is a wealth of information about the history of the land itself and the community of Hillsburgh.
Gavin Dandy:  Gavin is the Director of Everdale Organic Farm and Environmental Learning Centre, located just a few minutes north of Bela Farm.  Gavin is very excited about the partnership potential between Everdale and Bela Farm is helping Shoresh to develop Bela Farm’s first edible food forest.
Marc Levy: Local handyman and Shoresh volunteer extraordinaire!
Gary Lichtblau: Gary is a Toronto-based architect who is passionate about sustainable design.  Gary’s role on the advisory council is to advise about the different structures at Bela Farm.
Gail Oliver: As the editor and publisher of Edible Toronto, Gail is extremely connected with the local food movement in Toronto and its surrounding areas.  Gail lives on a farm around the corner from Bela Farm.
Shamu Sadeh: Shamu is the Director of Adamah and a mentor to the Shoresh leadership team.  Adamah is currently in the third year of developing their edible food forest on Kaplan Family Farm in rural Connecticut.
Stephen Scharper: Stephen is an Associate Professor at the Centre for the Environment at the University of Toronto.  Stephen’s research centres on faith communities and environmental ethics.

Shmita Reflections Inspired by the Shoresh Food Conference

Shmita Reflections Inspired by the Shoresh Food Conference
By Lauren Stein

The Torah mandates that every seventh year we leave the fields of Israel fallow (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shmita). This means taking a rest from the hard work of pruning, planting, and harvesting, so the land can restore itself.

    Clearly this is specific to the lives of farmers in a largely agricultural society. But looked at from the perspective of this contemporary Canadian writer -- what if that rule applied to other kinds of back-breaking labour? What if it meant not doing work you don't enjoy, or work you only do because you think your life depends on it? Like the commandment to rest on Shabbat, what if this rest is as much about recharging our souls as it is about the ground? In the information economy of twenty-first century living, does this Torah principle apply only to the Israeli farmers among us -- or is it based on a universal truth meant to be interpreted by all?

    What would our society look like if we took a pause for one year out of seven from the way we look at and engage in the world? Would our ideas grow fresher, richer?

    What would it feel like to walk down the street in a land where every single person is taking the year off to rest, re-evaluate, rejuvenate, explore, and discover their passions? How would we interact with each other? Would we break free from our Torontonian bubbles and make eye contact, perhaps even -- dare I say it -- smile at each other? Perhaps new stresses would overtake us and prevent us from going out. Or maybe we would finally get around to seeing the sights, connecting with the people, and doing the things we are always meaning to do.

    What if, for one year, all teachers (and life-long students) took a sabbatical from analysing our world and living in our heads? Imagine if we spent that time in a Montessori-like quest to feel knowledge in our bodies, to express our thoughts through the arts, to live in the moment without quantifying it. Would we return to our essays and research with new insights? I wonder if there would be a shift in the types of questions we seek to investigate. When we return to work, could we better integrate non-rational fields, such as emotional life or spirituality, into our calculations?

    What if all the computer programmers, indeed anyone whose job relied on computers, amongst us took off one year out of seven? Would the prescription of our glasses lighten as we spent less time with screens in front of our eyes? Would we see the world differently as a result of being restricted to interacting with people face to face?

    Imagine if we took a societal workforce that was geared towards working hard until age 65 and expected to spend the years after that playing golf, and reframed it into an attitude of working a job you loved so much you never wanted to stop. And instead of one long retirement until death do you part, taking a "retirement break" every seven years so you still had that the time to travel, go on a spiritual quest, or focus exclusively on your family. Would you best utilise that time to "find yourself" and explore what makes you happy? Perhaps you would feel the satisfaction of finally working on all those niggling projects or ideas you always wished you could do. Maybe the much-needed break would help your priorities with making the most of those other six years. Might you resent your boss or your job less? Or perhaps leave your job or current situation, having seen better possibilities and knowing that you are capable of something else?

    Would this change your perspective? In a culture that emphasises efficiency -- I wonder if you might function more efficiently as a result when you do return. Would your life be richer, your fields appear lusher?

