Tradition of Jewish Farming Renewed in U.S.


In Berkeley, California, young Jews create urban farms for $8.48 per bed and grow vegetables even on polluted soil. As part of Urban Adamah, they combine organic farming with social justice.

At the Ekar Jewish Urban Farm and Garden in Denver, the mission is “learn, grow, sustain, repeat.” In 2010, over 1,200 volunteer groups got involved in growing thousands of pounds of food.

Short History of Jewish Farming in America

These young people are latecomers among Jewish farmers in America. Thousands fled anti-semitism in the decades following Tsar Alexander IIIís enactment of the May laws of 1882.†Many of them settled on farm colonies and became part of the communal Am Olam (Eternal People) movement.†Most of the communities failed because of “disease, unfavorable weather, inexperience, poor land and other obstacles.”

The colonies were part of what the Jewish Farmers of America (JFA)†call the first period of Jewish farming in America. After 1900, “settlement and collective ownership gave way to settling individual families on farms.” The Jewish Agricultural and Industrial Assistance Society, founded by philanthropist Baron Maurice de Hirsch, helped families establish themselves on farms abandoned near metropolitan areas. They provided technical assistance and loans. JFA describes farming communities that sprang up in New Jersey, California, New York, Connecticut, Florida, Ohio and Michigan. By the end of World War II, nearly 100,000 Jewish farmers were raising crops.

Pressure from the expanding industrial farming operations wiped out most of those family farms. Pressure became policy with the “Get big or get out” mantra of President Richard Nixon’s appointee to the post of Secretary of Agriculture. Earl Butz had a dream of revolutionizing agriculture. Instead of small, mixed farms, he saw huge fields of commodity crops “from fencerow to fencerow.” Agribusinesses grew. Biodiversity shrank. Small farms disappeared.

Back to the Future of Farming

Then came the back-to-the-land movement of the 1970s. Urban and suburban Jews joined the growing ranks of organic farmers. Some grew large and successful, such as Cascade Farms and Earthbound Farm. Most remained small, family-owned operations.

One of those is still run by the family of an Orthodox rabbi. On a small farm in the Catskills, Rabbi Rafoel Franklin milks 30 dairy cows and runs a kosher chicken company that handles 4,000 chickens a month.†For her article for Tablet Magazine, Leah Koenig spoke with Franklin, who told her, “I never expected I would farm full-time, I just wanted to live as far away from cities as possible. But baruch Hashem (Blessed be the Name), if you do it properly, farming is the most fulfilling life I could imagine.”

Small farms struggle in a global food system focused on profit rather than food quality or environmental stewardship. Farmers like Rabbi Franklin work hard to preserve a way of life threatened by industrial agriculture.

A hopeful sign is the increasing interest in local, sustainably grown food. Organizations such as Ekar and Urban Adamah keep hopes alive by educating and inspiring young people. So does the Jewish Farm School, whose tag line, “Sustainable Agriculture Rooted in Jewish Traditions,” represents a vision of reconnecting people with land, food, the environment and each other.

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Photo of Ekar garden beds constructed by volunteers

Photo of Urban Adamah from video


Jim Ven
Jim Venabout a year ago

thanks for sharing.

Sandra K.
Sandra K6 years ago

Lynn S.

Apart from this comment right now, my other posts have been quite fair. Do understand; if I'm insulted or challenged -- I will retort. Both previous replies responded to insult. And you dare claim I'M being hurtful? Evidently diminishing grey matter skews your reality. As for this garbage about 'racist' commentary --- re-read the definition of that term; using it too loosely uncovers your stupidity and weakness.

Finally, flagging my posts is a waste of time. Absolutely NOTHING will be done ;) and besides, pretty sure the Care2 community benefits from my engagement more than yours you decrepit piece of shit.

colleen p.
colleen p6 years ago

Anna B. it is my observation that racist type comments are "OK" as long as directed as a group of people if they "do harm". vegans on this site tell me cats and dogs do better on their diet. I am a bad person for calling them morons.

but they are good people to call me a savage, to say 'bomb Japan for eating dolphins".

because they hurt animals.

because Kosher and Hahal(?) slaughter is "desired/necessary" to them, and it is not as humane as they think, it is not "wrong" to bash those people. being anti semitic only is wrong if Jewish people were vegetarians, like Buddhists seem to be.

this is what I learn from here.

