As a Jewish community farm, we find our roots in ancient Jewish wisdom. A historically land-based, agricultural religion, Judaism provides guidance for tending the land and caring for the community. At Coastal Roots Farm, we see these values as relevant and meaningful to our lives and farming practices.
One of our favorite publications, Modern Farmer, created a series called #iamamodernfarmer, which spotlights farmers—community farmers, gardeners, farm-to-table chefs—who represent sustainable agriculture in the U.S. today. Inspired by this series, we’re sharing our version of modern farming and how Coastal Roots translates ancient practices to an innovative, 21st-century farm.
Below, we share four Jewish principles concerning land stewardship, hospitality, and care for the community, and how we’ve adapted them at Coastal Roots Farm.
1. Peah: Corners of the Field
The practice of peah means leaving space on the farm for disenfranchised community members—orphans, widows, the poor, and the landless—to harvest. In ancient Judaism, land owners left the corners and edges of their fields for anyone who needed food. They also left produce dropped on the ground for neighbors to gather and glean. This practice reminded landowners that they did not ultimately “own” the land, nor were they more deserving of food than their neighbors.
At the Farm, we’ve applied this principle to our food forest. We leave fruit trees in the public trail unharvested, so that anyone can walk through and pick what they need. In pursuit of a more just society, we follow the Jewish agricultural practice of peah and gleaning so that everyone in the community has access to harvesting food and connecting to the land.
2. Tsa’ar Ba’alei Chaim: Ethical Treatment of Animals
Tsa’ar ba’alei chaim offers guidelines for how to treat animals. The principles include feeding animals before oneself and not inflicting discomfort on animals kept for human use, unless it is necessary for their purpose. One biblical practice was to send a mother hen away before gathering her eggs. Tsa’ar ba’alei chaim reminds us that we have an inherent responsibility to care for the well-being of the animals we keep.
At the Farm, our chickens have unlimited access to the outdoors during daylight hours, allowing them to scavenge for bugs and enjoy their deep litter. Each chicken gets a minimum of 1.8 square feet in the coop and a minimum of 8 inches of nesting space.
3. Orlah: Leaving Fruits of Young Trees
Orlah requires waiting to harvest fruit for a tree’s first three years, and donating the harvest in the fourth year. In ancient Judaism, the fourth year’s fruits were considered holy and designated for those who were landless and social or religious servants. Orlah teaches us to care for the trees and allow them to establish deep roots before concentrating on production. It encourages farmers to value trees as more than a means to an end of consumption.
At the Farm, we’ve chosen not to harvest our vineyard’s grapes for the first three years. We try to focus the trees’ energy on growing roots instead of producing fruits. Now that our vineyard has reached its fourth year, we’ve made plans to harvest grapes in the fall. We’re partnering with local winery Solterra to produce and bottle wine, which we will then donate—a modern day version of orlah!
4. Tikkun Olam: Repair the World
Tikkun olam is the idea that good acts of all types create progress towards a more perfect world. In ancient times, the Kabbalists (a mystical sect of Judaism) taught that God condensed Godsself into containers to create space for the universe. These containers then cracked, and part of humanity’s job is to slowly fix the containers of holiness. In recent decades, this term has been understood as a mandate to work for social justice and heal wrongs in the world.
At the Farm, we are literally repairing the earth by working on soil and ecological restoration. We also practice tikkun olam through producing and distributing fresh, organic produce to our community; by providing educational programming; and by serving as a space for the community to gather and enjoy the land and each other. Even small, local acts of kindness and restoration help build a more beautiful world.
Thanks to Jaclyn Kellner, our community educator, for her help on this post!