Food volunteers deliver Jewish values

By Sue Fishkoff, January 7, 2010

Last year, Karyn Moskowitz of Louisville, Kentucky launched a non-profit company to bring fresh, affordable food to low-income areas.

Every week she drives 100 miles to an Amish produce market to buy organically grown fruit and vegetables. She brings them to a black Baptist Church, where volunteers divide it up into baskets parishioners can buy for $12.

“When we showed up, the people freaked,” Ms Moskowitz said. “They said, ‘Where did you get that food? We can’t buy anything like it here.’”

Ms Moskowitz presented her project at the 2009 Hazon Food Conference, held last week in California. Nearly 650 rabbis, teachers, farmers and food activists spent four days learning about the connection between Jewish values and sustainable food systems. They heard from pioneers in the fledgling Jewish food movement and shared resources from organic farming tips to how to lobby political leaders.

Hazon, a nine-year-old New York-based organisation that promotes sustainable food systems based on Jewish values, is well-placed to harness a burgeoning interest in food and kosher food into a movement of wide influence. And they have got a cadre of young, enthusiastic Jewish farmers and food activists ready to make it happen.

One is Nati Passow, director of the Jewish Farm School in Philadelphia, which teaches young Jews about urban farming and works with community groups to create sustainable gardens. He does this work because of his Jewish values. “The idea that people should have access to healthy, affordable, sustainably grown food, which is very limited in low-income communities, is a driving influence in my work,” he said.

The new Jewish food movement, like the organics movement in general, has been criticised as elitist, as not everyone can afford organic food and humanely raised meat and poultry.

“Access to fresh, local food is a privilege, but it should be a right,” said Elizabeth Schwartz, a garden mentor who helps poor residents of Portland plant home gardens. This year, the food conference created a Food Justice track. Workshops focused on workers’ rights, food access in low-income areas, Fair Trade schemes, and community gardens.

Hazon’s founder and executive director, Nigel Savage, says this is a natural extension of the group’s work as its influence grows worldwide.

“The process of building Hazon in the US, as an English Jew, has been fascinating,” said Mr Savage, originally from Manchester. Hazon promotes the Big Green Jewish Website, a three-year-old project of the Jewish Social Action Forum, and this year, three young Brits attended the Hazon conference.

“The British Jewish community is starting to soak this up, take it back and adapt it,” he said.

Last updated: 5:11pm, January 7 2010