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Transforming Our Community: Reflections on Temple Isaiah’s CSA

Originally posted on Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism. Cross-posted with permission.

The food we eat has permeated Jewish life from the manna in the desert to the latkes in the dining room, but for all that attention, it seems we have much left to consider. We recently gave thanks around our tables, perhaps for the love of family or the joy of a new child, or for the bounty of our feasts.

At Temple Isaiah in Los Angeles, as at many synagogues around the country, we are trying to look deeper into the food choices we make several times every day as individuals and as institutions. We are early on that journey, but it is clear that our Community Supported Agriculture program, part of the Hazon CSA Network, has helped us understand the importance of what we eat. It has helped us figure out what the questions are for each of us and for our congregation. It’s exciting, thought-provoking and delicious.

If you’d like to learn more about the impact a CSA can have on your congregation, join me on December 7 at 4 p.m. ET for a special webinar, Community-Supported Agriculture: Transforming Your Jewish Community. Cosponsored by the Religious Action Center and Hazon, this webinar will discuss why the acts of ethical eating embody Jewish values and how you can start bringing local, fresh produce to your synagogue every week. Register for the webinar today.

Our CSA program is a few years old now, and unlike those in some climates of the country, ours provides produce almost year-round. Aside from a core group of continuing members, families come and go – and we struggle sometimes to get members. Food pickup coincides with religious school on Tuesdays, making it a good fit for those families, perhaps less so for working couples. But every week, every person who comes to our synagogue doors sees piles of produce boxes and a CSA volunteer ready to talk about the program.

The farm we partner with, McGrath Family Farm, is run by a fifth-generation farmer, Phil McGrath. He has come to speak about his farm in our social hall and has invited us to the farm repeatedly. He pays his workers decently and hires them year-round.

Even in the heart of a major city, we can connect to a farm. Through the CSA, it becomes clear that in early spring, it’s greens and more greens. In the fall, we’re all hunting for new ways to cook winter squash. (No one complains they have too many enough heirloom tomatoes or strawberries.) I can’t imagine any of us hears the commercial for Chilean fruit each winter with the same ears as we might have in the past.

We publish a weekly newsletter, put out by a CSA volunteer, with recipes and teachings. We have potluck meals and cooking classes. At a food justice Seder, we raised questions about the unpronounceable ingredients in some grocery items and talked about what our supermarket trips might have to do with Jewish teachings and social justice.

But as terrific as it is to join our CSA and learn to eat with the seasons, it’s just a start.

Through Hazon, CSAs around the country have shared ways to increase the impact of a weekly produce delivery. Certainly, programming helps. On the opening day of religious school, CSA volunteers at Isaiah sit in the lobby with a table spread with our farm’s delights. At many synagogues, there are food gardens.

But we have many ways left to consider: Who grew and harvested the coffee we serve in the lobby? What about the fruit and veggie platter that’s out before services on Fridays? Is the produce local, organic? Why does that matter? And the snacks we serve to synagogue children? Could we do better? If some people are hungry or unable to buy nutritious food – in our congregations or in our larger communities – can any of us feel comfortably full?

We in Los Angeles County are blessed with more than 120 farmers markets every week; there can hardly be an easier place to buy food directly from the people who grow it. Still, within hours of our sanctuary, farm workers’ children cannot afford to eat the food their parents take from the ground day after long day.

And so it’s time to consider the next step in our synagogue’s relationship with food. Through Hazon, we are among the congregations that plan to conduct an audit of all the food decisions made in our synagogues.

Please join me for the special webinar on December 7 at 4 p.m. ET to learn more about our CSA at Temple Isaiah and learn how this partnership can inspire and enhance social justice programming at your own synagogue.

Image courtesy of Temple Isaiah.

Mary MacVean and her family have belonged to Temple Isaiah in Los Angeles for more than a decade, and she was one of the founders of the synagogue’s CSA. Previously she has served on the board one of the first CSAs in the country, located in New York City.