"As an academic, what was missing for me was, well, how do we build? What do we do? I wanted to learn to love the land that had claimed me."
Bela Farm is 99-acres of forest, pasture and cultivated fields in Hillsburgh, ON where rural and urban partners develop creative responses to environmental crisis. We experiment with farming partnerships, immersive public education programs, and land-based art, ritual, performance, scholarship and advocacy. As Creative Director, I teach a variety of workshops at the farm and help to shape the overall mission.
"The Jewish Food and Farming movement came in and gave me another way to be Jewish and to encounter Jewish life."
Beginning with its founding in 2008, I have worked closely with Shoresh Jewish Environmental Programs in a number of roles, serving as a founding board member and helping to plan multiple food conferences and other events.
As part of the Bela Farm creative team, I spent over a year studying the laws of shmita (sabbatical year) and became part of a movement called shmitaculture, a radical conjunction of the Jewish laws of shmita with the principles of permaculture design.
I have raised awareness about the important intersections of local food and religious practice in scholarly conversations at the University of Toronto through a conference on Food and Religion (hosted by Religion and the Public Sphere), at Shoresh food conferences which were jointly sponsored by the Centre for Jewish Studies, and a year-long fellowship at the Jackman Humanities Institute focused on food and spirituality.
"I began to buy whatever the farmers had that entranced me, the first of this or the most amazing of that. The creation of those meals was definitely collaborative. This was not me going to the store and buying stuff. This was the earth speaking to me."
Inspired by a Jewish CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) program created by the New York-based Hazon, in 2007 I joined with a few other activists to found and manage the first Jewish CSA in Canada in partnership with the First Narayever Congregation and Everdale Farm.
During its heyday, The Narayever – Everdale CSA quickly became a locus for experimenting with local foods in holiday celebrations. We sourced local honey and apples for Rosh Hashanah, covered our sukkah with branches from local farms, ran classes on challah-baking using locally-milled grains and eggs from the CSA, and hosted an annual Sukkot harvest lunch featuring foods from our CSA partner farms.
Inspired by the CSA experience, in 2012 I convened a team of volunteers to develop a sustainable food policy for the Narayever which is grounded in Jewish law and tradition and actively engages local farmers and food producers. Hazon used our initiative as a model for other congregations eager to re-think kashrut in a twenty-first century context.
Most of my family's food comes from The Stop Farmers' Market at the Wychwood Barns where I have been both a weekly customer and an occasional organizer since its inception in 2009. In 2020 and 2021, I worked with the Stop and my partner Joshna Maharaj to help the market diversify and overcome the challenges of pandemic-related lockdowns.
"For me, I always come back to the Passover seder, a powerful ritual intertwined with a story told through food, song, and performance. Taste, smell, texture, maple water, that first fruit––this seder is at the heart of my experiential work."
In the summer of 2017, I worked with the Bela Farm team and Wellington Water Watchers to create Waterstock, a festival designed to raise public awareness about the bottled water industry and their impact on the local aquifer. Thousands came out to listen to music, sign petitions, and participate in a rousing parade led by a gorgeous Water Goddess created by Shadowland Theatre.
Inspired by the watery magic of Waterstock, in the spring of 2018, I created and co-hosted an immersive water-focused Passover Seder for Bela Farm. We tapped the maple trees and drank the sap for our first cup of wine, poured out our wrath at the Nestlé-owned water-bottling well across the road, studied Jewish texts on water, and feasted on food produced at the farm.