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In the Rockies, a Jewish Food Movement Emerges

Cross-posted from JTA.

The new Jewish food movement arose in Boulder, Colo. organically, so to speak.

No large federation or organization swooped in to make sustainable farming and eating within a Jewish framework a priority.

Yet in this city of 100,000 — some 13,000 residents are Jewish — “green” has long been a way of life. So it’s not surprising that interest in sustainability has led to a variety of Jewish grass-roots projects such as the establishment of greenhouses in food deserts, a chicken and egg co-op, community farms and an organic chicken schechting (kosher butchering) project, along with — thanks to a $335,000 grant from three foundations — the arrival of Hazon, a national Jewish environmental group.

The grant, which brought Hazon to the region in December 2010, came from the Rose Foundation and the locally based Oreg Foundation and 18 Pomegranates.

On April 29, the partnership among the local funders, activists and environmental organizations will culminate with the Rocky Mountain Food Summit, which will be held at the University of Colorado at Boulder.

The event will feature presentations from restaurateurs who use farm-to-table practices in their establishments, ways to adapt your bubbe’s recipes to meet your dietary and health needs, and information about GMOs, genetically modified organisms.

The goal is to shine a light on local Jews and the food movement, and to provide resources available to groups and individuals who want to change their lives for the more sustainable.

Participants will choose three sessions among 22 offerings throughout the day. Middle schoolers can attend classes geared toward their age group, including one in part based on the beloved childhood book “The Little Red Hen.” That session will examine the seed-to-table approach to farming and eating, from planting to blessings.

Rabbi Elisheva Brenner, founder and CEO of Eco Glatt; Yadidia Greenberg, who founded the Boulder Kosher meat co-op; and Bob Goldman, whose company LoKo Chicken specializes in both kosher and locally sourced birds for consumption, will lead a panel discussion on eco-ethical kosher

The day will conclude with a DIY (do-it-yourself) extravaganza where participants will get their hands dirty — literally in the case of the microgreens workshop — and leave with a new skill in addition to the information gleaned over the course of the three sessions they attended.

“We have some of Denver and Boulder’s top chefs, some amazing, successful food entrepreneurs, leaders in the field of food justice, and experts on everything from gardening and baking, beekeeping, canning and beer brewing,” said Josh Dinar, the Hazon steering committee chair who is working on the conference.

For Dinar, the connection to food is more than personal — it’s professional. He is one of the founding editors of the Dining Out magazine franchise and co-owns HBurger, a gourmet hamburger joint in Denver.

“An interesting thing about being kosher — it makes you be conscious of what you are eating,” Dinar observed. “And the rest of the country is catching up to the idea that you can’t just trust that because someone calls it food, you can put it in your mouth.”

While Dinar does not observe the rules of kashrut — he urged a reporter to try the bacon-wrapped figs at a local eatery owned by another foodie Jew – he certainly is mindful of the food he eats and its origins. His family owns seven chickens that hatch eggs for the household.

Dinar, a transplant like most others living in Boulder — he hails from New Jersey — first learned of Hazon from his father.

“My dad had been on the first Israel [bike] ride with Nigel and just raved about him,” he said, referring to Hazon founder Nigel Savage. “And I thought this is something that would be awesome in Colorado.”

Hazon in Boulder hasn’t held its fundraising bike rides, which long have been emblematic of the organization’s activities. Rather it has hired staff locally and sought to discover the native priorities, which has led to an emphasis on food and farm.

“When we first initially started, we went on a listening tour and we created a map of the local Jewish community,” said Becky O’Brien, the director of community engagement for Hazon in Boulder. “There really wasn’t a premeditated idea of what we were going to do. It was ‘you’re going to talk to two dozen organizations and figure out what they’re doing there.’ And of course we bring Hazon’s expertise to bear.

“You have people creating stuff because they’re just so passionate about it,” O’Brien said, referring to the communal environmental activity she inherited upon taking the job. “It’s neat to weave those together when I can.”

O’Brien is a lifelong nonprofit professional, an environmentally engaged Boulder denizen and seemingly a perfect fit for the organization.

“This in a lot of ways is my dream job,” she says. “I’ve been a foodie and an environmentalist in my personal life for a long time.”

The idea to host the food summit, which will be a miniature version of the multiday event that Hazon holds annually on both coasts, came from the local steering committee.

O’Brien is expecting 200 to 300 participants ranging in ages and environmental engagement levels, from chefs to educators to farmers to folks checking out this stuff for the first time.

“The idea,” she said of the summit, “is that this is spurring the next thing.”


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