    It might be difficult now to see whether this would be beneficial. In fact, it could take several cycles of Shmita years before it makes a positive impact. The good news is, there are experts who have already tried it. You can hear about their results in designer Stefan Stagmeister's TED talk here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MNuOmTQdFjA

    Let's pretend you just found out that from September 2014 until September 2015 you had to stop your job, your regimented studies, your farming, or whatever kinds of fields you are overplowing, and give your (mental) land a rest. How would you spend that time?

Reflections on the Shoresh Food Conference

We asked some friends to share their thoughts and experiences of the Food Conference for the Blog and are grateful for their responses and for the confirmation that all of our efforts were fruitful and worthwhile.

Here's what folks had to say:

A New Discourse

If I were to sum up the Shoresh conference in one word I would say the word discourse. If given another word, I would say interpretation. So much of what we take from the Torah is mired in complexity and hidden meanings. It is a puzzle. At times it can be extremely vague or can be referring to periods of time and events that occurred thousands of years ago. It is therefore up to us to interpret what we can of the Torah to make it applicable to us today, to the situations we find ourselves in and the challenges we face. Today, some of our concerns revolve around sustainable agriculture, humane treatment of animals, healthy lifestyles and communities, and other social and environmental values. The Torah holds a wealth of information and guidance surrounding these things for us to understand and interpret in ways that no previous generation could. For example, we can find valuable meaning in seemingly unimportant passages about empty space and pastureland surrounding ancient Levitical cities, and apply them to our pressing needs for green space and farmland surrounding our cities today. Many of the passages are wonderfully vague and can be interpreted in a thousand different ways. What is important is that we see the issues of our day and try to find meaning in these passages through discussion and dialogue to address them. With this organization and discourse, we will then be willing and motivated to act and start making changes in our lives and in the lives of people around us! This is exactly what Shoresh is doing. The conference was comprised of people from an array of different backgrounds, of different experiences and educations, which allowed for rich discourse over the subjects we all came to discuss. I am grateful for that.
By: Josh Black

Getting to the Root of Things

For me, this conference is a gathering of people within the community and beyond.  It creates a space and an opportunity for all of us to come together to learn, discuss and address topics of food, agriculture, and our own relationship as human beings to the land through the lens of the Torah as well as through the lens of consciousness.  It is a chance for diverse groups of people, such as educators, foodies, artists, health practitioners, caterers, to come together, meet each other and build a network of shared intentions, address important topics and generate foresight.

Shoresh reflects the essence of ‘getting to the root’ of the topic.  We all build from the ground up and letting it grow into something that everyone benefits from.  I have attended both conferences and it has been incredible to be a part of many presentations, but for me one really stood out.  I was energized by enthusiastic presentation made by Risa Alyson Cooper regarding all the projects Shoresh has been working on over the past few year.  It has been an honour to witness how all these seeds they have planted have sprouted into fascinating projects from the Kavanah Garden to Bela Farm.  Their work is inclusive for every age group and background.  It emphasized how things manifest because of people’s belief in the idea and with the right care, water, nutrients and love they can grow into amazing things.

Thank you, Risa and Sabrina, for all your dedication, passion and hard work that goes into ‘laying the land’ for all of us to grow prosperously in the Shoresh garden- a community for all of us.  I truly am inspired by both of you and your work and I look forward to what’s to come in the future.
By: Lauren Lyons

Hearts and Minds

The Shoresh Food Conference was a powerful convergence of hearts and minds.  The people who gathered on Sunday crossed denominational lines and spanned two, if not three generations.  The conference felt more like a call to concrete action than any I’d been to before.  This was no in-gathering of scattered wandering Jews: these are rooted people from the same community with shared interests and ideals, and they came together with a mission.  The Shoresh Food Conference was a day of change, a day for these rooted individuals to set the groundwork for integrating their shared values into the experienced reality of Toronto Judaism.
By: Yael Greenberg

The Importance of Community

Who knew that bees wiggled their bums in a dance for their fellow hive members to deliver the coordinates to the tastiest nectar around.  If it were kosher I’d be doing my own waggle dance to attract the Toronto Jewish community to the next Shoresh food conference, but I’m sure they won’t need it as word spreads of how great this year’s was.

