Following the 2007 Hazon Food Conference, my whole family was inspired to make change — I left my orchestra administrator job to become an Adamah fellow, which led to my career as a natural foods chef. And my parents, through their own inspiration (and requests from their children), took a chance and decided to convert a plot of land they owned in Geneva, IL into something greater.
This plot eventually became Pushing the Envelope Farm, a community based sustainable “factory farm.” As the farm is next to our family run business, Continental Envelope Corporation, it’s the only factory farm of its kind, as far as I know. It is one where natural Certified Naturally Grown food (an alternative to organic certification) is grown in healthy soil, where 6 goats (2 a gift at my own wedding — quite the scene, I may say!), dozens of chickens, honeybees, berry bushes and lush mulberry trees all live and grow beautifully and where Jewish education is brought outside.
Since its inception, Pushing the Envelope Farm has been a Jewishly imbued community farm — all employees at Continental Envelope are given large individual plots if they want to grow their own food. Community groups come for programming and work the fields and the farm manager (my brother, Elan) and assistant, Kate Re, work tirelessly to educate through getting your hands dirty through hands-on educational experiences on the farm and in communities around Chicago. What used to be a conventional corn field has now become a center for Jewish nature education.
Last week’s op-ed by Mark Bittman made its way around my circles in seconds. Bittman validated what many of us in the natural foods arena have been saying for a long while — that dairy doesn’t necessarily do the body good. The same can be said for wheat, corn, soy, meat and many other high-allergen foods. It doesn’t mean that everyone needs to give them up, and it doesn’t mean that all sources of dairy and producers of dairy are inherently bad. Just read the comments (all 772 of them at the time of writing this article) and you will see that Bittman has opened up a hot topic here.
I’ll try to avoid such intense controversy — but I do recommend reading Bittman’s article and discussing these topics amongst yourselves: Jews and Lactose; Jews and Food Allergies, and the ongoing debates surrounding them. Many who might not tolerate dairy in its unfermented form (milk, cream, most butters) might very well tolerate fermented dairy (yogurt, kefir, buttermilk, sour cream, cheeses, etc.). As a natural foods chef I always encourage my clients to consume the highest quality dairy available to them — be it raw or low heat pasteurized, un-homogenized if possible and always organic.