Anna Borsey
Anna Borsey6 years ago

Well, this is interesting! The "Flag as inappropriate" function has been removed or disabled!

I want to flag Judy E.'s comment about the Israelis and the Palestinians as anti-Semitic, racist, inappropriate and COMPLETELY OFF TOPIC!!!

This thread is NOT about Israel; it is about young Jewish farmers in the USA, particularly in New York state!

However, since you started this by your off topic attack, I shall inform you and everyone else who reads this that there was NO flourishing Palestine prior to the advent of the Jewish settlers! This area was under Ottoman (Turkish) rule for 400 years, from 1516 to 1917. Until the Jews arrived in large numbers, this region was desolate, arid and mainly desert. There were people living there, but these were largely nomadic herders. The farms that you and others claim were stolen by the Jews from the Palestinians were in the main owned by Turkish landlords. All this land was PURCHASED by Jews (e.g., baron Rothschild) from the Turkish and Arab landowners.

Quite a few of today's Palestinians are descended from immigrants who decided to settle in Palestine under the British Mandate - or earlier - once immigrant Jews had created an extensive irrigation system and made larger scale farming a viable proposition in this region. A fair number of these Arab settlers worked on Jewish farms. Previously, some of them worked on Turkish farms.

Why should Israel supply Palestinian terrorists with water? The Gaza is now ruled by Hamas, a terr

kathleen n.
kathleen n.6 years ago

When will Israel cease brutalising Australian food animals? When will arabs in the Middle East cease torturing Australian food animals? When will Indonesia cease torturing Australian food animals? And every other food animal? Australia's Commonwealth has sanctified animal cruelty by conveying a message to the international community that animal cruelty is good by continuing live exports to these barbaric lands, ignoring the pleas, the outrage of the Australian community. The more I learn about religion and religious nutters, the more I prefer the company of dogs.

Think occasionally of the suffering these maniacs perpetrate on our gentle creatures of which they spare themselves the agony.

Lynn Squance
Lynn Squance6 years ago

I wish I could grow things but alas, no matter what I do, everything turns out the same --- dead! I applaud these kids getting involved because there is so much to learn and it is not all about farming. Their mission is : learn, grow, sustain, repeat.

So many of the comments have picked on a religious aspect that just isn't there. This is about small scale farming in urban areas. The fact that these particular farms are run by Jewish farmers, kids and parents is of no consequence. The kids are learning so much and giving back to the community by donating 8,000 pounds of vegetables to those in need.

@ Sandra K --- Who peed in your corn flakes this morning, or are you always so hurtful and racist? Why don't YOU source the story on Muslim and Buddhist mass farming. BTW, I have flagged your comments about Rosemary G and Shalvah L as hurtful, racist, and rude.

@ Michael C --- I find your comments hateful, racist and rude too. I have flagged your comments as they do not belong here.

This is a forum for civil discourse, not for personal attacks, bullying and the like. We can disagree but there is no room for disrespect.

Penny C.
penny C6 years ago


Judy Emerson
Judith Emerson6 years ago

P.S. Berny P.: The Palestinians have been pushed into tiny pockets in the own land. Many productive Palestinian farms have been stolen by the ruling Israeli's, who also use the bulk of the water supply & allow the Palestinians very little water. How can this situation be ended? Even now, officially, the USA cares not a fig for the Palestinians. Whatever support they receive is from individuals & organizations. Justice does not exist in this conflict. Yet.

Judy Emerson
Judith Emerson6 years ago

Good for them! :D

Laura Sierra
Laura Sierra6 years ago

The Nixon backed big agri stuff started before I could vote...why do people think huge and unmanageable is a good thing for a farm to be?