To me a great event is one that beautifully stimulates the senses and the mind, and leaves me with a meaningful experience to remember.  The Shoresh conference did just that.  The content and speakers were relevant and current, discussion was thought provoking and challenging, and the food was beyond my expectations; delicious and nourishing to the core.  I’ll be recommending the caterer to anyone looking for future events.  But what stood out to me the most and touched my heart was the gathering of the community and the truest pluralistic Jewish experience I have yet to be a part of.

Views were challenged, minds expanded and new friendships were made as our vibrant and diverse Jewish community came together over what better a topic…the future of our food.

Thank you Shoresh for bringing us together and making it all happen.
By: Tamar Krauss

Shoresh Food Conference Opening Remarks or Inspiration, Move Me Brightly.

Shoresh Food Conference
Opening Address

Bruchim ha’ba’im.  Welcome.

My name is Risa Alyson Cooper, I am the Executive Director of Shoresh Jewish Environmental Programs, and it my deep honour to welcome you all to the second annual Shoresh Food Conference.

I’d like to begin this morning with a little bit about Shoresh…who we are, where we’ve come from and where we’re headed.      

Shoresh’s mission is to build a more connected, sustainable Jewish community.  We have over the last few years developed a wide variety of hands-on, innovative learning opportunities to allow community members from across the various spectrums that make up our community to explore Jewish teachings, ethics, rituals, holiday celebrations in real, relevant and meaningful ways.

Since 2009, we have operated Shoresh’s Kavanah Garden at UJA’s Lebovic Jewish Community Campus in Vaughan.  On just a ¼ acre of meadow, we developed a vibrant community space that hosted over 1500 individuals each season (families, students, b’nei mitzvahs, young adult volunteers)…community members of all ages, and abilities….community members for whom Jewish living and learning expressed itself in vastly different ways….community members who came together to learn, to celebrate, and to ultimately grow food (real food) for the most vulnerable in our community.  Shoresh’s Kavanah Garden is a model for Jewish experiential learning, and we were honored to be included in Slingshot Fund’s 2011-2012 Guide of the 50 most innovative projects in Jewish North America – the only Canadian project listed that year. 

This season, we head into our fifth growing season at Kavanah.  And it is with a heavy heart, and a full and grateful heart, that we will be planting this year’s seeds and seedlings in new soil…just across the ravine.  Because with the help of the Six Points Jewish Venture Philanthropy Fund, and the incredible support of the UJA Federation of Greater Toronto, along with the Toronto and Region Conservation Authority, this spring we are building a permanent home for Shoresh’s Kavanah Garden on the Lebovic Campus.  Our new space will be a little bit larger, a lot more accessible, and will better reflect the reality that the Kavanah Garden is a key feature of the developing Lebovic Campus and its surrounding neighbourhoods. 

Outside of the Kavanah Garden, Shoresh is continuing to grow our programs in the Toronto area. 
-We are continuing to run workshops with our elders at Baycrest. 
-We are developing a new area of interfaith programming.  This year we are partnering with Dante Alighieri Academy, a Catholic school in Lawrence Heights, to jointly steward their garden space, which produces hundreds of pounds of food each year for the North York Harvest Food Bank.  Working with the school’s administration and staff, other organizations such as the Multifaith Centre at UofT, and Khaleafa (a Muslim environmental group), we are developing a series of multifaith food-focused programs for highschool students.
 -We are increasing our opportunities for text-based study.  Last year, following the first food conference, it was clear that meat was something we needed to explore more deeply.  So, partnering with some of our downtown friends, Makom, Annex Shul, and the First Narayever, we hosted a six-part Beit Midrash series that explored different aspects of the relationship between humans and nonhuman animals according to Jewish tradition.  This year, we are focusing our Beit Midrash series on Shmittah, the sabbatical year.  As we enter the next Shmitah year in September 2014, we want to better understand this agricultural and social justice practice that is a part of our Jewish heritage and have thought deeply about how we as individuals, an organization, and a community can mark and observe this time in our calendar.
-We are ensuring that our community has access to fresh, local, organic produce through Community Supported Agriculture Programs.  Shoresh has worked closely with our dear friends at the Cutting Veg Organic Farm for the last four years providing 65 families with farm fresh veg through our Kavanah CSA.  Now, as the Cutting Veg moves in a different direction, Shoresh is partnering with Highmark Farms and Holy Blossom Temple, to develop a consortium of Jewish CSAs across our city.  Details about how you can become a member of the Shoresh CSA network, coming soon.   

