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Archive for : Hunger & Food Access

Repair Interview: Sabrina Malach on Shoresh

Over the last two decades, the Jewish environmental movement has grown from a fringe afterthought, to an important aspect of the mainstream Jewish community. Organizations like Hazon and programs like the Jewish Farm School, Teva, and Adamah have made a big impact in the States. Now, an awesome organization called Shoresh, founded in 2009 in Toronto, is helping to expand this awareness to the Canadian Jewish community. Repair the World recently spoke with Director of Community Outreach, Sabrina Malach, about Shoresh’s programming, gardening across the generations, and realizing the dream of land-based Judaism in Canada.

What was the inspiration behind starting Shoresh?
Both the founder, Risa Alyson Cooper, and I are from Canada but lived and participated in programs at The Isabella Freedman Jewish Retreat Center in Falls Village, Connecticut. We were fellows in Adamah, the Jewish farming fellowship, and Risa was also a Jewish environmental educator with Teva. We talked a lot about what it would be like if we could bring programs like that to Toronto.

When Risa came back to Canada, she had the great idea of starting a community garden in the suburbs, and that was the beginning of Kavannah Garden. At the same time, there was a huge new Jewish community center in development in the northern part of the city, and she had the foresight to approach them about starting the garden there. Most of our other programs stem from there – overall, Shoresh’s success has centered on offering the right programs at the right time.

What types of programs do you run?
Kavannah Garden is our flagship program. Each spring and fall, dozens of day school groups come to visit. Shoresh developed a curriculum for kids from kindergarten to grade 5. It weaves in Jewish and ecological teachings, but is based on Ontario’s curriculum, so it allows teachers to justify field trips. One program example is, we have this bike-powered blender that the kids love. They’ll go and harvest edible weeds and herbs, then go on the bike and turn them into pesto. So it teaches them about plants and nutrition, and helps them learn to see a world where food is everywhere and everything is valuable. It also draws from the Talmudic teaching that it is forbidden to live in a city where there is no vegetable garden.

In addition to the school groups, we have have a family farm drop-in program, and a CSA running out of the garden. It has been so restorative to build this ecological place deep in the heart of the Toronto suburbs. Our hope is that people take the ideas they learn and that they ripple out into their backyards and neighborhoods.

Do you have educational programs outside of Kavannah Garden as well?
Yes, definitely – we work with participants from kindergarten age to people in their 90s. We partnered with the Baycrest geriatric center to develop three gardens. We’ve trained the staff their and also go in every other week to work with clients. It is amazing to sit with bubbes and zaydes there, many of whom have Alzheimer’s or other forms of Dementia, and talk about growing food. We do a lot of sensory workshops with them, like having them smell herbs. Working with them is a reminder that a lot of the work we do with gardening and food is not new, and that we have a lot of wisdom to glean from our elders.

We also started a new program at the Kensington Market called Maxie’s garden. Kensington was once the center of Jewish food and communal life in Toronto – it was where all the kosher butchers and bakers were located. That is mostly gone now, but there is a man in his 90s who has been living in this house there since 1927. His backyard has some of the best soil I’ve ever seen! We partnered with Toronto’s Jewish Family & Child Services to create a program in his backyard where women working below the poverty line come and grow food. It is amazing to help revive some Jewish food culture in Kensington, while actively bringing social justice into our programming.

What do you have planned for the future?
Our next big project is the creation of Bela Farm, a 114-acre rural center for land-based Judaism, education, and farming in Ontario. Expanding from a quarter-acre garden to a huge farm an hour outside of Toronto is a big jump, so we have spent the last three years visioning with our creative team to think about what we want, and how to make it our own instead of just replicating other farm projects. We hope to fully launch in 2016, but have already started an apiary there, started a small orchard of 17 fruit trees, and planted 300 garlic cloves (originally from Adamah!), which we hope to double this year. We are taking it slow and weaving permaculture and Jewish values like shmita into the design of the space.

How has working with Shoresh impacted you personally?
Personally, it has been so amazing to be able to work with a small organization that does so much amazing work. My own personal interests have been nurtured, and I have had the space to learn and explore while making a difference.

Learn more about Shoresh, Kavannah Garden, and Bela Farm – and see lots of great farm and garden pics! – at Shoresh’s website and Facebook page.

Repair Interview: Betsy Besser on Challah for Hunger

If Challah for Hunger had an official motto, it might be “think global, bake local.” The organization engages college students on colleges and universities across the country to bake and sell challah to raise money for local and national causes. With 67 active chapters, 16,844 loaves eaten, and $64,837 raised for social justice causes in 2013, they have proven the power of delicious bread – and committed volunteers! – to make a difference.

Recently, Repair the World chatted with Betsy Besser, a rising junior at University of Vermont to find out why she brought Challah for Hunger to her campus, how they have made it their own, and why peanut butter chocolate chip challah is a very, very good idea.

How did you first get involved with Challah for Hunger?
I grew up in Memphis, and going all the way up to Vermont for school really felt like going out of my comfort zone. I was looking for a way to connect my Jewish life, which felt familiar, to my school life. I didn’t immediately connect to the Hillel community, but then this past fall I was asked to be part of a Hillel Fellowship program that supports students in starting new initiatives on campus.

Building a Jewish community that cares about making a difference was a big part of what I wanted to do. I had seen several of my friends mention things about Challah for Hunger chapters at their universities, so I Googled it and thought it sounded really cool. I grew up with Shabbat dinner being a big part of my weekend, so I figured the program could be a great way to bring something new to UVM that incorporated my Jewish life.

