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 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.