And we’re also growing outside the Toronto area….in a magical little place called Hillsburgh, Ontario….with Bela Farm.  Last year, we at Shoresh were deeply honoured and radically grateful to be the first Canadian organization ever accepted into Joshua Venture Group’s two year fellowship.  The fellowship includes funding and incredible capacity building support for Shoresh to develop our vision for Bela Farm and ultimately the tools to sustain our programs and projects. 

One of the things we have been working on this past year, is articulating an answer to the question, “So what is Bela Farm?  What are we planning to do there?”  The Bela Farm Creative Team, which includes myself, Sabrina Malach, Mati Cooper, Andrea Most, and Rochelle Rubinstein, has spent many hours in conversation, visioning and revisioning.  Andrea, who is a fellow with the Jackman Humanities Institute at UofT and is focusing her research on the Jewish Food Movement, has taken our hours of brainstorming and turned it into something intelligible (a commendable achievement I assure you), which we are really thrilled to share with you all today.      

We have a mission statement:
Bela Farm is a centre for sustainable, land-based Judaism located an hour northwest of Toronto in rural Ontario.  This one-hundred acre farm produces organic fruits, vegetables, and value-added products, offers a full season of public educational programs, merges nature-based art with experimental agriculture, and serves as a laboratory for creative responses to global environmental crisis. A project of Shoresh, the design, goals and activities of Bela Farm are rooted in Jewish values and practices and open to all.
We have articulated 5 core values of the farm:
1.     Healing the Earth / Healing Ourselves: 
2.     Wandering Home: 
3.     Holy Land / Sacred Table
4.     Nature Time / Jewish Time
5.     Community: 
Unfortunately, I don’t have time enough now to explain these more deeply, but we have posted the full Mission Statement document on a Bela Farm display board upstairs, AND we will have a round table discussion about Bela Farm during our last session for those of you eager to learn more about the farm and our vision.  These core values will inform and shape the farm’s landscape design, public programs, products, and working process.  And by embodying these values, Bela Farm will model new ways of approaching longstanding Jewish and global concerns.    As Jews have throughout history, at Bela Farm we will emphasize the Jewish laws and ethical principles that will help us respond to the pressing problems of our time.
Bela Farm is a work-in-progress and our plan is to be fully operational by 2016 (we’ve set a date!)  This year, we will begin planting a perennial meadow – a two acre plot that will serve as the spiritual, ethical, and aesthetic heart of the property.  Ultimately, the 100 acre farm will include fruit trees, berry patches, grain crops, a varied market garden, chickens (for eggs and meat), goats (for dairy), beehives, fields for hay and pasture, and a few fields for rental to neighboring farmers.  We are committed to restoration of native forest and grasslands on the property where possible.  In addition to the necessary outbuildings to support these activities, the farm will also include a commercial kitchen, a house for the farm manager, offices for Bela Farm staff, housing for interns, and various spaces for programming.  By 2016, we will host a farm internship for those interested in pursuing in-depth learning about sustainable agriculture, artisanal food production, and intentional Jewish living and learning, as well as an annual calendar of events open to the community.  We will produce a line of artisanal kosher products, as well as a CSA subscription program that will uniquely follow and support the Jewish holiday cycle. 
So, we’ve been up to lots of good stuff.  And before we get into the good stuff that’s happening today, I want to take a quick minute to learn about the community of individuals that make up this room.  I’m going to borrow from last year’s opening address a quick activity to help us better understand who is here.  Who are the people in this room that have made the decision to invest their time, energy, and resources in a day of exploring the intersection between food and Jewish tradition.  Super simple…I am going to make a statement…kindly stand up if that statement applies to you.  Please know that there is sincerely no judgment in any of these. 
-Stand up if you work with food professionally.
-Stand up if you consider yourself to keep a kosher home.
-Stand up if you say a blessing before eating.
-Stand up if you transited from outside the Toronto area to be here today.
-Stand up if you think latkas beat hamentashen.
-Stand up if you, in the last few years, have tried being gluten free.
-Stand up if you donated something to the Shoresh silent auction or to today’s lunch.
-Stand up if you have ever witnessed or participated in an animal being killed and prepared for food. 
-Stand up if you grow your own vegetables.
-Stand up if you have ever tried kale chips.

