This Week in Jewish Farming: Springtime for farmers

I get a shiver in my bones just thinking about the weather.

Until recently, that line from 10,000 Maniacs’ 1987 single was just a song lyric. But when I woke up Monday morning and saw a heavy wet snow falling, I swear I could hear my bones rattle.

Not long ago, the sight of an unexpected spring snow would have filled me with joy. In New York, nothing is more tranquilizing for the manic city than a heavy dusting. Today, my livelihood depends on what happens in the skies. And lately, the news hasn’t been good.

I’m not talking about reduced crop yields and other projected effects of climate change, though that’s certainly bad enough.  In many northeast cities, last month was the coldest March in 30 years. Weather records were set in dozens of places across the country. On the morning of my first day of greenhouse work in early March, the farm was so windswept and forbidden I thought I had wandered onto the set of “Fargo.” All of which has slowed down germination rates and made me worry — not that it takes a lot to do that, but whatever — that the seedlings won’t be ready for transplant later this month.

Fortunately, spring seemed to finally get its act together. Tuesday dawned warm and sunny — the first true spring day — and by noon there was scarcely a trace of white left. Something deeper seemed to shift as well. In the greenhouse, the heightened mojo was palpable. After weeks in which I measured progress in the flats by counting individual green shoots, a symphony of growth was underway. Kale, collards, beets, kohlrabi, celeriac — everything seemed to be jumping, even the much-delayed onions. In the tomato tray, one tiny cotyledon was barely peeking out of the soil when I arrived. Two hours later, the stem was standing proudly upright.

The fields are a different story, a soggy mess that will take days to dry out enough to start tilling — assuming it doesn’t rain again of course, a possibility the weatherman pegs at about 30 percent. The first crops are due to get planted outside April 28, eight weeks before the first scheduled CSA delivery. Whether that actually happens is, to a significant extent, beyond my control.

And therein lies the rub. It’s one thing to long for a life more attuned to the rhythms of the seasons. It’s another to actually surrender to them. That’s a hard thing to do when nearly 30 people have collectively given you thousands of dollars in exchange for nothing more than a promise that, come June 19 and every Thursday thereafter for 22 weeks, a box of vegetables will have their name on it.

It’s an interesting moment to pursue a career dependent on the whims of nature. Organic vegetable demand continues to grow rapidly, and there’s little doubt in my mind that if I can achieve escape velocity, I have a viable business on my hands. At the same time, the earth is doing funny things which, for some of us, mean more than just another day with a heavy coat.

Kids Page

Before You Speak

In Parshat Tazriya, we learn about the skin disease of
leprosy. If one gets this disease, he or she must be isolated outside the
Israelite camp until they have recovered. The rabbis inform us that someone
gets leprosy because he or she has gossiped about or slandered someone. Really?
Could this be true?

We must always remember that the rabbis have deep lessons to
teach us. Here is the lesson: When you gossip or slander, you are trying to
hurt the person you are talking about and giving them “cooties” by saying bad
things about them. Then your friends will not want to be friends with the kids
with “cooties.” You have isolated this person, as if they have leprosy.
Remember, what goes around comes around. If you say bad things about someone,
they might say bad things about you, and then you will be the one to be
isolated. And that wouldn’t be any fun at all.

Mitzvah Goreret Mitzvah — One Mitzvah Creates Another!

It’s time to plant your mitzvah garden. Create a patch in
your garden at home or at school and designate it “The Mitzvah Garden.” Plant
flower seeds or bulbs; water and care for them. In about eight weeks, when your
flowers have bloomed, clip them and take them as gifts to a hospital or an
old-age home. What a beautiful spring gift!

Three Cheers

Congratulations to Simone Schriger, 10, of Brentwood  and  Danielle
Landau, 11, of Tarzana  for answering this question:

What do Nixon, Reagan, Clinton,  Truman, Washington, Lincoln
 and Jefferson have in common?

Answer: Their names all end with an “N.”

Pesach 5762

It’s time to get everything in order. Clean out your pencil box. Throw away all those crumpled papers in your desk. Help your mom or dad vacuum the car.

Passover is a holiday that celebrates the coming of spring. And it is no coincidence that many people do spring-cleaning. Life starts fresh. We need to clean out the old to make room for new beginnings. On Passover, we conduct a seder to remind us of this.

The word seder means order in Hebrew. During the seder, we ask, “Why is this night different from all other nights?” Here is the answer: We change the way and the order in which we do things (we eat matzah instead of bread, we dip our vegetables, etc.) to remind ourselves that life is about change. It is exciting and wonderful to watch spring arrive. So go outside and watch a flower bloom.