Farm life is all about symbiotic relationships, and you need to take only a few steps from the entrance of Oxbow Organic Farm and Conservation Center in Carnation before you’ll see signs of them. Some are obvious, like the bees pollinating crops, or the signs marking certain fields as dedicated to a specific Seattle flower shop. But walking along the oxbow lake that gives the farm its name, sitting at the scenic benches along the path, there’s no immediate way to observe this farm’s unique relationship with Judaism.
In 1999, Luke Woodward and Sarah Cassidy came to Carnation to transform the barren land into a sustainable farm and education center, and in 2007, Adam McCurdy and Shira Jacobs arrived to help run the growing enterprise. As the farm converted to a nonprofit in 2009, priorities turned to community and, specifically, a Community-Supported Agriculture (CSA) program.
McCurdy and his coworkers began to look for a cohesive community connection. “How can we team up with other folks that already have this?” he asked. The answer was by collaborating with Jewish organizations. (Adam and Shira are Jewish, as is the farm’s sales and marketing director, Sarah Dublin.) When a friend of Shira’s who worked with Hazon — the international Jewish food justice organization whose mission is to “create a healthier and more sustainable Jewish community” — first approached Oxbow, McCurdy saw in it a group already “thinking about conscious food choices that they are making for land conservation and social justice across the board.” McCurdy marvels at what came from a simple question, “How can we bring Hazon to Seattle?”
Encouraging people to think about how Judaism interacts with the food system is one of the goals of Hazon. “The phrase ‘food justice’ is fairly recent,” says Hazon president and CEO Nigel Savage, “but the concept is central to Jewish tradition. The Torah repeatedly intertwines injunctions in relation to land and food with the requirement to look after the poor, the hungry, and the homeless.”
With Hazon’s help, Oxbow launched a new type of CSA, which sends out boxes of fresh produce to subscribers every week through local Jewish organizations. Currently, Oxbow has a CSA partnership with Jewish Family Service, the Stroum Jewish Community Center, the Kavana Cooperative, and Hillel at the University of Washington — part of its total 750 subscribers across the region. (Most recently, Oxbow began partnering with Pagliacci Pizza.)
Hazon offered a chance to align where Oxbow was aiming to go with folks who were already a part of a larger community conscious about food. “Not everyone stays kosher,” McCurdy says of Oxbow’s Jewish subscribers, “but everyone within those communities knows what kosher is, that there are restrictions around food, choices around food that can make a major social impact just by what we eat and how we spend our money on food.” Hazon looks at the literal meaning of kosher (fit to eat) and asks not just if food meets the stated guidelines of kashrut, but if it is fit to eat for you. According to Savage, Jewish organizations are “putting Jewish purchasing power behind local, organic farms on the one hand and reframing and renewing Jewish life on the other.”
Josh Furman, the former director of Hillel’s Jconnect program, has subscribed to the CSA since its start five years ago. “As someone who doesn’t keep kosher at all, it’s a good way to be connected to food,” he says. He adds that for many of the members he knows, it’s also a simple way to stay connected to the Jewish community.
Oxbow found that it gained more than just the target audience from these partnerships. The staff watched communities create and educate on their own, from Kavana’s weekly potlucks for the CSA box pickup to the weekly d’var Torah Hazon supplies.
Oxbow started working with the Jewish community by offering small connections, such as honey at Rosh Hashanah, but soon there were bigger events, like the now-annual multi-
organization Sukkot gleaning. Participants in the CSA mingled and learned from each other, and a new way to share Jewish holidays and culture with the rest of their communities during farm tours and events grew from it.
McCurdy is always quick to point out that it’s not a Jewish farm, but he says that “to get the most out of your CSA, you should join through [Jewish organizations]. It’s another reason to care about the land and the food, whatever your community base.” The surface of the farm’s potential involvement with these communities has just barely been scratched, he adds. A relationship that, like the bees and the plants, is mutually beneficial.