The intersection of agriculture and religion is not an unexpected one, just as long as we’re talking about harvest gods, fertility cults and all of those spooky pagan archetypes. Rarely do we conceive of the three Abrahamic religions—Judaism, Christianity, and Islam—as having these same strong ties to nature, but the idea that God has bestowed humanity with land, of all things, is pronounced in all three of these religions’ scriptures. Today, after some 2000 years spent off the land, Jewish communities like Hazon Community-Supported Agriculture of South Jersey are rediscovering the sanctity of the soil.
In Community-Supported Agriculture, members buy “shares” of a local farmer’s harvest at the beginning of growing season to be received in weekly allotments throughout harvest time. Hazon (huh-zone), an international Jewish organization dedicated to “creat[ing] healthier and more sustainable communities in the Jewish world and beyond,” has been spreading the CSA model throughout its communities since 2004, raising more than $5 million for sustainable agriculture and donating more than 30,000 pounds of food to food banks. All of this would not be possible without the individual Hazon CSAs sprouting up all over the country, including South Jersey’s very own Hazon CSA.
The South Jersey CSA was co-founded by Marty Feigenbaum and Val Yasner in 2004, when the two first paired up with Honey Brook Organic Farm of Pennington and Chesterfield. As Yasner explains, Hazon is an attempt to “connect people to Judaism in ways they haven’t before,” and part of that attempt is rekindling a connection with the land.
“The beauty of the CSA is that you are tied to the farmer,” Yasner says. Just earlier this week, she says, Hurricane Sandy prevented farm workers from harvesting the fields for the weekly pick-up. “This is what you buy into when you participate with a CSA,” she says. “We’re sharing that with the farmer and making farming a sustainable kind of occupation where they can get paid a fair wage.”
Feigenbaum says that the intermingling of religion, food and environment can be traced back all the way to the creation story of Genesis, whereupon God told Man “to till and to tend” the land of Eden. “Hazon interprets “tending it” as a responsibility to make sure future generations have the same opportunities that we have,” he says, pointing to Jewish traditions of showing respect for the land. “A commonly accepted natural practice of agriculture is of a sabbatical for the land, where you are to let your land lie fallow [one in every seven years]. We recognized years ago that land needed to regenerate itself.”
This logical respect for nature carries over to the treatment and even slaughter of domesticated animals. Yasner recalls a Hazon Food Conference in Connecticut at which goats were shechted (slaughtered according to kosher principles) by a shochet (trained ritual slaughterer) and served at dinner. Even Yasner, who is vegan, describes being affected by the reverence of the occasion. “I just never felt that before,” she says. “You certainly don’t feel that when you go to the grocery store and get your Styrofoam plastic-wrapped slab of beef.”
In its four years of operation, the Hazon CSA of South Jersey has held countless events to raise awareness and build community amongst its members—everything from a yoga and challah-baking event to a Sukkot farm-to-table dinner prepared by famous Philadelphia Chef Michael Solomonov and served to 150 people under a full-sized sukkah, or temporary hut constructed for the Sukkot celebrations.
One need not be Jewish–or even religious–to appreciate the impact of the Hazon movement. After all, religious groups have staked out a claim on many social issues, so why should environmental issues be any different?
Though Hazon is a Jewish organization, Hazon CSAs are open to people of all faiths. More than 50 Hazon CSAs have been established across the U.S..