How does the program work on your campus?
This past semester we baked every other week, and we would usually have about 20 or 25 volunteers show up. We make special flavors like peanut butter chocolate chip, cinnamon raisin, and cherry walnut chocolate – and we are planning to do a pesto challah next year. Last year we would bake on Wednesdays and sell challah on Thursdays, along with hummus that we also made. Most people bought the challah as a snack to bring with them to the library or back to their dorms. We decided not to sell our challah on Fridays because the Chabad on campus gives out free challah on Fridays and we did not want to step on their toes.

challahs Next year, we are hoping to partner with another organization on campus called Feel Good that sells grilled cheese sandwiches and donates the money to an organization called The Hunger Project. We’re hoping that they will start making their sandwiches with our challah, and donate a percentage of the proceeds to Challah for Hunger. We are also hoping to start focusing even more on local food. One idea is to buy locally grown apples from Vermont and make a special Rosh Hashanah challah with them.

What has the response from the UVM community been like?
People in Burlington have really embraced the idea of making a difference through food, so the students have been really supportive as customers and volunteers. There are also a lot of great local bakeries and organizations that have gotten involved. For example, King Arthur Flour, which is based in Vermont, has been incredibly generous with donating eggs, honey, and sugar. UVM also has a kosher kitchen on campus called Vermont Kosher, and the head chef there, Rachel Jacobs, has been super supportive and brought great ideas to the program.

How have the students at UVM made the program their own?
This past semester we started to build a board. There are four other women on it, and not all of them are Jewish, which is really interesting. One of our goals was to make our Challah for Hunger chapter into something with broad appeal. We have found that people are really willing to come and bake or sell challah every week, even if they don’t have a Jewish connection to challah.

challah for hunger UVM What organizations do you support with the proceeds?
Half of the proceeds to go the American Jewish World Service and the rest goes to Chittenden Emergency Food Shelf, which is a local hunger organization. We decided to support their work because they make a big positive impact on the Burlington community.

Any last thoughts?
I’m really thankful for Hillel for giving me the opportunity to bring Challah for Hunger to UVM, and for their continued support. If people want to learn more, they can check out our Facebook group, Groovy UV Challah for Hunger.

Celebrate World Fair Trade Day

Fair trade. It is a term that gets thrown around a lot in eco and labor-savvy consumer circles, but what does it really mean? Find out by celebrating World Fair Trade Day!

In short, fair trade is about people and the planet, and about creating and consuming the products we love in ways that are fair to both. For farmers and manufacturers, that means getting paid a living wage for the work they do. Coffee, tea, and chocolate are likely the most widely-known fair trade products, but just about anything that is grown or made by people can be fairly traded: spices, produce, soaps, clothing, jewelry – even home goods.

On May 10, join 100,000 people around the United States and Canada for one of the largest fair trade events in the world! Help promote fair trade products and justice for farmers, workers, and artisans. Get started by learn more about fair trade at the video below. Then, join one of the great events happening all over the country event, or create your own!

Repair Inspiration: Masbia Soup Kitchen

Since 2005, Masbia – a soup kitchen in Brooklyn – has been providing hot, nutritious, kosher meals for Jewish families in need and the broader community. In the last year alone, they provided more than 800,000 meals, engaging hundreds of regular and one-time volunteers along the way.

Recently, Masbia got some much deserved love from NationSwell. They write: “Dignified surroundings, and healthy, comforting meals, raise Masbia above the standard, a welcome reminder that seeking help with food doesn’t have to be a gloomy affair.”

Check out their video, and meet their awesome chef, below, then read the whole article over at Nation Swell.

Want to help? Sign up for a volunteer shift or make a donation to support Masbia’s work.

5 Ways to Give Purim Food Gifts (Mishloach Manot) To Those in Need

March is Get To Know Your Neighbors month at Repair the World. Check back all month long for inspiring posts.

Giving mishloach manot, the gifts of food people share on Purim, is one of the most delicious Jewish traditions. Derived from the Book of Esther and literally translated as “sending of portions,” people bundle up hamantaschen and other edible goodies (brownies, granola bars, raisins, juice boxes) and deliver them to friends and family.

But get this: giving mishloach manot have an underlying message of social change. Each person is required to deliver at least one Purim basket to someone else. The reason? To ensure that everybody, wealthy or not, has enough food to enjoy their Purim celebration. In other words, it’s a bit of food justice built right into the holiday!
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Spotlight On: Hazon’s (Jewish) Bike Rides

January is Healthy Living Month here at Repair the World. Stop by all month long for interviews with our favorite health-focused organizations, inspiring stories, and tips to change your life while changing the world.

Are you a huge bike fan? The kind of person who walks around with a semi-permanent case of helmet hair and feels most comfortable experiencing the world on two-wheels? If so, let us introduce Hazon – a Jewish environmental organization that works to build a healthier and more sustainable Jewish community.

Hazon believes that Jewish tradition has lots of wisdom to share about how people interact with the planet and treat their bodies. They live out these values, and help others do the same, with a variety of great programs, but it all started with bike rides. Since 2001, more than 2,000 have joined Hazon on a bike ride in New York, California, Israel, or elsewhere. The riders raise money for important environmental causes, get invigorated through exercise, learn inspiring Jewish texts, and have a fantastic time along the way.
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