“With a name like Angus Johnson, you can probably guess I wasn’t born Jewish,” Berkshires farmer Angus Johnson said, beginning his story.
He was, however, born into a long line of farmers. For five generations, the family farm was diversified between livestock, vegetables, orchard fruits and bush fruit, all raised and grown sustainably. For the last 16 years, Johnson has supported research on safe and sustainable farm practices and represented 13 states in helping farmers convert to grass-based agriculture through his involvement in the Northeast Pasture Consortium.
As most farming practices stand today, animals are fed a grain-based diet, whereas grass-based agriculture has been shown to be more beneficial to human health. Johnson will go into detail on why this matters later.
Over the years, Johnson had been no stranger to Judaism; however, when he met, fell in love with, and married his Jewish wife, Dr. Allison Bell, his interest and study of Judaism deepened, as did his questions about Kashrut. He made an Orthodox conversion in Teaneck, New Jersey, in June 2009 and began to focus on kosher agriculture.
While his wife sparked his interest in Judaism, it became clear within five minutes of speaking with him that Johnson is Jewish because he truly wants to be.
When President Obama spoke about climate change in his inaugural speech, it was a small victory for the hard working members of environmental organizations everywhere to finally hear that their agenda was being acknowledged on a large scale. One of these hardworking individuals is Mirele Goldsmith, the director of the Jewish Greening Fellowship (JGF), a program created by UJA-Federation of New York to mobilize the Jewish Community in response to climate change.
With terms like “CSA” (community supported agriculture) and “CFL” (compact fluorescent light bulb) becoming increasingly common, it’s easy to be excited and quickly overwhelmed by climate change and sustainability. In an interview with Mirele, she explained, “It’s hard to think of things to do between changing your light bulb and saving the world; as a community we can make a difference in ways that we can’t as individuals. That is what the Jewish Greening Fellowship is about.”
It’s no secret that the kosher-keeping set in America often look longingly at the options available to our non-kosher-keeping friends. Gooey ripe cheeses. Local meats. Restaurants with certain character and flair. Even fresh-baked bread isn’t as easy to find as we might like. So when the chance came to take a vacation – the first in several years – my husband and I immediately knew we were headed to Israel. To eat.
The trip did not disappoint, and for a couple of foodies – albeit already well-connected in the kosher sustainable food world – we found delight after delight of kosher foods that we just can’t get at home, many of them also local, sustainable and reflecting the specific palate of Israel. Here are a few highlights:
Hanukkah can be one of the messiest Jewish holidays; waste is generated from wrapping paper, gelt wrappers, and wax drippings. To top it off, all the frying in oil can be both unhealthy and unsustainable. But this year, it doesn’t have to be. JCarrot and Hazon offer sustainable, healthy Hanukkah resources to green your holiday, so you can spend more time enjoying, and less time worrying about your global impact. From eco-friendly candles to sustainable gifts, the following suggestions can help to enrich any Hanukkah celebration. Also, these sustainable resources can be used as activities that can make for a great addition to any Hanukkah party. This year, opt for sustainability when celebrating Hanukkah by incorporating all, or even a few, of the following suggestions.
Just 50 miles north of New York City, in Putnam Valley, the beautiful 248-acre Eden Village Camp is busy with preparations for the inaugural Festival of Eden. An expected hundreds of participants of all ages will gather on Sunday, September 25th to enjoy hands-on farming and green-living workshops, local organic food, live music, art, nature adventures, and Jewish environmental education, all made possible by the Saul Schottenstein Foundation B.
Eden Village is a new camp, fresh out of their second summer. The camp aims to be a living model of a thriving, inspired, sustainable Jewish community, grounded in social responsibility and a vibrant spiritual life. With a zero-waste goal and an emphasis on healthy, sustainable living it is no surprise that Eden Village takes food seriously. Organic vegetables and herbs are grown 72 feet from the Eden Village Kosher Kitchen, which will be providing kosher food options alongside other food vendors at the festival.
At seemingly every event from non-profit gala to wedding I’ve attended in the past few years, I’ve walked away with chocolate. It’s such a great way to start or end the evening with — the gift of a bite or bar of chocolate. In the midst of planning our sustainable Jewish wedding, which is now only one week away, my fiancé David and I thought it might be nice to also give our guests a similar sweet welcome at their place setting. In the past few months we have made many food-related decisions about our wedding. From the meal we wanted to serve to the favors we made for our guests, it was important that our environmental and Jewish values were expressed.
If you’ve been following our sustainable Jewish wedding planning on the blog, you know that we’re quite hands on with the preparation, we felt it was crucial that we prepared this sweet greeting for our guests. At first, we attempted to make one of my favorite and super-healthy desserts, kanten, a Japanese jello-like dessert is made from fruit juice and agar, though, we figured not everyone would enjoy this seaweed derivative. So we changed our sweet to the more universally enjoyed chocolate truffles. Fortunately, I had made vegan chocolate truffles for a wedding in St. Louis recently, so I had a recipe I knew would work.
Eleven months into planning our April wedding, and my fiancé and I feel like we should write a book — the ultimate guide to the sustainable Jewish wedding. We dove into the world of wedding planning together, and decided to plan a wedding that would truly reflect us — with our desire to live sustainably and to also fulfill our families’ desire to have a large simcha.
Once we started on our venue search, the next question was obvious — what will we eat? For us, having a vegetarian wedding was of utmost importance. You might remember that Chelsea Clinton served meat at her wedding, although she’s a vegetarian. We fell on the other side of that debate. Why should we serve meat when we wouldn’t eat it ourselves? And along those lines, did we need to have a kosher caterer, or could we have a vegetarian-only wedding and satisfy the needs of most of our guests? But then we fretted — what about our orthodox guests? What about the fact that it’s a wedding — shouldn’t it be kosher?
Throughout this process there has been the tension between providing for what we feel our community expects, and serving food that mirrors our daily food values. As a natural foods chef, Adamah alumnus, lover of local food and preacher of eating healthy cuisine, the process of planning the food for our wedding has challenged all of my food values. For a split second, I even considered catering the wedding myself, but then I realized that was crazy.