The Jew And The Carrot

How To Become a Citizen Farmer

By Alix Wall

  • Print
  • Share Share

Daron Joffe was a freshman at the University of Wisconsin in 1995 when he ate a turkey sandwich that changed his life.

“I looked at it and realized there’s so much I don’t know about it,” the Oakland resident, 37, recalled recently. “There are so many things I didn’t know about where food comes from and where it’s grown and what my relationship could be to food, and that I didn’t have one.”

What a difference 20 years makes. Joffe, owner of Farmer D Organics (he is “Farmer D”), has a new book out, “Citizen Farmers: The Biodynamic Way to Grow Healthy Food, Build Thriving Communities, and Give Back to the Earth,” written with longtime food writer Susan Puckett.

The environmental educator, farming consultant and social entrepreneur is the first to admit that what he does is hard to explain. With the book, Joffe said, “now I can say this is what I do, and why I do it.”

Part gardening handbook, part call to arms, part manifesto, “Citizen Farmers” also offers a range of advice on topics such as composting and soil composition, the 10 best crops to grow with kids and how to grow food in low-income communities.

Joffe, who said he developed his love for the environment attending Jewish summer camp, has become a renaissance man in the world of biodynamic farming, a type of sustainable agriculture developed by Rudolf Stein

While the turkey sandwich revelation plays a pivotal role in Joffe’s narrative, he also recalls his family coming together around his bubbe’s holiday table in Johannesburg, an activity he says informed his choices later in life. Joffe was born in South Africa and immigrated to Atlanta with his parents as a toddler; he said his efforts to bring farming to low-income communities can be traced back to the poverty he witnessed on return trips to South Africa.

After dropping out of college and apprenticing on several biodynamic farms, Joffe bought his own farm when he was 20, using his bar mitzvah money to make the down payment on 175 acres in southwest Wisconsin. While his parents initially were skeptical, he said, they were convinced not only by the delicious produce he was growing, but by seeing their son — despite the many challenges of being a rookie farmer — thrive and pursue his passion.

A few years later, he attended a conference in Madison, Wis., where he met Mohammed Nuru, then executive director of the San Francisco League of Urban Gardeners (and now director of the city’s Department of Public Works). Nuru recruited him to start an organic garden at Log Cabin, a camp and school for troubled youth in the Santa Cruz Mountains. All the produce grown was given to the juveniles’ families.

Meanwhile, Joffe had other ideas brewing. In 2001 he proposed a therapeutic gardening program at the JCC in his native Atlanta, and it was an immediate success — so much so that the kids voted Gan Chaim as their favorite camp activity. (It also serves seniors and individuals with special needs.) While many JCCs and synagogues have their own gardening programs now, that was not the case just 10 years ago.

Based on the program’s success, a staffer encouraged Joffe to apply for a two-year fellowship with the Bay Area–based Joshua Venture Group, which offers support to young Jews with big ideas related to social change. As a fellow, Joffe gained the skills to launch his consulting business along with the know-how to replicate the Gan Chaim program at other locations.

Joffe has since been a consultant for many JCCs and Jewish organizations — he was the first farm consultant for Adamah, the environmental fellowship in Connecticut started by Adam Berman that led to Berkeley’s Urban Adamah program. Joffe also helped start farms at Camp JCA Shalom in Malibu and the Brandeis-Bardin Institute in Simi Valley, to name a couple in California.

He also has worked with non-Jewish institutions and has helped numerous low-income communities turn desolated fields into urban farms. Many of Joffe’s current clients are planned residential communities, which, in a sign of the times, are using their green spaces to plant farms rather than build golf courses. This trend was covered in the New York Times, which mentioned Farmer D Organics.

Joffe started a partnership with Whole Foods in the Atlanta area, teaching participating stores to turn their food waste into compost, which they package and sell under the Farmer D Organics label. And he has joined with his father — a woodworker, among other things — to manufacture sustainable-wood garden beds and composters, which are sold by Williams-Sonoma.

Then there is the Farmer D Organics store in Atlanta, where Joffe’s line of composters, garden beds and other farming supplies are sold.

With his business based in Atlanta, one might wonder how Joffe ended up living in Oakland. The East Bay is where he met his wife, Stephanie Bernstein-Joffe, founder and CEO of the Berkeley-based eco-company To-Go Ware. They have two young children, son Tilden and daughter Sibley.

“Whether you support the movement from your garden, kitchen, classroom, board room or farmers market, I like to think of all of us as potential citizen farmers, each making a contribution to a better and more sustainable world,” Joffe said. “I am convinced that integrating agriculture — and the personal values it teaches — into everyday life builds strong and vibrant communities. I believe this so strongly that I have made it my life’s calling to cultivate as many citizen farmers as I can.”

This article first appeared in J. the Jewish news weekly of Northern California.

Alix Wall is a personal chef in the East Bay and beyond. Her website is www.theorganicepicure.com.


Permalink | | Share | Email | Print

The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.




Find us on Facebook!
  • “'I made a new friend,' my son told his grandfather later that day. 'I don’t know her name, but she was very nice. We met on the bus.' Welcome to Israel."
  • A Jewish female sword swallower. It's as cool as it sounds (and looks)!
  • Why did David Menachem Gordon join the IDF? In his own words: "The Israel Defense Forces is an army that fights for her nation’s survival and the absence of its warriors equals destruction from numerous regional foes. America is not quite under the threat of total annihilation… Simply put, I felt I was needed more in Israel than in the United States."
  • Leonard Fein's most enduring legacy may be his rejection of dualism: the idea that Jews must choose between assertiveness and compassion, between tribalism and universalism. Steven M. Cohen remembers a great Jewish progressive:
  • BREAKING: Missing lone soldier David Menachem Gordon has been found dead in central Israel. The Ohio native was 21 years old.
  • “They think they can slap on an Amish hat and a long black robe, and they’ve created a Hasid." What do you think of Hollywood's portrayal of Hasidic Jews?
  • “I’ve been doing this since I was a teenager. I didn’t think I would have to do it when I was 90.” Hedy Epstein fled Nazi Germany in 1933 on a Kinderstransport.
  • "A few decades ago, it would have been easy to add Jews to that list of disempowered victims. I could throw in Leo Frank, the victim of mob justice; or otherwise privileged Jewish men denied entrance to elite universities. These days, however, we have to search a lot harder." Are you worried about what's going in on #Ferguson?
  • Will you accept the challenge?
  • In the six years since Dothan launched its relocation program, 8 families have made the jump — but will they stay? We went there to find out:
  • "Jewish Israelis and West Bank Palestinians are witnessing — and living — two very different wars." Naomi Zeveloff's first on-the-ground dispatch from Israel:
  • This deserves a whistle: Lauren Bacall's stylish wardrobe is getting its own museum exhibit at Fashion Institute of Technology.
  • How do you make people laugh when they're fighting on the front lines or ducking bombs?
  • "Hamas and others have dredged up passages form the Quran that demonize Jews horribly. Some imams rail about international Jewish conspiracies. But they’d have a much smaller audience for their ravings if Israel could find a way to lower the flames in the conflict." Do you agree with J.J. Goldberg?
  • How did Tariq Abu Khdeir go from fun-loving Palestinian-American teen to international icon in just a few short weeks? http://jd.fo/d4kkV
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.