Today is about growing Jewish food consciousness by bringing together diverse community members…by bringing as many voices as possible to the table, by taking note of whose voices are not represented, and figuring out how to bring them into this conversation.  Our strength as a community is our diversity and we have a lot to learn from one another today, presenters and participants alike. 

In last Wednesday’s Toronto Star, the front page of the Life and Entertainment sectioned featured an article “How kosher is kosher?  Food Conference Seeks to Square Ancient Traditions and Other Jewish Values.” 

Star reporter, Michele Henry, writes about a great questioning happening today within our community…a questioning that is not new….a questioning that has been happening for the last 5000 years….what does it mean to eat Jewishly? 

Does eating Jewishly mean eating foods that are culturally Jewish?  This year United Bakers Dairy Restaurant celebrates their 100th anniversary.  Established in 1912, United Bakers is Toronto’s oldest family restaurant, and they have spent the last century serving up “heimische” baked goods and comfort foods.  My Zadie swears by their twister bagels.  For me, as an Ashkenazi Jew, is eating at United Bakers, eating Jewishly?  What if I am a vegan, gluten intolerant, Ashkenazi Jew …can I still eat Jewishly if challah, matza ball soup, mandel broit, brisket, bagels with lox and cream cheese…if those foods are not a part of my diet? 

Does eating Jewishly mean eating foods prepared according to the traditional laws of kashrut?  Who decides if something is kosher?  100 years ago, the women in our family, the keepers of the kitchen, they decided if something was kosher.  They knew the butcher, the cheese monger, the baker…the community held their food providers to a certain standard of kashrut.  As our food system developed into a global food system, a system where our food is often grown/raised, packaged and prepared, out of sight, certifying agencies became important in helping consumer make informed food choices.  This year, the Kashrut Council of Canada celebrates their 60th anniversary.  For 60 years, they have served our Jewish community by overseeing the practices of our food providers, most of whom are now inaccessible to the community.  So what happens now that we are seeing a move back to smaller, locally-based food systems?  For many, certified kosher has become the new standard of kosher.  Can something be kosher without a heksher?  What if you know your butcher, your cheese monger, your baker…do they now need to be certified to be kosher?  How can we help bring small scale artisanal food producers into a certifying system designed for corporate food businesses?  Do we need to?

Does eating Jewishly mean eating in a way that reflects Jewish ethics and values beyond kashrut?  Yes we have been having this conversation of what does it mean to eat Jewishly for thousands of years, AND our food system has changed radically in the last 60-70 years.  Food today is more complicated than ever.  Is it organically grown?  Is it fair trade?  Is it genetically modified?  What is the carbon footprint of my meal?  How were the animals raised?  How where they slaughtered?  Some are arguing that we need to expand the definition of kosher – can we call something kosher, which literally means “fit” to eat, if it has been grown in soil sprayed with known carcinogenic chemicals?  Can we call something kosher if we are packaging or serving it in Styrofoam?  Can we call something kosher if we know that those who helped grow or prepare our food were not paid fairly or given a safe working environment?  Can we call something kosher if the animals were raised in conditions resulting in incredible suffering?  There are those who say kosher is kosher (we don’t need to redefine kosher), AND that does not give us permission to willing overlook our traditions ethical teachings when it comes to the food choices we make.  Tzedek, tzedek tirdof….justice, justice you shall pursue.  Justice for those by whose hands we are fed.  Justice for the earth.  Justice for the non-human animals in our food system.  Justice for our own bodies.  Justice for those who are hungry in our community.  The Torah commands us to pursue justice.  Eating has become a political act.  So maybe eating Jewishly means embodying the fullness of Judaism’s ethical principles as they apply to our current food system. 

