Let's Eat

Kosher Kentish cultivation

Just outside the concrete ring of the M25 motorway you can find the first in a new generation of Jewish farms


In the 1960s, a Jewish farm in Thaxted, Essex won a prize for the best milk yielding cow in Essex.

“Jewish” and “farm” are not words you expect to find in tandem. But believe it or not, we were once very much in touch with the land.

The award-winning enterprise was a hachshara farm, one of several where Jews could train before moving to kibbutzim. Those farms may be long gone. But in recent years concern with the environment has seen a cluster of new Jewish farms in different countries. The most recent, and the only one in the UK, is The Sadeh (pronounced Sah-day) founded by a group of young people.

One of the founders, Talia Chain explains they were inspired by a farm visit in the US, where the movement has been taking shape. “It was the Adamah [farm] at Isabella Freedman in Connecticut,” she says. A crowd-funding campaign later, The Sadeh (meaning field in Hebrew) was born.

“Since the hachshara farms closed, we are the first Jewish educational farm and environmental community in the UK. Our farm is in the field of Skeet Hill House, a Jewish youth retreat centre. During the Second World War, Jewish children from the city used to come and do some farming here,” Chain says.

“Judaism is very much connected with the land. We were farmers and many of our festivals were historically connected to agriculture. The foods we eat relate to what was grown at those times,” she explains. Like fruits and nuts for Tu Bishvat and fresh herbs at Pesach, as well as the dairy we eat for Shavuot.

“Pesach is a traditional harvest festival — there was a wheat harvest at that time of the year, and at Shavuot and Rosh Hashanah. People would bring the first of their harvests to the temple. Shmita years are also rooted in agriculture — allowing a field to lie fallow.”

She is one of a group of young people concerned that as a pretty urban bunch, we’re now divorced from nature and how our food is grown.

“Many of us have no idea where our food actually comes from and with the state of the environment, that’s not good.”

So on a section of field donated by Skeet Hill House, Chain and her volunteers are now cultivating a range of produce.

“We’ve built composters, raised beds and water tanks and are now sewing carrots, radishes, lettuces, cabbages and potatoes. We are already harvesting some early crops like salad leaves — which you can keep growing pretty much through the season — and radishes. We’ve also planted berries like gooseberries and blueberries.”

Much of what they have grown has been donated by a local garden centre. “Their head of community outreach is Jewish and has been very supportive, giving us hundreds of packets of seeds, a water tank, loads of compost — which is expensive — and shelving units.”

This month will see them sewing squash, cucumbers, beans, and more radishes and lettuces. The plan is to use the produce to educating visiting groups. “They’ll pick produce and we’ll talk to them about it. Skeet Hill House will also use some of it in their kitchens.”

At next month’s Gefiltefest, Sadeh trustee Danielle Oxenham will be talking about food ethics and sustainability and the lessons learned at their farm.

While they’re not going to be feeding 5,000 just yet, the hope is that in time they’ll be able to produce enough to sell at farmers’ markets.

Chain — who also wants to encourage us to grow our own veggies — says their produce “tastes about a million times better than what you buy in the supermarket — there’s no comparison.”

They’re also pickling much of what they grow. Chain’s husband Josh Charig is a keen pickler and craft brewer, so they’re also growing hops and will pickle a range of produce, including carrots, green tomatoes (“they’re delicious”), onions and chilis. “You name it, we’ll pickle it,” she smiles.

Unfortunately, they’ll need to get in before other keen vegetable eaters — the local rabbits. “I’ve lost half our carrot crop to the rabbits. I’ve tried all sorts of methods to keep them away but my most recent fence seems to have worked, so I’m hoping we’ll have some carrots left.”

Chain explains that other challenges have included floods and other weather-related issues. “It’s like being on a knife edge all the time but very interesting. You are totally reliant on the weather.”

It’s definitely food for thought.; Gefiltefest 2017 will take place on 25th June Information at:

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