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.
They spend a lot of time teaching in the city these days, too, and Elan’s current motto is: “Have seeds, will travel.” They have brought chickens into a Jewish girls’ school, baked matzo with synagogues on the street corners of Chicago, and taught people to make hummus by blending the ingredients in their bicycle powered blender at Jewish festivals and events. They worked with Chicago-based Rabbi Robin Damsky to turn her backyard into an edible food-producing garden, and through a grant with Kane County, “Fit for Kids” program, they taught school children how to grow micro-greens and more. They have worked with Jewish organizations around Chicago, offering many suburban day-school and camp children their first opportunity to find out the origins of their favorite foods (such as the components of pizza).
Kate told me that “we feel especially inspired when we meet people who tell us how much their children loved one of our programs, and when children at the farm exclaim “I want to be a farmer,” or when within an hour a child at the farm becomes unafraid of a chicken and goes from running away from it to picking it up. We enjoy reaching out and showing people how simple it can be to grow food at home, and how important it is to have a sustainable high quality source of local food available.”
With this in mind, Pushing the Envelope Farm is welcoming the Hazon Cross USA cyclists to the farm this week. They have an full day of programming for the riders and for the Chicago community, from a wild edibles walk, to cheese making (as fresh as it gets!), learning about homestead animals, a harvest for donation to a local food bank and a Natural Brewing 101 class. It’s a full day of free activities to welcome the riders as they make their way east. I can’t wait to head home to cheer on the riders as they make their way into Geneva and to treat them the best of summer on the farm. To learn more about the farm and its educational programs, feel free to call 630.578.3313 or email GenevaFarm@gmail.com or visit <www.pushingtheenvelopefarm.org>
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Elisheva Margulies is the founder of Eat With Eli, a natural foods culinary service based in New York City. Eli is the chair of the 2012 Hazon Food Conference and looks forward to seeing many of you there.