Does eating Jewishly mean creating space for the divine at our tables?  Does it mean acknowledging the role of an ultimate Creator, an unifying energy or breath of life?  Does it mean saying a blessing, expressions of gratitude?  According to the Talmud, it is forbidden for a person to enjoying anything of this world without a blessing, and if anyone enjoys anything of this world without a blessing s/he commits sacrilege?  Does eating Jewishly mean eating with intention? 

Jewish texts and teachings are clear – there are rules and traditions that govern our relationship with food – how we grow it, how we prepare it, how we eat it, how we share it with others.  Our community has been exploring the nature of our relationship with food for over 5000 years and today is about moving that conversation forward.  Which is why we have brought you all together – foodies, chefs, rabbis, farmers, students, teachers – we need everyone’s voice at the table, we need to think holistically about what it means to eat Jewishly here, today.            

Yesterday was Tu B’Shvat, the new year of the trees, one of the four Jewish new years in the Hebrew calendar.  Essentially Tu B’Shvat is a tax date, necessary for tithing purposes…any fruit produced before Tu B’Shvat were taxed with last year’s produce, any fruit produced on or after Tu B’Shvat, with this year’s produce.  It was a day set in the Hebrew calendar to help our ancestors manage communal food distribution.  That is radical.  So, it feels really appropriate for us to be gathering today to be thinking about our relationship with food from a Jewish perspective, whatever that means to you. 

I would like to thank and honour the incredible team of people who have worked so hard to make today’s conference happen. 
First, I would like to thank our partners, the Miles Nadal JCC and the Centre for Jewish Studies at the University of Toronto. 
Thank you to the Ontario Jewish Archives for pulling together a beautiful slideshow of historic Jewish food photos, which was on display earlier this morning and which we will show again during our final session.
Thank you to Hillel of Greater Toronto for helping to subsidize our student rate tickets.
Thank you to the incredible individuals and businesses who donated food for today’s snacks and lunch and those who donated items or services for our incredible silent auction.
Thank you to Laurenn Schecter, Moishe Oziel, and Michael Schecter from Mo and Lo Organics for preparing what I’m sure will be a delicious and nourishing morning snack and lunch. 
Thank you to our incredible team of presenters who have given so generously of their time to be here today.  It’s not every day that you get to learn with and from rabbis, academics, farmers, and community activists all in one place.  
Thank you to our amazing team of volunteers: Alex Sipos-Kocsis, Marc Levy, Dana Sipos, Andrea Schaffer, Naomi Tessler, Cara Gold, Alexandra Kuperman, Mati Cooper, Aldea Mulhern, Andrea Toole, Sara Brodbar-Nemzer, Leora Mallach, Rachael Roter, and Bemnet Worku.  From organizing our silent auction, to serving food, to working on our nametag assembly line, today could not happened without them.  Thank you.
Thank you to Deanna from the MNJCC for managing kitchen chaos. 
Thank you to the Food Conference Planning Committee – thank you Andrea and Sharoni for enduring numerous meetings, countless e-mails, and even a few panicky phone calls.  We are so grateful to have partners like you in our community. 
And lastly, an epically huge thank you to Shoresh’s Director of Community Outreach, Sabrina Malach, who claims she is not a detail oriented person, and yet held the 8403 details it took to bring today together.  Every day I am radically grateful to work with such a dear friend, a tireless and committed coworker, and a true visionary.  

And thank you to all of you.  Thank you for coming, thank you for spreading the word to family and friends, thank you for all the ways that you have supported us and will support us in the future, thank you for helping us move this age old conversation of what and how and when and with who we eat in new and powerful directions.

Consider yourselves officially welcomed and briefed.  I wish you all a day filled with deep learning, engaging conversations, delicious food, new friends, and inspiring realizations. 

Thank you.